LONDON • David Beckham may be English football's darling, but he is finding it hard to repair his squeaky-clean image after leaked e-mails last week from online whistle-blower Football Leaks cast him in a particularly poor light.
Following the shocking revelations, in which the 41-year-old was said to have raged about not receiving a knighthood, the former Manchester United and Real Madrid star was pictured hitting the gym in London on Thursday, quietly resuming his daily activities.
Beckham would be hoping that the scandal would eventually work out by itself, but many have already turned against him after it was revealed that he swore in e-mails to his PR team after being told he would not be made "Sir David" by Queen Elizabeth II because of concerns over his tax affairs.
The e-mails detailed how he described the honours committee as "a bunch of c***s" after he was overlooked for the honour as well as his rant that "Unless it's a knighthood, f*** off".
Football fans and also the public have been appalled by the darker side of Beckham, alleging him of using charity to gain a knighthood.
SEE THE GOOD SIDE TOO
When we do good things in the hope of kudos, we are doing nothing wrong, whether we are involved with Unicef, Greenhouse, or the local soup kitchen. There is nothing more natural, or more human.
MATTHEW SYED, in his column in The Times of London, on the former football star being slammed unfairly.
Much of the outrage has also centred on his work with the Unicef children's charity.
The Mirror reported that one e-mail appeared to show Beckham's staff asking if Unicef would use funds offered to pay for a five-star hotel to contribute towards more luxurious accommodation during a charity trip.
Another suggested that he had billed the organisation for a flight which he did not need to take, and was reluctant to contribute his own money to the charity.
Golden Balls' controversies
Beckham was the first England player to be sent off twice for his country, and he was also the first England captain to receive a red card. His most notorious sending- off was during the 1998 World Cup against Argentina in the round of 16, after he kicked out at Diego Simeone.
He also had the worse disciplinary record of any England footballer - two red cards and 16 bookings.
ACCUSED OF TAX EVASION
In 2013, his decision to donate his entire £170,000-a-week salary at Paris Saint-Germain, where he played at for five months, was seen as a tax-avoidance measure. By doing so, he avoided paying the huge 75 per cent super tax that France levied on big earners.
Beckham also kept wife Victoria and his children in London instead of living in Paris, which meant that he could claim he was not a resident in France for tax purposes.
Beckham and Victoria had their fair share of problems when it was alleged in 2004 that he had affairs with his former personal assistant Rebecca Loos and Malaysian-born Australian model Sarah Marbeck.
However, the reports were dismissed and did not tarnish Beckham's image as a loving husband and father to his children.
Unicef said it could not comment on the e-mails, but defended Beckham's contribution.
"As well as generously giving his time, energy and support to help raise awareness and funds for Unicef's work for children, David has given significant funds personally," it said in a statement.
Beckham's team have said that some of the published e-mails were doctored by hackers, including the insertion of extra swear words.
But they confirmed others as genuine, including his insult about the honours committee. However, they stressed such e-mails were heat-of-the-moment communication between close associates.
They also expressed deep frustration that "stolen information", which had been prohibited from publication by the High Court, had come to light, and that it was no longer possible to keep the information confidential.
In December, the High Court had accepted that e-mails written by Beckham and his PR advisers were stolen from a Portuguese company associated with Beckham's spokesman, Simon Oliveira, and issued an injunction preventing publication.
However, several media organisations, including Germany's Der Spiegel and France's L'Equipe, published details of the cache.
The cache also included e-mails between Oliveira and Beckham about "a red flag" HM Revenue and Customs had put on his nomination for a knighthood due to his involvement in an alleged tax avoidance scheme.
Following the leaks, there had been a backlash against Beckham from sections of Britain's tabloid media.
Monday's Daily Mail spoke of the "Shame of Saint Becks", with a columnist pronouncing him "a foul-mouthed, determined egotist" who had used charity work as part of an "increasingly desperate" bid for a knighthood.
Outspoken television host Piers Morgan told his 5.47 million Twitter followers the revelations were "sickening" and exposed Beckham as a "fraud".
Such harsh reactions have inevitably made him a national hero to zero overnight and it was all the more drastic especially since he was one of England's most-loved and famed footballers.
Blessed with an extraordinarily accurate right foot, Beckham was renowned for his dead-ball prowess and his seemingly limitless stamina, as well as his ever-changing hairstyles.
He captained England for six years and played at three World Cups, his 115 caps making him his country's third most-capped player behind Peter Shilton and Wayne Rooney.
Beckham has maintained a high profile since retiring from the game in May 2013. He continues to carry out charity work and fronts several advertising campaigns.
He also received an OBE from the queen in 2003, an honour two levels below a knighthood.
His global celebrity turned him into a one-man marketing phenomenon with a glut of lucrative endorsements. He is the face of firms including adidas, fashion chain H&M and Haig Whisky and his shared fortune with wife Victoria, dubbed "Brand Beckham", is believed to exceed £500 million (S$887 million).
He has not spoken publicly since the story broke, although he was pictured cradling his five-year-old daughter Harper on the Instagram account of his son, Brooklyn.
Cynics said even that was a crass attempt to show his best, fatherly side at a time of bad headlines.
However, some have also defended him.
Matthew Syed, writing for The Times of London, said that it is a curious world when a footballer, who has risen from humble beginnings through hard work and resilience, and who gives time and money to charity, is attacked with gusto on the basis of private information that was stolen.
He added that Beckham deserves little of the abuse coming his way, and none at all for wishing for recognition for his charity work.
"When we do good things in the hope of kudos, we are doing nothing wrong, whether we are involved with Unicef, Greenhouse, or the local soup kitchen. There is nothing more natural, or more human," Syed said.
THE GUARDIAN, THE TIMES, LONDON, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS