David Beckham announced his soccer retirement on Thursday, bringing down the curtain on a unique career that cannot be defined by any usual standards.
The past 20 years of the Beckham show cannot be measured in simple statistics, although nearly 800 games, 10 league championships and participation in three World Cups tell a compelling story of a man who operated at the top of his profession in a career largely spent with some of the biggest clubs in the world.
Beckham's reach was greater than that though, transcending even the most globally popular of all sports. His looks, good naturedness and marriage to Spice Girl Victoria created a fascination with the now 38-year-old that saw his face adorn billboards in over 100 countries and represent charities and leading brands alike.
That level of attention lavished upon an athlete is always going to bring some suspicion about their commitment to the game, but Beckham remained a fierce competitor, and for all the celebrity shoulder-rubbing and glitzy photo shoots, soccer success never dimmed in its importance to him.
His announcement Thursday came after his current and final club, French side Paris St Germain, clinched its first title in 19 years. After two more games to close out the French season, Beckham will hang up his cleats once and for all.
"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," Beckham said in a statement.
American fans will naturally remember him most for what he gave to the game in the United States over the course of five and a half years with the Los Angeles Galaxy, culminating in back-to-back MLS Cup titles in 2011 and 2012 and establishing that franchise as the heavyweight of the league.
The impossible task of putting the game on a popularity par with the long-established American sports was ultimately beyond him, as it was always going to be, yet there is no doubt he served to heighten the game's overall reach and left an imprint on the pubic consciousness.
Merely coming to the States, while in his early 30s and still capable of performing at the highest level, sent a powerful statement about the future upside of MLS, and the league continues to build upon that boost of attention and credibility.
If Beckham is honest, he will admit there were moments of regret during his first two seasons, as the Galaxy floundered on the field and the whole experiment threatened to collapse.
Yet he came to love American soccer and society and the energy he put into the Galaxy's cause in his final two years left no doubt that he had found peace in Los Angeles.
A clause in his Galaxy contract that allows him to purchase an MLS franchise at a knockdown rate means American soccer has almost certainly not seen the last of him.
Indeed, Beckham may be as busy in retirement as he was as a player. He has already agreed to a lucrative deal to become an ambassador for Chinese soccer, as that nation seeks to increase its soccer profile, and it is likely he will also perform a similar role for the Qatar group that owns PSG and several other worldwide soccer properties.
His brand is so powerful that it is sometimes easy to forget that for a period towards the end of the last millennium and into the new one, Beckham truly was one of the best in the world.
He finished runner-up in the World Footballer of the Year voting in 1999 and 2001 and was a key part of Manchester United's extraordinary late fightback to beat Bayern Munich in the Champions League final in 1999.
United was where he started his professional career and it is fitting that his retirement comes just a week after his mentor, legendary United boss Sir Alex Ferguson, announced his own retirement. The pair had a famous falling out towards the end of Beckham's United stay when a ranting Ferguson kicked a stray cleat in the team's locker room and it struck the player above the eye, though the relationship was mended on both sides in the years that followed.
By then Beckham had moved on, joining Real Madrid's collection of international superstars in 2003 and ultimately helping them to the Spanish league title before his departure in 2007.
All the while, he represented England's national team, accumulating 115 appearances – a record for an outfield player, with 58 of them as captain. World Cup glory eluded him, with quarterfinal runs in 2002 and 2006 the closest he and England came, as well as a quarterfinal exit in the 2004 European Championship.
Many felt Beckham may retire after extending his Galaxy contract one more year to take in the 2012 campaign. However, having decided on one more challenge at PSG, the opportunity to go out on top was too much to resist.
He could have plodded on for another season and there would have been no shortage of interested parties, but in reality, time was catching up with him physically.
He managed 11 games in the second half of PSG's season, including going head-to-head with Barcelona in the Champions League, but the aches and pains in his legs could not be ignored any longer.
Going out a winner fell neatly with the blueprint for a man whose career has always had an element of fairytale about it, and PSG's joyous title-winning celebration was the perfect way to bow out.
Soccer's timeless history rolls on and over the generations that follow there will be others who win titles and command huge salaries and take their talents around the globe.
It may be a long time, however, before we see another who can compete with the finest on the field, then step into a suit to meet political heavyweights, go party with the biggest celebrities on the planet, then finish it off with a waltz down the catwalk.
Beckham, in that sense, is truly one of a kind.
- Sports & Recreation