When David Beckham met Diego Simeone

England football legend David Beckham has an unlikely friend – his Argentinian nemesis from the 1998 World Cup, Diego Simeone.

The two locked horns at the most important tournament in the world when Manchester United superstar Beckham, then 23, received a red card for kicking his 28-year-old opponent.

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The incident caused one of the biggest controversies in footballing history; the England youngster played for only 47 minutes in the crucial England vs Argentina match. Ten-man England crashed out of the tournament on penalties.

Despite their differences on the pitch a quarter of a century ago, Beckham, 48, has struck up a friendship with Simeone, 53.

Beckham: From hero to villain

Beckham made his professional debut with Manchester United aged 17 in 1992. He quickly rocketed to superstardom as a member of Sir Alex Ferguson’s young team of the ‘90s, which included Gary and Phil Neville, Ryan Giggs, Nicky Butt and Phil Scholes.

Recognised as one of the greatest and most iconic midfielders of his generation, as well as arguably the best set-piece specialist of all time, Beckham was born in May 1975 in London.

His iconic status today is due to his incredible footballing skills. The first English player to win league titles in four countries (England, the United States, Spain and France), he won the Premier League title six times with Manchester United. He also won the FA Cup twice and the UEFA Champions League in 1999.

On leaving United, he played four seasons with Real Madrid and won the La Liga championship in his final year there.

After signing a five-year contract in the US with LA Galaxy (a Major League Soccer club) in July 2007, he also spent two loan spells with AC Milan in Italy in 2009 and 2010.

Becoming the first British footballer to play 100 UEFA Champions League games, Beckham retired in May 2013, after a highly respected 20-year career, winning 19 major trophies.

However, following the infamous World Cup 1998 incident, the fans’ adoration of the star quickly turned to anger. He was even dubbed “public enemy number one” by the media.

England vs Argentina 1998

When David Beckham met Diego Simeone on 30th June 1998, nobody could have foreseen how badly the match would end.

Beckham had played well in England’s qualifying matches for the tournament and was an integral part of the 23-man squad travelling to the finals in France with manager Glenn Hoddle.

During England’s previous game against Colombia, Beckham scored his famous 30-yard bending free kick during their 2-0 victory. He had reportedly spent hours practicing his free kicks at training sessions and his diligence paid off. A proud moment, it was the midfielder’s first goal for his country, but his joy was short-lived.

Reaching the last 16 as a result, Beckham received a red card after Simeone fouled him. While lying on the floor, the England player kicked out in anger at the Argentinian, striking him on the calf. At the time, some of the press criticised Simeone’s hard challenge and the way he fell to the ground “like a ton of bricks” after Beckham retaliated.

Later, Simeone admitted he had deliberately tried to get Beckham sent off through his dramatic overreaction to the kick. The Argentinian team had urged the referee to give Beckham the red card.

Following their heated first meeting on the pitch, Beckham returned to the UK to a barrage of abuse from fans and the press, become a target for criticism, with the Daily Mirror printing a dartboard containing a photo of Beckham in the bullseye spot.

He and his family received serious threats, revealing the ugly side of football hooliganism. It took a long time for Beckham to get over the furore caused by the incident.

His Three Lions teammate, goalkeeper David Seaman, later said none of the England squad blamed him. They were disappointed only because they were knocked out of the World Cup.

Unexpected friendship

Simeone, nicknamed “El Cholo” during his playing days, is a professional football manager today at Atlético Madrid.

The former midfielder later spoke about the Beckham incident, explaining his actions. In an interview, he told reporters, “It’s not only about controlling the ball. It’s also about focus and passion – and controlling anger.”

He admitted he had wanted to see how Beckham would react. Perhaps ironically, Simeone was genuinely injured by a tackle from Dutch player Arthur Numan in his next match at the 1998 World Cup, when Argentina crashed out.

Although Beckham and Simeone met on the pitch six times after their first unfortunate match, it was never as dramatic as the World Cup 1998.

Beckham had his revenge of sorts less than a year later, when he was in the Manchester United team that knocked Simeone’s Inter Milan out of the Champions League! Considering their history, fans were surprised to see the two football legends strolling round Qatar like old friends during Argentina’s World Cup final win against France in 2022.

Posting their photo on his social media feed, Beckham (now owner of the Inter Miami football club) wrote the caption, “Congratulations, my friend.” Simeone reposted the picture and responded, “Good to see you always.”

As they showed at the Qatar World Cup, there were no hard feelings, and the two soccer greats were prepared to let bygones be bygones.

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