Beckham bows out on a high
MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) - England's best known footballer David Beckham announced his retirement on Thursday after a career laden with trophies and glamour that had a worldwide impact that went way beyond soccer.
The 38-year-old former England captain, who this month helped Paris St Germain to the French league title to add to titles won in England, Spain and the United States, will hang up his boots at the end of a successful season.
"I'm thankful to PSG for giving me the opportunity to continue but I feel now is the right time to finish my career, playing at the highest level," the midfielder, whose final match will be against FC Lorient on May 26, said in a statement.
Beckham earned 115 caps for England, a record for an outfield player, and won the Champions League, six Premier League titles and two FA Cups with Manchester United.
He also won league titles with Real Madrid in Spain, LA Galaxy in the United States and PSG in France, making a habit of moving on straight after achieving success.
He joked that he realized it was time to call it a day "when (Lionel) Messi was running past me" when PSG played Barcelona in the Champions League before saying he had always known he wanted to retire at the top of his game.
"It's simple, you are leaving as a champion," he told Sky Sports in an interview conducted by his former Manchester United team mate Gary Neville.
"It's the right time, I believe it's the right time but I'll always feel I can do more, that's the problem."
London-born Beckham started his career at Manchester United, the club he supported as a boy, making his first team appearance at the age of 17 in 1992.
His trade-mark free kicks and pin-point crosses established him as a key player, while his good looks made him a pin-up for teenage girls and later his marriage to former Spice Girls band member Victoria Adams established him as an off-field celebrity.
The stunning goal he scored from the halfway line against Wimbledon at the start of the 1996-97 season announced him as a special talent and he even had the film 'Bend It Like Beckham' named after him.
While his commercial appeal, personal fortune and his friendships with Hollywood A listers grew, his main passion of soccer - and in particular England - held firm.
"To this day, one of my proudest achievements is captaining my country," Beckham said in his statement.
"I knew every time I wore the Three Lions shirt, I was not only following in a long line of great players, I was also representing every fan that cared passionately about their country. I'm honored to represent England both on and off the pitch."
As well as the highs, there have been the low points for Beckham such as his sending off against Argentina at the 1998 World Cup, a cut on his face after being hit by a boot kicked by United manager Alex Ferguson and missing a penalty at Euro 2004.
But like the trend-setting haircuts that youngsters asked their barbers to recreate, Beckham's skills and personality ensured he became a brand that everyone wanted a part of.
He was a key member of the bid team that helped London win the right to host the 2012 Olympics and brought the torch by speedboat to the stadium at the opening ceremony.
There was public disappointment when he was not selected for the British Olympic team and his retirement has prompted messages from the highest quarters including British Prime Minister David Cameron.
Former United team mate Neville said he had been "the most influential player out of England in transforming football", while England manager Roy Hodgson said he had "iconic status".
Beckham's announcement comes in a big week of retirements at his former club after manager Ferguson and midfielder Paul Scholes called it a day, which is perhaps fitting in the context of his love for the club.
"If you had told me as a young boy I would have played for and won trophies with my boyhood club Manchester United, proudly captained and played for my country over 100 times and lined up for some of the biggest clubs in the world, I would have told you it was a fantasy," Beckham said.
"I'm fortunate to have realized those dreams."
After a decade at Old Trafford, he left for a four-year spell at Real Madrid where he won La Liga in his final season.
He then crossed the Atlantic in 2007 to become the biggest name soccer import in the United States, joining LA Galaxy with a mission to raise the profile of the sport in the country.
"We were honored to have him here," LA Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena told Sky Sports News. "He did wonderful things for our club and our league. He is a global icon and a terrific ambassador for the game."
He won the MLS championship twice with the Galaxy before moving to Paris in January for what turned out to be his last hurrah.
There he demonstrated one of his other sides as he donated his salary to a children's charity in the French capital.
Away from soccer, underwear modeling and ambassadorial roles, Beckham is known as a family man and thanked those closest to him for what they had done for him.
"I wouldn't have achieved what I have done today without my family," he said.
"I'm grateful for my parents' sacrifice, which made me realize my dreams. I owe everything to Victoria and the kids, who have given me the inspiration and support to play at the highest level for such a long period."
When asked how he wanted to be remembered, he was determined it should be for his sporting prowess rather than the whirlwind of his showbiz lifestyle.
"I just want people to see me as a hard-working footballer, someone that's passionate about the game," he said.
"Over the years ... people have looked at certain other things that have gone on in throughout my career and sometimes that has overshadowed what I've done on the pitch.
"As much as I say that doesn't hurt me, of course it does. At the end of the day I'm a footballer that has played for some of the biggest clubs in the world, played with some of the best players in the world and under some of the best and biggest managers and achieved almost everything in football."
(Reporting by Sonia Oxley, editing by Pritha Sarkar)