David Beckham has announced he will retire from football at the end of the season.
The former England captain, who turned 38 earlier this month, will quit at the top days after helping Paris St Germain to their first French championship in 19 years.
That made him the first Englishman to win titles in four different countries, and PSG were keen to hold on to the midfielder beyond the end of his short-term contract.
But Beckham has instead opted to follow his old mentor Sir Alex Ferguson into retirement, calling a halt to a senior career which began with a Manchester United debut in a League Cup tie at Brighton on September 23 1992.
His final appearance is likely to come for PSG away at Lorient on May 26.
“If you had told me as a young boy I would have played for and won trophies with my boyhood club Manchester United, proudly captained and played for my country over one hundred times and lined up for some of the biggest clubs in the world, I would have told you it was a fantasy.”
He said: “I’m thankful to PSG for giving me the opportunity to continue but I feel now is the right time to finish my career, playing at the highest level.
“If you had told me as a young boy I would have played for and won trophies with my boyhood club Manchester United, proudly captained and played for my country over one hundred times and lined up for some of the biggest clubs in the world, I would have told you it was a fantasy. I’m fortunate to have realised those dreams.”
Beckham won six Premier League titles, two FA Cups and a Champions League with United, where he was voted PFA Young Player of the Year in 1997.
Glenn Hoddle gave him an England debut in September 1996, and he survived the fall-out from an infamous red card at the 1998 World Cup to become his country’s most-capped outfield player, 59 of 115 appearances coming as skipper.
Beckham left Old Trafford for Real Madrid in the summer of 2003 and won the Liga title in the last of his four seasons in Spain before signing for LA Galaxy, where he was twice an MLS Cup winner.
He spent two loan spells in Italy with Milan and made a final move to Paris in January this year.
Beckham joined Sky as an ambassador for sport earlier this year and has also spent time promoting football in China.
He said: “Nothing will ever completely replace playing the game I love, however I feel like I’m starting a new adventure and I’m genuinely excited about what lies ahead.
“I’m fortunate to have been given many opportunities throughout my career and now I feel it’s my time to give back.”
Beckham spoke to his former teammate Gary Neville – an interview you can watch on Sky Sports News from 5pm on Thursday – with Neville saying: “I think he just feels it’s the right time. It’s been a huge week in terms of retirements. Last week there was Ferguson and Paul Scholes – huge figures in English football over the last 20 years. And now we have another globally influential figure retiring. Beckham feels he’s taken football as far as he can.”
Former England manager Steve McClaren hailed Beckham as a great of the modern game.
“He just feels as though he has taken his playing career as far as he can. He is finishing on a high in Paris but he just wants to go back home and feels this is the right time to do it.”
Gary Neville on Beckham
McClaren dropped Beckham when he inherited the England job from Sven-Goran Eriksson in 2006 before giving him a recall and said: “He was a great player. He made the very most of his talents through sheer hard work and professionalism and always doing extra work on the training field.
“He inspired his team-mates through his performances.
“He was a winner, he’s won so many things in his career, and that was infectious on his team-mates.
“And he was an inspiring personality to young players with his behaviour and professionalism on and off the field.
“But ultimately he was a leader and people followed him.
“The young players followed him in how he played and in his personality, and even off the field the young players of today are following him through his fashion.”
Sky Sports’ Charlie Nicholas added: “I think he’s been an absolute superstar. Forget about the Beckham brand, he gave every ounce of blood and guts when he was on a football field. Yes, he wasn’t Lionel Messi or in the top 20 most skilful players in the world, but he brought honesty, commitment and style to every team he played for.
“He’s been a credit to the game. I would have liked him to have been more ruthless with his comments as he took a lot of stick during his career and was never critical, but he’s been a credit to himself and everything he’s represented in football.”