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Original Issue

Full Of Spice The world's most famous athlete has few insights into his game but many into his personal life

BECKHAM: BOTH FEET ON THE GROUND by David Beckham with Tom Watt
HarperCollins, $24.95

The title Muhammad Ali and Michael Jordan once held--world's most
popular athlete--now belongs to David Beckham. But Beckham is a
soccer player, so his profile in the U.S. is comparatively low.
The British film Bend It Like Beckham and his marriage to Spice
Girl Victoria Adams (perhaps the chief source of his fame in the
U.S.) have at least blipped America's radar, but in the rest of
the world his renown soars like one of his rocketed free kicks.
It's that combination of on-field talent and off-field celebrity
that drives this book.

Sometimes the drive is smashing, especially because Beckham is a
magnet for controversy. In the book he confronts much-debated
incidents from his past with a cool eye and a strong spine. (It's
revealing that the U.K. edition is entitled My Side.) His
red-card ejection from the England-Argentina 1998 World Cup
match, for example, was perceived at home as costing his country
a chance at the title and triggered venomous, widespread media
and fan criticism and threats to him and his family. Beckham
faces up to his World Cup error--a retaliatory flick of his leg
at an opponent who had collided with him--but questions the
lunacy of his country's overreaction. His redemptive penalty-kick
goal against Argentina in the 2002 World Cup four years later,
and his adulation by the same public and press that scorned him,
forms one of the book's emotional peaks.

Unlike Ali and Jordan, Beckham is not the best at what he does.
He is more one-dimensional, like Ted Williams, than
multidimensional, like Willie Mays. And if you're searching for
insight into how he developed his singular weapon, his ability to
launch the ball with terrific power and accuracy, this isn't the
place to look. He provides lots of family and youth-soccer tales
and a recap of recent British football history--best appreciated
if you follow Manchester United and England's national team. He
seems like a pleasant, dedicated, even sensitive chap. Then he
meets Posh Spice and, embracing his feminine side, delivers truly
excruciating details about their courtship and wedding, their
glamorous parties and friends and his obsession with clothes.

British soccer and the world of celebrity have become so
intertwined that commentators in England say that the footballers
have become "the new pop stars," with Beckham as Exhibit A.
Eventually his demanding United manager, Alex Ferguson ("the best
in the world," Beckham writes), began questioning his star
player's marriage and commitment to soccer. Beckham's falling-out
with Ferguson, whom he regarded as a second father, and his move
last summer to Spain's Real Madrid hover over the entire book. In
the face of renewed criticism, including the suggestion that he
and Victoria are the new John and Yoko, Beckham remains
unrepentant and determined to explain his side.