Hans Vandeweghe is a sports journalist at The morning.
Sports documentaries about top athletes, top teams or top sports are all too often unison accolades, strictly directed and edited, with the aim of marketing a product.
There are a few exceptions. Sunderland ‘Til I Dieabout the fortunes of a football club, was of a rarely seen rawness and authenticity. OJ: Made in America from 2016 was also anything but a praise poem for the ex-football player Simpson, who was acquitted for murder (of his wife), but was found civilly liable and later sentenced to 33 years for other misdeeds.
The decor of OJ was the United States, with its big and especially small sides. That was also the case Bill Russell: Legend (also on Netflix), highly recommended, about the black activist and record-breaking basketball champion.
The sports documentary of all sports documentaries is of course The Last Dance about the Chicago Bulls’ 97-98 season, Michael Jordan’s last in Chicago. Even the main character had to repeatedly go through the dust as an impossible human being.
What all those documentaries, from OJ to MJ, had in common was that they explored the ecosystem of the rich and famous offered as a kind of extra layer, but essentially it was still about the sport. After binging Beckham As a sports fan, you can’t go wrong with Netflix. Football is an alibi here to market the same product again.
This docuseries follows Beckham’s steep rise from youth player from humble backgrounds to global football star. A historic goal in 1996 – a kick from inside his own half – put David on the path to fame and Victoria Adams, Posh of the Spice Girls.
After the 1998 World Cup, where he was excluded for kicking back and England was eliminated – by the hated Argentina – Beckham went through a depression, received death threats, but was drawn to fatherhood.
When the tension between him and coach Sir Alex Ferguson becomes too great and the club wants to sell him to Barcelona, he chooses Real Madrid. In the last of four episodes, David and Victoria review his journey through Real Madrid, LA Galaxy, AC Milan and ultimately Paris Saint-Germain. They philosophize about life, what it has been, and what it is now…
The documentary scores well IMDb. 8.3 still. David Beckham was the Prince Harry of English football. This docuseries is a bit of a moving tabloid, but with the couple as editors. Occasionally it can be spicy, such as when Beckham questions his wife’s plebeian origins. “Working class? You? What car did you take to school? A Rolls Royce! Right. (laugh)”
And then there is that nice putting guest role from Sir Alex Ferguson, who believes that Beckham never reached the absolute top because of Victoria.
Beckham is a documentary about Beckham, but also with Beckham NV. You can tell by the topics that have been avoided. That much-discussed one affair in Madrid is discussed, but what about all those other slip-ups? What about his unsuccessful campaign to become a knight in the hope of living life as Sir David? And what about Victoria, who saw her reality show in the US go up in smoke and whose fashion brand is doing poorly? Finally: if they are doing so well, why accept 150 million dollars from that bad Qatar for the ‘ambassadorship’ of the World Cup and why not say a word about the riot that caused?
Beckham is such a cleverly crafted hagiography that you eventually start to believe that he was once the best in the world. So no. He had a formidable kicking technique. And he has become champion in four different countries, each time with modest contributions, except in some of the six Premier League titles with Man United.
It is striking that in those years a number of his colleagues from Man U won individual prizes, but he was never chosen by his fellow players for PFA Player of the Year nor for the Premier League Player of the Season. Never for the Ballon d’Or or for the FIFA World Player of the Year. In his best season (98-99) he became UEFA Club Footballer of the Year.
‘Goldenballs‘, as Victoria renamed him, is no longer the braggart who, as an Adidas sandwich man, took it into his head in Madrid to plagiarize the number 23 of Nike god Michael Jordan, but he is still primarily a marketer of himself and his ego. Beckham is made good and smooth, but who Beckham finds a good sports documentary, still has some homework to do.