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What was better: Brand Beckham…or the player?

May 16, 2013, 1:26 PM EDT

File photo of soccer star David Beckham and his wife Victoria arriving at Westminster Abbey in London Reuters

Whenever anyone mentions the name David Beckham, what are the first thoughts that pop into your mind?

Glamor, fashion, celebrity, icon, superstar, Hollywood…soccer?

The main thing we should remember Beckham for, the soccer, often comes way down the list.

So, what is better: Brand Beckham? Or Beckham the soccer player?

Let’s start with the brand. Ever since he married a Spice girl, Beckham knew his life would never be the same. But after years of modelling expensive garments, fragrances, watches and just about anything else you can imagine, the brand behind David and Victoria Beckham is now a relentless money-making machine. In his early years it was never like that. But from promising player to international star to veteran to father-figure, Beckham’s stardom has grown exponentially.

(More: Beckham announces his retirement from football)

His switch from Real Madrid to the LA Galaxy in 2007 was said by many to fall in line with Victoria’s fashion line and her ambitions to become an A-list celebrity in Hollywood.

Beckham came to the USA to grow soccer with his stardom and millions, if not billions, of adoring fans across the globe. The brand has been out of control for sometime now. His fame and fortune helped his hometown of London get the 2012 Olympic games and he played a huge part in the opening ceremony. Everyone wants to see him, talk about him and judge him. Just look at the furor his retirement today has caused. Websites, social media sites and message boards have gone into meltdown. Would this all have happened if some decent soccer player from East London had retired?

Hold up, hold up. Hang on a minute. Beckham isn’t just a “decent” player. He is one of the best.

(More: Beckham’s top five moments in U.S. Soccer)

Certainly he is one of the greatest players England has ever produced. Yet that goes unnoticed, unappreciated and undervalued when the name “Beckham” is uttered to anyone, on any street, in any country on this planet.

Quite simply, growing up in England when Beckham was making his ascent through the ranks at United, the baby faced lad from Leytonstone — with the squeaky cockney accent and the copious amount of Brylcreem stuck to his head — was a sensation. He could pass like no other, he could bend the ball around any obstacle and his work rate, oh my, it was like he made every tackle and long-bursting run as if his life depended on it.

(More: What they’re saying about Beckham’s retirement)

The goals, they were sublime. The goal from his own half against Wimbledon in 1996 put him on the soccer map. A last-gasp free kick to take England to the World Cup against Greece. His belter against Wales in a World Cup qualifier in 2004. A lob into an empty net against the Kansas City Wizards. The list goes on and on.

Beckham twice finished runner-up as the FIFA World player of the year. He lost to Rivaldo in 1999 and Luis Figo in 2001. So yeah, he is much more than a “decent” player.

Only time will tell what lies ahead for Beckham. Could he become an owner of an MLS franchise? Could he become a manager? Will he step away entirely from the game? Or will he make a dramatic comeback from retirement? Who knows.

But when we look back at Beckham’s career how will we remember him? That is the biggest question of all.

Will it be for the brand or will it be the player? I’ll let you discuss that. But as a proud Englishman, I hope it’s the latter.

PHOTOS: The life and time of David Beckham

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