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Shadow of Beckham Looms Large

It is easy to forget that for the best part of his career, David Beckham did not don the number seven jersey.
It was not his to start with at Manchester United, with the young floppy-haired winger graduating out the Old Trafford academy system working his way steadily down the order from 28, to 24 and then to number 10.

Teddy Sheringham has now revealed that the tale of one of English football’s most iconic figures could have been markedly different had he not joined the Red Devils in the summer of 1997, with his standing as an elder statesman and out-and-out frontman allowing him to cherry pick his squad number of choice. Having opted for 10, Beckham was offered the opportunity to take seven.

Some may have shied away from inheriting such a shirt, with it only up for grabs due to the rather surprising call made by Eric Cantona to slip into retirement.

It was, of course, much more than a number at United, with Cantona’s brilliance having added further weight to a figure already synonymous with the likes of George Best and Bryan Robson.

Beckham jumped at the chance to fill those boots, and would spend six years in them - a glittering period in his playing career which delivered countless honours at domestic level, the England captaincy, an OBE and global celebrity status unlike any other sporting personality.

A move away from Manchester, initially to Madrid and then Los Angeles, Milan and Paris would see him lose touch with the number which meant so much to him – one forever etched on his body in tattoo form – as he flitted between 23 and 32.

He will, however, forever be Mr Number Seven in the eyes of many, and it is that standing – along with those that came before him - which continues to cast a sizeable shadow at club and country level.

For United, Cristiano Ronaldo didn’t do too badly for himself upon inheriting the shirt – with his CR7 brand testament to how closely associated he is to that number – but there has been something of a decline since then.

Michael Owen, Antonio Valencia, Angel di Maria and Memphis Depay have been asked to continue the legacy, but have largely disappointed.

In truth, England have never found a natural successor to the width and creativity he provided from the flanks either, although the latest man to occupy the number seven shirt – Dele Alli – is generating enough hype and showcasing enough ability to suggest that he could make the Three Lions contenders within international football betting markets at next summer’s European Championship.

Whoever fills that role, comparisons to Beckham will never be far away, but the man himself is looking for those who follow in his footsteps, particularly at club level, to embrace the challenge and the history they are forming part of.

He said in the Independent: "The No 7 is special for Manchester United. I don't see it as an intimidation, I see it as an honour.”