In the latest instalment of our series celebrating the elite group of players to have made 100 or more UEFA Champions League appearances, we recall the career of David Beckham, the first Englishman to reach a century in the competition.
Manchester United: 77
Real Madrid: 26
AC Milan: 2
Manchester United: 14
Real Madrid: 2
Best performance: winner (Manchester United, 1999)
If you don’t remember him …
A classic right-sided midfielder renowned for his expert delivery from open play and set pieces – not to mention the trademark free-kicks, which gave rise to a feature film – Beckham shot to fame in 1996 after scoring from the halfway line for Manchester United against Wimbledon. “When my foot struck that ball, it kicked open the door to the rest of my life,” he later wrote in his autobiography, My Side.
A member of United’s famous class of ’92, Beckham burnished his growing global celebrity by securing the UEFA Champions League crown as part of a historic treble in 1999, the year he finished as runner-up to Rivaldo in the Ballon d’Or.
After collecting six English titles in Manchester, Beckham – one of the original Galácticos – joined Real Madrid in 2003. A scorer on his Liga debut, the Londoner dovetailed well with Zinédine Zidane, Luís Figo, Ronaldo, Raúl González and Roberto Carlos prior to his departure for LA Galaxy in 2007.
He enjoyed two brief loan spells with AC Milan before bringing down the curtain on a glittering career in 2013 with Paris, where he won Ligue 1 and became the first Englishman to clinch the league title in four different countries.
How he made it to 100 appearances
Beckham scored on his competition debut against Galatasaray in 1994 and racked up double figures for appearances every season between 1998/99 and 2002/03, testament both to his influence and to United’s success at the time. His final European outing for the Old Trafford club came against future employers Real Madrid in 2003, Beckham scoring twice from the bench in an ultimately doomed 4-3 home win.
The former England captain never advanced beyond the quarter-finals with Real, and was suspended for the fateful 2004 second leg in Monaco that confirmed a last-eight exit. Nevertheless, he became the first Englishman to bring up a UEFA Champions League century during a 4-1 win against FCSB in October 2006, while his two competition appearances for Milan came against United – the only time he ever faced his boyhood club.
His best moments
Winning the UEFA Champions League in 1999. Beckham played in central midfield against Bayern München at the Camp Nou and set up United’s two added-time goals with typically pinpoint corners. “I looked around and saw the cup being carried down to the pitch with Bayern Munich colours on it,” he recalled of the Red Devils’ astonishing turnaround. “Two minutes later, I had it in my own hands and it was ours.”
His performance against Real Madrid during the quarter-finals in April 2003. With United trailing 3-1 from the first leg and 3-2 down at Old Trafford after a Ronaldo hat-trick, Beckham was summoned from the bench and scored twice – the first a fine free-kick – to inspire brief, but ultimately forlorn, hope of a comeback to rival 1999.
The late free-kick against Greece at Old Trafford in 2001. England needed a point to reach the 2002 FIFA World Cup but were 2-1 down in second-half added time. After Teddy Sheringham was fouled, Beckham stepped up and placed the resultant free-kick into the top corner, sparking wild celebrations across the country.
What others said about him
“David Beckham is Britain’s finest striker of a football not because of God-given talent but because he practises with a relentless application that the vast majority of less gifted players wouldn’t contemplate.”
Sir Alex Ferguson, former Manchester United manager
“David Beckham is up there with the best passers I’ve ever played with; over a long distance he was ‘radar foot’. Some left-footers look beautiful when they pass the ball. His right foot was like that – it even sounded nice when he hit the ball.”
Rio Ferdinand, former Manchester United team-mate
“Beckham takes free-kicks better than me. It is a joy to watch him take free-kicks and he has proved that free-kicks are not all about power.”
Roberto Carlos, former Real Madrid team-mate
“We knew before he was a good player, but we did not expect him to be such an influential player, to show such commitment to the team spirit. The way he runs for everything, the way he tries his best. He has everyone’s respect.”
Ronaldo, former Real Madrid team-mate
“I don’t know how he manages to be so at ease outwardly on the pitch. He is almost a pop star. I couldn’t do that. It is incredible, especially given that he is as shy as me.”
Zinédine Zidane, former Real Madrid team-mate
“At the beginning he was set to train with us for two months and I didn’t think about playing him. Then I saw how he trained and I had no choice. He is a great player. He has won me over with his performances and his character. On the pitch, Beckham sees everything before everyone else.”
Carlo Ancelotti, former AC Milan coach
“The person who has negative things to say is either jealous or hates him because there are no negative things to say about him.”
Zlatan Ibrahimović, former Paris team-mate
“Beckham has always been nice to me. He has always had very good words for me. I’m sorry I could never be his coach. I would love it.”
José Mourinho, Manchester United manager