Sir Alex Ferguson
“Sir Alex Ferguson has been the making of me,” Beckham said in 2002. “He brought me up and has made my career what it is.”
The Scot welcomed Beckham to the club with open arms in 1991 and immediately made him feel part of the Red family. “He knew my name, my mum and dad, and my sisters; he knew everything about me,” Becks said.
The work ethic instilled in Beckham by his father and early coaches was reinforced by Sir Alex on the United training ground. The Leytonstone-born midfielder’s willingness to practice his craft for hours on end went down well with his new mentor, and went some way to helping him become the greatest crosser on the planet. “David Beckham practices with a relentless application that the vast majority of less gifted players wouldn’t contemplate,” Sir Alex said in his autobiography, Managing My Life.
Sir Alex repaid Beckham’s effort by handing him the No.7 shirt (and later, on occasion, the captaincy) – but it was the Gaffer’s footballing expertise that really struck a chord with our mercurial midfielder of old.
“The boss understands football like few other people,” he said. “Whatever situation the team’s in, either during a season or during a game, the players have the feeling he knows exactly what to do.”
The two would later have their disagreements, but the mutual respect each had for the other is unquestionable. “When the chips are down on the football field, you can bet your life that David Beckham won’t be found wanting,” enthused Sir Alex.
Becks is similarly effusive in his praise of Sir Alex. “He’s a very demanding man but, in all my time as a United player, the gaffer was the one person who always seemed to have even more faith in us than we had in ourselves. He made players feel special.”
“David learned 99 percent of what he knows from United, but I like to believe that the missing one per cent was gained at Preston,” says Gary Peters, the Preston North End manager in 1995.
Despite scoring in a 4-0 win against Galatasaray in the Champions League, there had been a feeling in the club that Beckham wasn’t quite ready. “People said he was a bit soft going into tackles and headers,” Gary Neville told United. No surprise then, that Sir Alex called him into his office and told him he was going to Third Division Preston on loan.
“I thought it was a sign that the club was trying to get rid of me,” Beckham admitted. Five games and two goals later, and with lessons learned off the pitch (“You go to somewhere like Preston and realise life is not like it is at United”), Beckham had improved dramatically.
“At first I had to bully and cajole him a bit,” Peters admitted. “But he soon got the message and the fans loved him. We helped his education in that he became tougher, more competitive and resilient. You knew you were watching someone special and I was not surprised when Alex Ferguson said he was taking him back. Alex knew that David had found the physical side to his game.”
A week after playing against Lincoln he made his United league debut against Leeds United. “That month at Preston was one of the most exciting times in my whole career,” said Becks afterwards.