David Beckham has become a global brand as a soccer star, sex symbol and fashion icon, but there is one thing he has yet to accomplish in his storied career — compete in the Olympics.
On July 1, the 37-year-old British midfielder will find out if he is part of the team from England that will represent the host nation in soccer this summer in London. Great Britain hasn’t even qualified for Olympic soccer since 1960, before Beckham was born, but the host nation gets an automatic bid. By Olympic rule, a soccer team can only carry three players older than 23 on its roster, and Beckham is hoping to be one of them.
“I would love to be on the Olympic team,’’ Beckham told NBC’s Meredith Vieira in a wide-ranging interview. “I’m very proud of what I’ve achieved in my career so far. I’ve obviously played for the national team for quite a few years, and now I want to represent the G.B. team in the Olympics.’’
There has been criticism that if the L.A. Galaxy midfielder and former Manchester United star does make the team, it will be more for his fame off the pitch than for his performance on it. He has appeared in 115 games for the national team during his career, scoring 17 goals.
“I’m not surprised,’’ Beckham said of the critics. “I don’t really take too much interest in those kind of comments, but I have said that I felt that those comments are disrespectful because I’ve had kind of a successful career with what I do.’’
Will he light the cauldron?
Beckham’s name also has been tossed around as a candidate for the prestigious honor of lighting the Olympic cauldron during the opening ceremony. But Beckham believes that privilege should go to a British athlete who has previously participated in the Olympics. He told Vieira he has not been contacted about the lighting by Olympic organizers, but admits it would be difficult to turn down if he was asked.
“If I’m offered it, it would be hard to say no,’’ he said.
If Beckham does make the team, he will be the elder statesman amid a group of fresh-faced 23-year-olds.
“Yeah, I’m getting used to that, though,’’ he said with a laugh. “For the last six or seven years I’ve been used to being the older guy.’’
Beckham grew up in East London; his mother was a hairdresser and his father fixed stoves. And he has remained close to his English roots despite playing in Los Angeles since signing with the Galaxy in 2007. With Queen Elizabeth celebrating the 60th year of her reign this month, it has been an exciting segue to the Olympics.
“The queen is someone that I feel that I've grown up with,’’ he said. “She's like my grandmother. So for us to be celebrating 60 years on the throne, 60 years leading our country the way she's led our country, is a special moment for us.’’
East London roots
Beckham also remains close to his family and his old neighborhood. He recently tweeted a picture of himself and his mother eating a traditional East London meal of pie and mash (mashed potatoes), and wryly recalled how his father kept him grounded during his ascent to soccer superstardom.
“If I had a good game, my dad would say, ‘Yeah, you did OK, but these are the things that you can learn from and these are the things that you should be doing,’’’ he said. “So as much as he praised me, he always made sure that I knew about things that I was doing wrong and kept my feet on the ground.”
After a game when Beckham was in his mid-20s, his father finally gave him his seal of approval.
“My dad would always turn around to me and say, ‘Yeah, I'll tell you when you've made it. Yes, I'll tell you when you've reached that level.’ I was 26 or 27 and he turned around to me and he said, ‘Boy, you've done well.’ It gives me goosebumps, because it’s an amazing moment to hear that from someone you look up to for years and continue to look up to.”
Beckham is now raising his own family of three boys and one girl with his wife, Victoria, the former Posh Spice of pop group the Spice Girls. The youngest is his daughter, Harper, who is nearing her first birthday.
“The moment she was born, I think me and the boys, we were all done,’’ he said about his affection for her.
Beckham has juggled being a dad with his soccer career as well as his global brand, endorsing numerous products, including in his famous — or infamous — underwear ads.
“The brand is just something people have started saying the last few years,’’ he said. “We've gone into different areas, and it's turned into a kind of brand people are interested in.’’
Beckham wasn’t exactly a pro as a model when he first started shooting the underwear ads that made him famous for more than scoring goals.
“I was like, ‘Seriously? The temperature in the room needs to be a little bit warmer than it is. You know, we're shooting an underwear campaign,’’’ he recalled, laughing. “I was totally embarrassed by it.’’