David Beckham (England)
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David Robert Joseph Beckham was born in Leytonstone (London) on May 2, 1975, the son of a kitchen fitter and a hairdresser. David's father Ted had wanted to be a professional footballer, but did not realise his dream. His son would know far greater success. As an 11-year-old, David won a talent competition at a young player training school run by Bobby Charlton. His prize was the chance to take part in a training session with FC Barcelona. Bobby Charlton was a legendary player with Manchester United, the club Ted and David Beckham had supported all their lives. And so it was that David accepted the offer from his favourite club to join its youth training scheme.

In 1991, Beckham was given a training contract in Manchester. As a trainee professional, he had to perform jobs like cleaning the professional players' boots and helping out in the United souvenir shop, but the club was also satisfied with David's work on the field. His constant improvement earned him a call-up to England's youth squad, and he made his debut in Manchester United's first team in 1992, at the age of 17. A few months later, he signed his first professional contract.

Beckham has long since emerged as one of the key forces of the Manchester United team. His footballing class has also made him a stalwart of the English national team, for which he first played in 1996 against Moldova. He is now the captain of the the national side. The elegant midfielder is lethal from free kicks and a sweet striker of crosses and passes. He has enjoyed outstanding success with Manchester United, winning a string of titles including the UEFA Champions League (1999), Toyota Cup (1999), the English Premiership (1996, 1997, 1999, 2000 and 2001) and the FA Cup (1996, 1999). Two years ago, Beckham took second place to Rivaldo as the "FIFA World Footballer of the Year."

Beckham's career has not always gone so smoothly though. For a long time he was treated with hostility in his home country and scorned by some newspapers and magazines. He was widely held responsible for England's elimination from the 1998 FIFA World Cup™. In the last sixteen round, he lashed out in a moment of weakness and was shown the red card. England eventually lost the game, and Beckham was branded a national scapegoat. Even his performance at EURO 2000 two years later drew criticism.

The bogeyman has since become a national hero, for on and off the pitch, Beckham has proved his class and convinced most of England that the image of him propagated by the media is false. Beckham, whose biography, "My World", was published a year ago, has said: "I'm a footballer, not a showman. All I want is to be known as the greatest footballer. In all honesty, I don't like all the fuss about me, or my popularity. But I've learned to accept it. It is part of my life."

England took David Beckham to its heart after the national team's final qualifying game for the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan™. In that last group encounter at home against Greece, Beckham scored from a sublime free kick to level the match at 2-2 in the dying seconds of the game. That goal secured Sven-Göran Eriksson's men direct qualification for the tournament in Asia.