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Byline: Oliver Holt

DAVID BECKHAM is sitting in an executive box overlooking the pitch at the Home Depot Center.

He looks fit and happy. The California sun is beating down outside.

Later, he will drive back to his house in Beverly Hills and collect his children from school, then maybe take them down to the beach at Santa Monica.

His three sons are obsessed with football, just like he was. They play all the time. A few evenings during the week and Saturdays and Sundays too.

They love baseball. They love America. He and his wife, Victoria, have a daughter now too. Their family is complete. Life for England's most capped outfield player is sweet.

But as Beckham sits there, his mind drifts back to the point where, in many ways, the foundations for this enchanted existence of his were laid.

He sees an image of a man walking into a room at Old Trafford with a birthday cake in his hand and a 14-year-old boy gazing up at him with a wide smile.

And then he remembers going into an office, accompanied by his proud parents and sitting down with the man to sign his first Manchester United contract.

That was where this life of his all began for Beckham - in Sir Alex Ferguson's office. He can trace all the happiness he enjoys now right back to that moment 22 years ago.

That's the reason why, as he sits here on another continent, Beckham, the most famous product of Sir Alex's 25 years in charge at United, wants to pay tribute to him to mark his quarter of a century as United boss.

They may have had differences towards the end of Beckham's spell at Old Trafford, differences that even resulted in him being cut over the eye by a flying boot.

But Beckham, 36, knows how much he owes the greatest manager this country has ever had and the gratitude that he feels towards him comes spilling out.

"My favourite memory of Sir Alex isn't anything to do with winning the Champions League or any of the league titles I won with United," Beckham said. "It's the day I signed for him.

"I was sitting at Old Trafford before one of the games and it was my birthday. He brought a cake out and he was just about to go into a game with the team.

"I have still got the picture in my house. It's one of my favourite pictures. Me kind of leaning down signing the paper that was my first contract at United with him next to me. That is my best memory of Sir Alex.

"When I first went to Old Trafford as a young boy, you had the feeling straight away of it being a family club with a welcoming atmosphere. It was a big family.

"That's the reason I wanted to play for Manchester United. I was a huge Manchester United fan as a kid but if I had got a bad feeling when I first went up there, that might have changed.

"But the moment I stepped into being a part of that family, well, the way the manager treated young players like me was the reason why they wanted to play for Manchester United.

"The moment I got up to Manchester and moved into my digs, his door was open whenever I needed it. He had an arm round me when I was a young kid. He always said the door's open.

"I was a little bit afraid to go into his office, but he always made me feel that if I had problems, he would be there to help and give advice.

"I was only a young kid who had just signed for the club, so I wasn't even a youth team player at that stage. But he made me feel as if I was playing in the first team already."

Beckham's relationship with Sir Alex, 69, soured briefly in February 2003 when the United manager kicked a discarded football boot across the Old Trafford dressing room.

It hit Beckham in the face, cutting his forehead (below), and amid reports of simmering tension between the two, Beckham was sold to Real Madrid at the end of the season.

But the rift was quickly healed and Beckham is happy to acknowledge that, after his parents, Ferguson has been the dominant influence in his career.

"He wanted to kill me at times, I'm sure," said Beckham. "But he was a father figure to me and he was also the man who gave me the chance of playing for my dream club.

"My parents brought me up to a certain level and then Sir Alex took over. There were a lot of people along the way - Eric Harrison, Nobby Stiles, Brian Kidd, but Sir Alex was the man who gave me my chance.

"There are no hard feelings from me about the boot in the face thing. It was forgotten straight away within the club and within the team.

"There were other people who continued to speculate and talk about it but with me and the boss, it had been forgotten the day after.

"As a manager, he's got everything. That's what is great about him. He has got the staying got reat ying power that not many people have. To have the passion he has had over the years and to still have it at his age after having 25 years as manager of one club, that says it all.

"You don't get the success that he has had without upsetting a few people along the way and he is not afraid to do that. He is old school but he has adapted when he has needed to at Manchester United. I am honoured to have played under him."

Now, when they meet, Beckham says it is as friends. "It was a bit icy the first time I came back with Real Madrid," Beckham added. "But that went very quickly. There is a lot of warmth between us now.

"I have got a huge amount of respect for him and what he did over the years and the chance he gave me and all my friends in that great United youth team to play for Manchester United. It was a real dream for all of us."

Even Fergie's notorious temper has melted into affectionate memories for Beckham now.

"The fear of getting the hairdryer was the reason why we all played so well," he said, smiling. "He was a manager you wanted to do well for.

"It's not enough just to be a great player when you want to play for him. He puts you in the side because he has confidence in you as a player and because you have character.

"That's exactly how he was and that's exactly how he still is. That's how he has been over the years and that's why he's been so successful."



PRIZE POSSESSION Beckham's most cherished photo is this one of him signing for Fergie 22 years ago s MY FATHER FIGUREBeckham s reveals his relationship with Fergie is only second to his parents
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Nov 4, 2011
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