𝘉𝘦𝘤𝘬𝘩𝘢𝘮: A Superstar Story

Netflix’s documentary 𝘉𝘦𝘤𝘬𝘩𝘢𝘮 details the career of the iconic man on and off the field.

Reading Time: 8 minutes

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By Karolina Miller

The year is 2001—Tom Brady has just made his first start for the New England Patriots, Michael Jordan has returned to basketball for the Washington Wizards, and Tiger Woods has made history by holding all four major golf championship titles at the same time. Across the pond, however, the England soccer team is fixated on qualifying for the 2002 World Cup. The revered, star-studded English squad has failed to deliver throughout the qualifiers and have found themselves needing to match or beat the result of Germany’s qualifying match against Finland to avoid a play-off game for a ticket to Asia.

In a back-and-forth contest, Greece and England trade blows to make the contest 1-1 after 68 minutes, with Greece one-upping England to make the game 2-1 a minute later. With the game tense, young midfielder David Beckham, rocking a buzz cut, takes the reins. Chasing for every ball, finishing every tackle, he is rising to the momentous occasion but cannot get the equalizer.

90’+3. Greece still leads 2-1. The England captain draws a free kick 25 yards out from goal, weaving in and out of Greek players en route. Standing over the ball with his iconic all-white baggy uniform, he sizes up the position. All of England is watching. Score, and he’ll be a national hero; miss, and it’ll be ‘98 all over again, spitting and stalking included.

With a majestic kick of his right foot, he lifts the ball into the top-left corner, leaving the ‘keeper at a standstill. The crowd erupts into utter jubilation. Beckham presents himself before the English fans at Old Trafford, arms outstretched, once again putting the nation on his back in their trot to a World Cup spot.

This moment is one of many that keep you on the edge of your seat in Beckham, a captivating four-part Netflix documentary about––you guessed it––the enthralling talent of that young buzz cut. But to understand the climactic, theatrical significance of this kick, one must be aware of the complex narratives and astounding journey leading up to it.

The documentary transports us back in time to the first game of the 1996-97 Premier League season, when a youthful 22-year-old Beckham and his Manchester United side faced off against AFC Wimbledon. In that match, receiving the ball in his own half, he immediately picked up his head and launched a looping shot over the goalkeeper’s head and into the back of the net, one of the most iconic goals of his career. This was his moment, his breakthrough.

Beckham narrates this scene and the moments leading up to the goal, as he does in much of the documentary. Throughout it, he provides insightful and unexpectedly vulnerable commentary on his own life on and off the pitch. 

To summarize Beckham’s storied career solely through highlights would be beyond fictitious; it would be immoral. With viewers—fans and strangers of football alike—captivated by the taste of his skill, the documentary transports viewers into his formative years, discussing his upbringing in soccer and his family’s rough economic situation. Born as a middle child to a heating engineer and a hairdresser, Beckham’s father raised him a Manchester United supporter; football was a symbol of hope for England’s less fortunate.

As a child, he was scouted by United to join their academy, rising through the ranks and making his senior debut at the age of 17. Sir Alex Ferguson, United’s storied manager, was a catalyst in Beckham’s success. Beyond providing the young prodigy with ample opportunity, Sir Ferguson served as a father figure to Beckham as he navigated personal life and professional soccer. The documentary weaves in the perspective of Sir Ferguson alongside many others close to Beckham such as his wife, parents, and longtime best friend, in order to give the viewer a deeper and more emotional understanding of his life.

Throughout the series, we see evolution in many aspects of Beckham: his ability as a player, his role as a teammate, and even his hair. The documentary depicts his journey through comedic interactions with reporters over his hair, clips of him leading his teammates into battle, and him and those closest to him reminiscing over his highest moments. But one of the main focuses of this documentary outside of solely himself is his relationship and timeline with wife Victoria Beckham, a star in the once-tremendously popular girls’ group Spice Girls.

This documentary dials in on the ups and downs of the relationship, covering everything from their lavish royal-esque wedding to alleged infidelity to death threats. While one typically does not think about the dangers and perils of being a superstar, Beckham highlights them vividly, to the point where one is left thinking about the trauma the pair went through after the ill-fated World Cup, when the whole of England turned on their hero.

England vs. Argentina, 1998 World Cup semi-final. All eyes are on Beckham and England. As Beckham tells in the documentary, England had been keeping the tie close at 2-2 after two penalties early on for each side. Then, in the 47th minute, disaster struck. Fouled by Argentine midfielder Diego Simeone, Beckham fell to the ground and then stuck his right leg out to trip Simeone. Though there wasn’t much malice in the trip, the referee had seen enough and sent Beckham off.

The game concluded in a defeat on penalties, leaving fans across England wondering, for years to come, what ‘98 could have been had they had 10 men. Fans turned Beckham into the scapegoat, sending him relentless hate messages and doing unimaginably horrific things to his family.

The show puts Beckham’s experiences into perspective: A whole country hates you, you’re trying to raise your toddler as paparazzi flash pictures, and you’re only 23. The hatred Beckham received was completely unwarranted, thus inciting an emotional reaction from any viewer, no matter how well one knows the tragedies of ‘98. It tugs on our heart strings, as it makes us see him as a human, not a celebrity. Looking past the lavish designer clothing and sleek modern mansions, we see a man who’s been battered and bruised, even by those who now love him. Multiple times during the documentary, Beckham was described as depressed and pained––by both his loved ones and himself.

Despite the hatred, background noise, and constant presence in the news, Beckham continued to excel in doing what he does best—delivering a spectacle. The documentary flashes through years of Beckham’s club success (and continued resentment) to the pinnacle moment: October 6, 2001, a game for a ticket to the World Cup, but more importantly, a game for Beckham’s livelihood.

After smashing that goal against Greece to stun the world, he was crowned a national hero and adored by both football and non-football fans alike. But like all moments in Beckham’s career, the happiness was short-lived.

After rising tension with United’s new assistant manager Carlos Quieroz over his flamboyant lifestyle, Beckham left the club for none other than Real Madrid. In the era of the Galacticos—the era of Zinedine Zidane, Luis Figo, and Ronaldo Nazario—he was a mere average player as opposed to the focus of the team.

In the most unexpected moment of the documentary, Quieroz followed Beckham to Madrid to become the head coach. Well, isn’t that going to go swimmingly?

To the shock of none, it did not. Iced out of the squad in his fourth and final season, the now-disgraced star had already agreed to a multi-million dollar contract with LA Galaxy in the U.S. But with the season on the line, Quieroz turned to him. People were calling for Quieroz to get the boot, and in need of a savior, he turned to Beckham, the same person whose career he had tanked.

In typical Beckham fashion, he saved Real Madrid’s title dreams, putting on a spectacle in each of Madrid’s last games to win them the title. Though his time in Madrid was marked with Madridistas whistling at him, the press spreading rumors about affairs, and fans demonizing his wife, he still left his heart on the pitch match after match and eventually won them the league.

Beckham’s experiences on the field grew to parallel those of his family off of it. Victoria described their time in Madrid as “the most unhappy I’ve been in my entire life,” she said. It wasn’t just her struggling, but it was also the pair struggling with each other. The documentary mentions that they left England because of the relentless hatred from the press and because of the straining relationship, but through the use of these horrid interviews and paparazzi-chase scenes, we see just how fractured their relationship got: “It felt like the whole world was against us,” she said. “And here’s the thing—we were against each other if I’m being completely honest.” 

Prior to Beckham, I, and many others, had never thought about professional soccer players in the way I think about them now. Soccer supporters see them as these magical figures and expect them to deliver on their multi-million dollar contracts. If they don’t, then fans hurl ignorant insults out of frustration. But through Beckham, the audience sees that these players are human. It shows the true, uncut moments of the pair’s struggles: the grainy footage of photographers trying to get the elusive picture of his baby, the derogatory headlines in the papers toward the pair, the heart-to-heart present-day interviews of David describing himself as “clinically depressed”—all of it. This period in his career truly speaks to his mental fortitude and who he is. At a time with much stigma around mental health, he pushed through, just like he did all his life.

During the segment on his limited time in Madrid, viewers recall the humility he developed in his younger years. He’s portrayed in the series as a hard-working, well-mannered man who has a good heart and keeps those around him in check, adding a nuance to the common perception of him. He cherishes his upbringing as a man of modest means, evident in a now-viral scene in the show where Victoria describes her background as “working class,” and David then questions her by asking “What car did your dad drive you to school in?” Quite amusingly, she replies with “a Rolls Royce,” highlighting that Beckham—even with all his fame and fortune—is still very proud of his working class roots.

Unlike most sports documentaries, Beckham is easy to follow for those not particularly drawn to the beautiful game. It immediately sucks the viewer in through its many storylines, ranging from David and Victoria’s turbulent marriage to the Champions League final to battles with mental health. Beckham, in a sense, can be seen as The Last Dance of soccer; both follow superstars with much success on the field and with riveting drama behind the scenes, and both require no extended sports knowledge to be enjoyed.

Not only is it appealing toward those non-soccer fans (crazy group of people, mind you), but it also is appealing to me, a die-hard fan of both Manchester City and Barcelona, the rival clubs of United and Madrid, respectively. I caught myself beginning to root for Beckham and his team at times such as the 1999 Champions League final. The documentary does such a fantastic job of building up the suspense through Beckham’s storytelling of games, so much so that I forget my own allegiances and feel inclined to cheer for him.

While most documentaries that focus on one player cause you to find them insufferable, Beckham does quite the opposite and instead casts professional athletes in a new light. By evoking our sympathy for his mental health struggles, the deservedness of his success is amplified, and we’re genuinely happy for him. Yes, he’s flashy, uber rich, and handsome, but the series reveals more. It doesn’t bring out jealousy but instead provokes sympathy. The raw nature of the show proves effective; it doesn’t hesitate to point out his flaws, controversies, mistakes—you name it. He knows he’s messed up; it’s human. And that’s the beauty of Beckham.