It’s a game of two halves for David Beckham this winter. First, there’s Save Our Squad with David Beckham on Disney+. The four-part feel-good documentary series sees the former England captain return to the grassroots of the game he loves, helping coach Westward Boys under-14s team in East London as they fight to avoid relegation from the Echo Premier League (in which Beckham played for Ridgeway Rovers in as a teenager).
But then, more troublingly, there is another high profile role – as a very well paid culture and tourism ambassador for Qatar ahead of this year’s World Cup, which begins later this month and will be played out against a backdrop of the host nation’s persecution of gay people, mistreatment of migrant workers building the stadiums, and institutionalised misogyny.
Beckham has split the crowd before. He was 1990s football’s biggest pin-up – Golden Balls, Galactico, Spice Boy and Champions League-winning star for Manchester United, Real Madrid and PSG, and possessed a right foot that was the envy of the football world.
But he was also subjected to horrific abuse from fans, becoming a hate figure in the wake of being scapegoated for England’s failure at the World Cup in 1998, following his sending off against Argentina.
This year has been a good year for Beckham and his reputation. He reinforced his man-of-the-people image by queueing alongside millions of others to pay his final respects to the Queen as she lay in state. No queue jumping, no VIP lanes, just a good hat, some donuts for his fellow queuers and a few selfies.
And this is the David Beckham we meet in Save Our Squadwith David Beckham. “I’m from a working-class family. I’ve always wanted to give back to football… this league is where it all began for me,” he says, as he prepares to meet the young players from Westward Boys.