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Tribune sports rant: Rather than fixate on Beckham's flaws, remember him for what he did so well

Published May 18, 2013 8:15 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

"He cannot kick with his left foot, he cannot head a ball, he cannot tackle, and he does not score many goals. Apart from that, he's all right."

George Best said that about David Beckham — when the 38-year-old former L.A. Galaxy midfielder finished second in FIFA's world player of the year honors more than a decade ago.

Who's George Best? He's arguably the best British soccer player of all time. "Maradona good; Pelé better; George Best," is a quote his admirers believe best summarizes his place in soccer history.

But is Best's characterization of Beckham fair? Is it even true?

No, and not quite.

Beckham has a head and a left foot, which he used throughout his career. He can, and did, tackle the ball away from players, too. Perhaps it's disingenuous to take Mr. Best's criticism literally, since he meant Beckham wasn't acknowledged as being good at using his head or left foot or tackling (or even dribbling).

But what made Beckham special was his right foot and his ability to read the game, which more than compensated for his perceived limited range as a player. Soccer, it's been described, is a simple game: Pass and move, pass and move. Beckham passed as well as anyone ever has in the sport. He could place a ball at a sprinting player's feet nearly anywhere on the field. Just watch this YouTube video, and you'll see what we mean.

He wasn't a forward, but he did score plenty of goals in his career.

Think of Beckham as soccer's version of Joe Montana, who wasn't the biggest, fastest or most agile player, yet is considered the greatest quarterback who ever played the game.