Things have never been good for those who left United before

LONDON: Before David Beckham leaves Manchester United for Real Madrid, he might ponder the fate of others who have departed the Theatre of Dreams. 

History suggests the path from Old Trafford, rather than being paved with gold, is strewn with potholes. 

Take Jaap Stam. The Dutchman once considered the world's best defender has stumbled from one mishap to another after being sold to Serie A club Lazio. 

Within weeks of his sale in August 2001, Stam failed a dope test for nandrolone and landed a four-month ban. Lazio have since been engulfed by financial problems and have slipped to the rank of also-rans in European terms. 

Few players leave Manchester United at their peak. Players like George Best and Denis Law or more recently Eric Cantona, Paul Ince, Peter Schmeichel and Denis Irwin, left the club in the twilight of their careers. 

IN GLORIOUS COMPANY: Beckham will have to work with stars like Portugal's Luis Figo and Italy's own Raul, not to mention the likes of Ronaldo and Zinedine Zidane.

But for those who have left in their prime, few prosper. 

Welsh striker Mark Hughes was a huge crowd favourite, like Beckham, but his move to Barcelona in 1986 ended with him being loaned to German club Bayern Munich before eventually returning to Manchester United in 1988. 

Russian winger Andrei Kanchelskis was also at his peak when he left old Trafford in 1995 for Everton. Last month, he was sacked by Saudi Arabian club Al Hilal. 

The decline of Lee Sharpe, like Beckham a good-looking Englishman with a taste for the high life, is also instructive. 

As an exuberant winger, Sharpe outshone even the likes of Ryan Giggs in his early days at Old Trafford at the start of the 1990s, forcing himself into the England team. 

But he lost his place at United and in 1996 left for Leeds for the considerable sum of £4.5 million. Sharpe was never the same again. 

After spells at Italian club Sampdoria, Bradford City, Portsmouth and Exeter, he was last heard of in March, when he agreed to play for an Icelandic village club. 

Such ignominy seems an unthinkable fate for Beckham, whose status as an international celebrity is guaranteed. 

Beckham, at 28, is at the height of his powers, both as a player who is captain of his country, and as a social icon whose commercial value is almost unlimited. 

But having won pretty much every club honour going, Beckham will have to prove himself all over again on the pitch. 

His temperament, once an Achilles heel, will be tested as never before against some of the world's most cunning, streetwise players. 

The midfielder's ability will also be re-evaluated in the context of the technical superiority of the Primera Liga over the English Premier League. 

Should Beckham succeed, as an ex-Manchester United player, he will be breaking the mould. – Reuters 

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