LONDON (AFP) - David Beckham paid tribute to "father figure" Alex Ferguson on Wednesday after the Manchester United manager announced he would retire at the end of the season.
Former England captain Beckham, one of "Fergie's fledglings", a crop of young players that the Scottish manager brought through the Old Trafford youth system and into the first team, wrote on his Facebook page: "As I have said many times before the boss wasn't just the greatest and best manager I ever played under he was also a father figure to me from the moment I arrived at the club at the age of 11 until the day I left.
"Without him I would never have achieved what I have done in my career. He understood how important it was to play for your country and he knew how much it meant to me," added Beckham, now with French giants Paris St Germain.
Beckham paid particular tribute to Ferguson for the protective role he played in helping him deal with the fall-out from his sending off for England against Argentina at the 1998 World Cup - with many fans blaming the midfielder for the team's last 16 defeat in France by the South Americans.
"After '98 without the manager I would have found it virtually impossible to cope with the attention I was getting on and off the field and for this I will always be grateful to him for his support and protection," Beckham explained.
"I am truly honoured to have been guided by the greatest manager in football and to have had the career that I had under him.
"Thank you boss and enjoy the rest!"
Beckham's relationship with Ferguson soured towards the end of his time at Old Trafford, with the manager concerned about the effect on his football of the player's high-profile marriage to pop star, and now fashion designer, Victoria Adams.
Matters weren't helped when Ferguson kicked a stray boot in the dressing room that accidentally hit Beckham in the head, before the free-kick specialist joined Real Madrid in 2003.