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David Beckham

Why did David Beckham leave Manchester United?

10:18 PM GMT+4 05/02/2020
David Beckham Manchester United
He could have been "one of the greatest Man Utd legends" had he stayed, so why did 'Goldenballs' leave the club he loved?

According to Alex Ferguson, David Beckham could have been one of the greatest Manchester United icons of all time had he stayed at the club in 2003 instead of joining Real Madrid.

Beckham won La Liga with Real, playing alongside the likes of Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo and Raul, before later lining out in the colours of LA Galaxy, AC Milan and Paris Saint-Germain.

But the midfielder says that he would have loved to have remained at Old Trafford and retired at the club he grew up at, because "Manchester United were [his] team."

So why did Beckham end up leaving Manchester United for Real Madrid? Goal takes a look at what happened.

Why did David Beckham leave Manchester United?

Beckham's exit from Manchester United came about following a major deterioration in the player's relationship with Alex Ferguson.

Ferguson revealed in his 2013 autobiography that he felt Beckham's focus on football had been disrupted by corporate pursuits. He also contended that the player believed he was bigger than the manager. 

Despite claiming to hold "no rancour" towards Beckham, Ferguson was unequivocal in his assessment of the player, writing: "David was the only player I managed who chose to be famous, who made it his mission to be known outside the game."

The legendary Scottish manager added: "The minute a Manchester United player thought he was bigger than the manager he had to go... David thought he was bigger than Alex Ferguson. There is no doubt about that in my mind."

Indeed, Beckham later conceded that he had not helped himself, admitting that his behaviour contributed to the breakdown of relations. "There were certain decisions I made back then that were wrong and I can see why the manager got so frustrated," he said in a 2017 BBC interview.

Having come through the Red Devils ranks as one of 'Fergie's Fledglings' from the famous Class of '92, Beckham had evolved into an icon of the game, with his appeal extending way beyond football.

The England star had married one of the Spice Girls - Victoria, otherwise known as 'Posh Spice' - and his face was ubiquitous on TV, advertisement hoardings, magazines and so on as commercial partners lined up to have him sell their products.

Ferguson, who had brought Beckham through the ranks, grew increasingly dismayed by the direction of the player's career, which he argued was getting "swallowed up by the media or publicity agents".

The pair began to grate with one another and issues ranged from arguments over the wearing of a beanie hat during a team meal (to conceal Beckham's latest haircut) to an assault involving flying footwear.

The David Beckham - Alex Ferguson boot incident

The infamous David Beckham-Alex Ferguson boot incident is perhaps the most bizarre episode of Beckham's drawn-out departure from Manchester United.

Ferguson is on record suggesting that Beckham's work rate had diminished in the 2002-03 season and, when he criticised the midfielder's performance in a 2-0 FA Cup defeat to Arsenal, it culminated in a freak moment.

While deriding the team's display and Beckham's in particular, the United boss furiously kicked a boot towards the England captain, hitting him above the eye. 

"He was around 12 foot from me," Ferguson recalled in his autobiography. "Between us on the floor lay a row of boots. David swore. I moved towards him, and as I approached I kicked a boot. It hit him right above the eye.

"Of course he rose to have a go at me and the players stopped him. 'Sit down,' I said. 'You've let your team down. You can argue as much as you like.'"

Naturally, Beckham refused to back down and he subsequently appeared with ostentatious stitches on the cut, his long hair strategically tied back in order to ensure a full premiere for photographers.

The sight of the stricken, defiant Beckham serves as the defining image of the relationship breakdown which led to his departure from Manchester United.

How much did Man Utd sell David Beckham to Real Madrid for?

Real Madrid paid €35 million (£25m/$41m) to Manchester United for David Beckham. The deal was an initial €20 million plus add-ons.

The midfielder joined Los Blancos on a four-year contract which was reportedly worth €6 million a year and expressed his happiness at making the move.

In a press release, Beckham said: "I know that I will always regret it later in life if I had turned down the chance to play at another great club like Real Madrid."

Interestingly, Beckham later explained that he learned of Manchester United's desire to sell him to Barcelona against his will and that it steeled his resolve to force a move to Real Madrid.

He told BBC Radio 4: "There was never any revenge. I was hurt and angry at the time at how the situation had gone because throughout the season I was left out of certain games but never thought it would lead to me leaving.

"But I had heard rumours I might be sold. I was holiday in the States with Victoria and one of my friends called and told me it was on Sky Sports that United had agreed terms with Barcelona. I said 'that wasn't right, I don't know anything about it'.

"I then flew back to London. I tried to speak to Peter Kenyon and tried to speak to the manager and he said 'no'. I said 'well I need to speak to him and understand what is going on'. He said 'it's true, we have agreed a deal'.

"That is when I spoke to my agent and said 'if I am going to move, I'm going to move to Madrid'. Within a day, I was sat with the president of Madrid and we agreed that is where I was going to go."