Four thoughts on David Beckham's retirement from soccer on Thursday:
? The timing makes sense. From a purely sporting perspective, Beckham is smart to retire before his skills and stamina diminish too much. At 38, he just won a French league title at Paris Saint-Germain, which means he left as a champion in every country he played full-time, including the U.S., Spain and England. Beckham was still good enough to start in a Champions League quarterfinal against Barcelona last month, and his free kicks and passing vision remain very good, even if he wasn't playing at the international level anymore. If Beckham had continued playing, his age was much more likely to show.
? Beckham still combines sports and celebrity like no other athlete. You could have a good bar-room debate over who's the most famous athlete in the world today, but I'd argue that Beckham has been and remains the one, not least because in places like the U.S. he's known just as much (or more) as an A-List celebrity as a soccer player. Lionel Messi, Tiger Woods, LeBron James and Usain Bolt just don't have that "fame multiplier effect" that Beckham has. Even when he was busy winning two championships for Los Angeles, the majority of the Americans who recognized Beckham couldn't tell you how his team was doing. But that's O.K. -- he brought new fans and awareness to MLS the day he signed with the Galaxy in 2007, and by staying with the Galaxy through 2012 he showed he was committed to the project.
? Beckham was a better player than he often got credit for. He was never the world's best player, but Beckham was probably in the top five or six for a while during the days when Manchester United was winning the famous Treble in 1998-99. So frequent were the charges that Beckham was overrated that he eventually became underrated. No player in history has made more appearances for the English national team, which he captained for six years and scored for in three World Cups. One of the best free-kick takers of all time, Beckham worked his tail off during his career, and he earned his place on the field at Real Madrid with fellow Galácticos Zinédine Zidane, Ronaldo and Luís Figo (all three of them former world players of the year). If you talked to other players, they called him a pro's pro.
? Beckham will still be connected to MLS and U.S. soccer. Beckham has said many times that he plans to exercise his contractual option to buy into an MLS team as an owner at a below-market price, and now that his playing days are over, he'll be able to do so. The question is which city and which team? There was talk last year that Beckham could become a part owner of the L.A. Galaxy, but does that equation change now that his closest L.A. soccer contact, Tim Leiweke, has left job as president of Galaxy owner AEG? Might Beckham join Leiweke now that he's running the group that owns Toronto FC? Or perhaps Beckham may end up owning part of a hoped-for MLS expansion team in Miami? Whatever the case, we'll still be seeing plenty of Beckham in an ambassador's role, both inside and outside the United States.
Grant Wahl's book, The Beckham Experiment, told the inside story of Beckham's first two years with the Los Angeles Galaxy. It was the first soccer book ever to become a New York Times Best-Seller.