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21st Jun 2016

David Beckham has dared to have an opinion on the future of his country

David Beckham is one of the UK’s finest exports.

He was a very gifted footballer, but even some of his greatest supporters would question whether he was truly world-class, if the bar was set at Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo, Luis Figo and Ronaldinho. Nevertheless, he made the most of what he had and represented Manchester United, Real Madrid, AC Milan, Paris Saint-Germain, LA Galaxy and Preston. Yes – even Preston.

From unspectacular roots in East London, he is now one of the most recognisable faces on the planet. Perhaps more than any other player in the history of British football, he has been consistently international in this outlook and influence. Beckham has earned his celebrity by being very good at what he does and never ever resting on the laurels of his success.

On Tuesday, the former England captain made his views of the EU referendum clear. He spoke with clarity and heart about his desire to remain part of the European Union:

“I’m passionate about my country and whatever the result of Thursday’s referendum, we will always be Great. Each side has the right to their opinion and that should always be respected whatever the outcome of the European Referendum.

“I played my best years at my boyhood club, Manchester United. I grew up with a core group of young British players that included Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and the Neville Brothers. Added to that was an experienced group of older British players such as Gary Pallister, Steve Bruce and Paul Ince.

“Now that team might have gone on to win trophies but we were a better and more successful team because of a Danish goalkeeper, Peter Schmeichel, the leadership of an Irishman Roy Keane and the skill of a Frenchman in Eric Cantona.

“I was also privileged to play and live in Madrid, Milan and Paris with teammates from all around Europe and the world. Those great European cities and their passionate fans welcomed me and my family and gave us the opportunity to enjoy their unique and inspiring cultures and people.

We live in a vibrant and connected world where together as a people we are strong. For our children and their children we should be facing the problems of the world together and not alone. For these reasons I am voting to Remain.”

Beckham did five important things in his carefully-worded statement:

  1. He insisted that everyone has a right to their opinion, and that everyone’s opinion should be duly respected;
  2. He emphasised how vital British colleagues and expertise were on his career;
  3. He added that his success was magnified and enhanced by the contribution of European teammates;
  4. He referenced his own personal experiences of living in other parts of Europe and the world;
  5. He explained in very simple terms what led him to choose to remain in the EU.

None of that is inflammatory, offensive, disingenuous or deceitful. And yet he has been criticised and mocked for stating his opinion. He has been accused of being thick; of being deluded; of being out of touch. Worst of all, he is accused of being rich and successful – the very cheek of it.

Whether you agree with Beckham or not, his opinion deserves the same respect as anyone else’s. Just because he was ambitious and talented and determined enough to make a success of his life, it doesn’t mean that he should keep his mouth shut. And yet there are people – radio commentators – questioning his right to state his views.

Beckham is not thick, and he never has been. It is a myth. He is where he is because he is canny and daring and ambitious, and made the very most of what he had. Surely those are attributes to be celebrated rather than derided.

His short statement is absolutely reasonable and consistent with his entire life. He did not stay in Leytonstone. He wasn’t content to play out his career at his boyhood club in Manchester. He has constantly sought to expand his horizons and explore new cultures. That is what informs his decision.

Perhaps those mocking him, those raging at a famous footballer for being something else than the monotone rent-a-cliche stereotype, should look at themselves for a second and wonder what is making them quite so angry.

Beckham just said that he respects your personal decision, and explained his own. That’s far more reasonable and gracious than most of the politicians on both sides of the debate.