David Beckham appeared on the legendary BBC Radio show Desert Island Discs this week, to mark the show's seventy-fifth anniversary. In an extended special, Beckham touched on a wide-range of subjects, but as with most interviews with players who left Manchester United, the most interesting conversation concerned his relationship with Alex Ferguson.
Beckham, not exactly a man to hold a grudge, has patched up his differences with Ferguson, and spoke well of him at points in the interview: saying that Ferguson gave him "strength" after his sending off at the 1998 World Cup by ringing him swiftly after full-time to tell him to get back to Manchester to get through the media storm.
But relations soured between the two when Beckham had the audacity to marry Victoria Beckham and, in the manager's eyes, take his eye off football somewhat. This hit its nadir in the Old Trafford dressing room after a defeat to Arsenal, when, in a rage, Ferguson kicked a pile of kit, unknowingly sending a football boot flying at Beckham's eye.
Ferguson wrote in his book that Beckham was "the only player I managed who chose to be famous, who made it his mission to be known outside the game. I felt uncomfortable with the celebrity aspect of his life. He fell in love with Victoria - that changed everything.
Beckham revealed to Kirsty Young that relations soured when Ferguson caught him at the airport after a secret day trip to Ireland to see Victoria:
There were certain decisions that I made back then that were wrong decisions and I can see why the manager got so frustrated by certain things.
There was one occasion when Victoria was in Ireland, I had a day off so I flew over to Ireland. I didn't feel I needed to tell the manager what I was doing.
As I was coming back at 6am for training, I was sat in the lounge and the manager walked in. He didn't talk to me. I knew I was in a little bit of trouble.
It all ended in Beckham's departure for Real Madrid in 2003, but he came mightily close to joining Barcelona against his permission. Joan Laporta was elected as Barca president with a mandate to sign Beckham, and Ferguson sanctioned the signing without speaking to Beckham whatsoever. When Beckham learned of it, Ferguson refused to speak to him. Beckham's last resort, therefore, was to force a move to Madrid over Barca instead.
The move came entirely against Beckham's wishes.
I didn’t watch Manchester United for three years [after he left].
I was shocked and devastated because we had just won the league that season.
[I wanted to retire at United] Because Manchester United were my team. I had no aspirations to leave United. There was never any revenge. I was hurt and angry at the time at how the situation had gone because throughout the season I was left out of certain games but never thought it would lead to me leaving.
But I had heard rumours I might be sold. I was holiday in the States with Victoria and one of my friends called and told me it was on Sky Sports that United had agreed terms with Barcelona. I said that wasn’t right, I don’t know anything about it.
I then flew back to London. I tried to speak to Peter Kenyon and tried to speak to the manager and he said no. I said well I need to speak to him and understand what is going on. He said it’s true, we have agreed a deal.
That is when I spoke to my agent and said if I am going to move, I’m going to move to Madrid. Within a day, I was sat with the president of Madrid and we agreed that is where I was going to go.
It's a great interview with Beckham, we recommend you seek it out.