“You had to admire that.”
It is difficult for the younger football fan to appreciate just how big David Beckham was in his pomp.
The poster boy of Manchester United’s golden era in the 1990s, Beckham was one of the most famous, most talked-about and most photographed sports stars on the planet.
His romantic involvement with Victoria Adams (as she was then known), a member of the astronomically popular Spice Girls, only further enhanced his stardom.
Beckham’s rise to global celebrity.
Beckham’s transformation from promising young footballer to tabloid obsession was a concern for Alex Ferguson.
Fergie always wanted Beckham to focus on football and was worried that Beckham was being seduced by the celebrity lifestyle.
However, make no mistake: when Beckham was on the pitch, he was thinking about one thing and one thing only: winning matches for Manchester United.
Beckham was certainly resilient too. In 1998, the winger suffered a career low-point when he was sent off against Argentina in the 1998 World Cup for kicking out at Diego Simeone.
England lost the game on penalties and Beckham was castigated by the tabloids and subjected to a torrent of abuse from rivals fans when he returned from France.
Ferguson was the first person to call Beckham after his red card, and the player responded in the way he knew best: by scoring a last-minute free-kick to rescue a 2-2 draw for United against Leicester City in the opening game of their historic Treble season.
And that was one of the things Ferguson noticed about Beckham: he never let mistakes affect him. He made a mistake in the World Cup, but it certainly did not affect his form for United.
Beckham was incredibly protective of himself – Ferguson.
“The only player I ever coached who was totally unaffected by his mistakes was David Beckham,” wrote Ferguson in his 2013 autobiography.
“He could have the worst game possible and still not believe that he had underperformed in any way.
“He would dismiss you, tell you you were wrong. He was incredibly protective of himself. Whether that was developed by the people around him, I don’t know.
“But he would never concede he’d had a bad game, and never accept he’d made a mistake.”
“His confidence never suffered.”
While a refusal to admit one’s mistakes would be an unattractive trait to many, it moved Beckham up in Ferguson’s estimation.
“You had to admire that,” the Scot wrote.
“In a way, it was a great quality. No matter how many mistakes he would make (in my eyes, not his), he would always want the ball.
“His confidence never suffered. Otherwise, dips of that kind are innate to all footballers, and plenty of managers.
“Public scrutiny penetrates the body armour, whether from the public, press or fans.”
It is a fascinating insight into Beckham’s mentality, a mentality that ultimately contributed to the pair’s spectacular fallout in 2003.
In February of that year, United were dumped out of the FA Cup in the fifth round by Arsenal, who won 2-0 at Old Trafford.
Furious with Beckham’s half-hearted attempts to track back in the build-up to Arsenal’s second goal, Ferguson confronted the player in the dressing room after the game.
“At the end I got on to him,” recalled Ferguson.
“As usual, with David at that time, he was dismissive of my criticism.”
One thing led to another and, well, you know the rest of the infamous ‘Flying Boot’ story.