Though he captained England, he was world famous and became a household name across the entire planet.
We asked our European offices for their reaction to the news that Goldenballs has retired - surveying the correspondents on two questions.
First, what they see as Beckham's defining moment.
And second, whether his ability as a player matched the hype around this footballing superstar.
For English football fans, the answers are fairly simple: his greatest moment was undeniably the free kick against Greece in 2001 to secure a place in the World Cup, a goal that also completed his redemption after the petulant foul that earned him a red card against Argentina three years earlier.
And as for his ability on the pitch? There's no doubt that he's become a superstar who plays football rather than a footballing superstar, but despite not being Zidane or Ronaldo he would still comfortably fit into any top 20 of the best English players of the last 20 years.
Here's what the rest of Europe had to say:
- - - -
Maxime Dupuis, France
I would not choose a precise moment but a season, 1998-1999. For me, it was his best and most memorable season as a footballer. David Beckham was incredible on the right side, not only supplying golden balls for Yorke and Cole, but also running all over the pitch, defending well. He was never tired. For me, he should have won the Ballon d’Or in 1999. Not Rivaldo. It was a joke. From a French view, I would add that I had been upset when he took the No. 7 left by Cantona in Manchester United. I was wondering 'who’s that guy ?'
Was he over-rated or under-rated? It's really hard to answer. It is a paradox but I think that the footballer hasn’t been helped by his face, his looks, his wallet and a lot more… I think that if he had a 'normal face' he would have been appreciated a lot more for his qualities as a footballer, which where great. Even if you think that he only had a right foot, what a foot! I’ve not seen a lot of footballers able to shoot free-kicks and to make crosses like him.
Tobias Laure, Germany
A really memorable moment that comes in to my mind is the 2006 World Cup, when England won 1-0 against Ecuador in the knockout stage. Beckham scored, helped his team to win and had to vomit in the end because of the heat in Stuttgart. His defining achievement for me is his great success in club football. Of course, he played in big teams, but his list of titles is absolutely fascinating.
Aside from his stories and headlines off the pitch Beckham was an outstanding player, able to make the difference on the field. His qualities at free-kicks and his presence on the field made him an exceptional player. His skills as a football player were confirmed when he finished second in the World Player of the Year awards in 1999 and 2001. Nevertheless I don’t rate Beckham on the same level as individuals like Maradona, Pele, Beckenbauer or Messi. Was Beckham over- or under-rated during his career? Neither, I would say. His performances for Manchester United and Real Madrid were valued by fans, media and coaches – even if he had problems with the English supporters in 2000. On the other hand, he of course had to deal with tabloid headlines – which is normal, if you present yourself as a poster boy.
Davide Bighiani, Italy
I'll always remember when he first came to Milan in January 2009: he was not welcomed enthusiastically because everybody was wondering if he still could be the player he once was at Manchester United or Real Madrid. And he responded with great performances, proving once more to be the 'English gentleman' everybody knew him to be. AC Milan today saluted him as a "big friend" and "impeccable professional". His defining achievement is winning national championships in four different countries.
David Beckham was an absolute star, he was able to put the ball wherever he wanted, especially with free-kicks. He's probably not in the top 10 of all-time world players, but he was definitely a player a manager would like to have in his team, as it was for Carlo Ancelotti (and Leonardo) in Becks' two spells in AC Milan. Under-rated? Judging from the teams he played for during his 20-year career I would say no.
Jose Manuel Antequera, Spain
Beckham was a better footballer than he looked. He left a very good impression as a player at Real Madrid. Very professional, he always worked hard and was well liked by both peers and by the media.
Peter Kwiatkowski, Poland
In 1996 I was 13 years old. When I say Beckham, I always see his goal against Wimbledon. There was no YouTube or 101 Great Goals at that time. Those years were more romantic and everything was more spectacular. As a young boy, who loved to play football on the streets of small town in Poland, it made you think: "I want to go out and copy this!". I will always remember Becks because of that goal. I was amazed at the time. The second thing about Beckham is his free-kicks. He had great long passes and great free-kicks. He was capable of putting a ball on a nose, as we say in Poland.
I think he definitely was not over-rated and not under-rated - but I think he was at his peak at Manchester United. At Real Madrid he started to become more celebrity than footballer. I think everybody will agree with this point of view and I think it's common for everybody. It was like that.
Artem Butorin, Russia
It's not about a particular moment for me, but it's about a transfer: the move from Manchester United to Real Madrid. An invitation to Madrid is a recognition of talent for any footballer. Of course, that transfer was a little bit complicated and not everybody understood Beckham's reasons. But David took the most of his chance to play among the legends of those days.
Beckham was valued exactly as he should have been - neither under- nor over-rated. The sceptical attitude regarding his ability came from his photoshoots. But I don't remember a single game when David played half-heartedly. He was and is an idol for youngsters.