LONDON – David Beckham is retiring from soccer, ending a career in which he transcended the sport with forays into fashion and a marriage to a pop star that made him a global celebrity.
The 38-year-old midfielder, who recently won a league title in a fourth country with Paris Saint-Germain, said Thursday he will retire after the season.
"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," the former England captain said in a statement.
Beckham, whose curling free kicks became his signature as a player, has two more matches left at PSG — against Brest on Saturday and at Lorient on May 26. He has been giving his salary to a children's charity.
Beckham started his career with Manchester United and also played for Real Madrid and the Los Angeles Galaxy, winning titles with all those clubs. He also spent time with AC Milan.
"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," Beckham said. "I'm fortunate to have realized those dreams."
On the international stage, Beckham made 115 appearances for England's national team — a record for a player other than a goalkeeper.
"To this day, one of my proudest achievements is captaining my country," Beckham said. "I knew every time I wore the Three Lions shirt, I was not only following in a long line of great players, I was also representing every fan that cared passionately about their country. I'm honored to represent England both on and off the pitch."
Beckham is now living in London with wife Victoria, a former "Spice Girls" singer, and their four children.
"I wouldn't have achieved what I have done today without my family. I'm grateful for my parents' sacrifice, which made me realize my dreams," he said. "I owe everything to Victoria and the kids, who have given me the inspiration and support to play at the highest level for such a long period."
With United between 1992 and 2003, Beckham won six Premier League titles, the Champions League, two FA Cups and the Intercontinental Cup.
Beckham left United in 2003 shortly after manager Alex Ferguson accidentally struck Beckham's eye with a football boot. Ferguson announced his retirement from Manchester United last week.
Beckham spent four years in Madrid — winning the 2007 Spanish title before making the surprise move to Major League Soccer, where he won the title twice.
There were highs and lows in Beckham's international career. He was blamed for England's elimination from the 1998 World Cup for his petulant red card against Argentina, but scored the winning goal against the same team at the World Cup four years later.
Beckham responded to jeering at the 2000 European Championship with an obscene hand gesture to England fans, but was lauded by the same supporters a little more than a year later when his last-minute free kick against Greece secured a place at the 2002 World Cup.
England dropped Beckham in 2006 in an effort to renew the team with younger players after a quarterfinal exit at that year's World Cup. England coach Steve McClaren recalled him the following year after a poor run of form, and he returned for the remainder of England's unsuccessful attempt to qualify for the 2008 European Championship.
His last England appearance came against Belarus in October 2009, and he missed the 2010 World Cup because of an Achilles tendon injury. He still went to South Africa as part of Fabio Capello's backroom staff.
"I want to thank all my teammates, the great managers that I had the pleasure of learning from," Beckham said. "I also want to thank the fans who have all supported me and given me the strength to succeed."
Beckham had already started planning for his post-playing career earlier in the season, becoming an ambassador for Chinese soccer.
"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," Beckham said. "I'm fortunate to have been given many opportunities throughout my career and now I feel it's my time to give back."
Beckham played a key role in England's unsuccessful bid to host the 2018 World Cup ahead of the 2010 vote, and the English Football Association wants to capitalize on his influence and star power in the future.
"He is an iconic figure in the game and produced wonderful performances for his clubs, particularly Manchester United," FA chairman David Bernstein said. "When you look at his playing and work for England, no one would ever accuse him of being unpatriotic and not giving everything for his country.
"He is a real loss to the game and I am sure the FA will want to embrace him and to get him closely associated with the organization."
Beckham's retirement comes a week after the 71-year-old Ferguson ended his managerial career.
"In the week following Sir Alex Ferguson retiring, which came as a bit of a shock, now we have the iconic David Beckham coming out of the game," Bernstein said. "It's unexpected even though he is getting to mature years for a footballer."
Rob Harris can be reached at http://twitter.com/RobHarris