David Beckham turns 40 - why booze and gambling, 'Golden Balls?'

    (CNN)He's come a long way from the floppy-fringed teenager who defied football stereotypes to become a global fashion icon.

    David Beckham turns 40 on Saturday, entering a new era in the metamorphosis of his incredible earning power.
    He once sported a Jean-Paul Gaultier sarong, but now his catwalk appearances are more likely to be in support of wife Victoria's blossoming fashion design career, as he dons classic suits befitting the increased status of his business ventures.
      Beckham reportedly earns more since his 2013 retirement from football than when he was a highly-paid player at some of the world's biggest clubs.
      But has the man dubbed "Golden Balls" reached too far away from his core values with a couple of his latest ventures, promoting alcohol -- as a player he always insisted he was not a drinker -- and being associated with a casino chain?
      He took home $75 million in the past year according to a 2015 Forbes list of non-active athletes, helping launch a niche single-grain whiskey with drinks giant Diageo and partnering Las Vegas Sands -- which has gambling operations in the U.S. and Asia among its resorts -- as he beat his previous high of $51 million.
      "I don't think it's a good move," says former Saatchi and Saatchi advertising executive Alex Fynn, who believes father-of-four Beckham should stick to what made him so popular in the first place -- sports, fashion and family-oriented entertainment.
      "When he started off, he was a celebrity endorser -- but because most of the attributes that he personifies have been so positive, he was able to become a brand in himself," says Fynn, who has been a marketing and media consultant to top sports teams and ruling bodies since leaving Saatchi in the mid-'90s.
      "It's a great problem when you go into areas that are not related to your specific area of competence or renown. He has core values which are so much more widespread than most celebrities. He should stick to that -- there's no need to link himself to extraneous products or services."
      Beckham's representatives insist the relationship with Las Vegas Sands is primarily about helping establish the group as a travel destination while the link with Diageo reflects the former England international's appeal to mature fathers rather than teenagers.
      The other half of Brand Beckham, widely credited for turning her husband from soccer's shy boy-prodigy into a pioneering "metrosexual," is now garnering serious respect in the fashion world.
      Having found pop fame in the '90s as pouty Posh in the Spice Girls, she has reinvented herself as a designer, and in December 2013 was guest editor for the French edition of style bible Vogue.
      "They are a brilliant composite brand, Posh and Becks," says British society commentator Peter York. "They're in Hollywood and Holland Park. They've become very much more knowing, very much more elegant.
      "The great thing is, they're hitting 40, you've got to do things a different way," adds York, co-author of the influential aspirational guide "The Official Sloane Ranger Handbook" and writer of the recently released "Authenticity is a Con."
      "You've got to be able to transition into things that are a bit more solid and not just about singing or showing your body off. The only danger is being spread too thin."
      But can Beckham, a man whose tattooed, near-naked body has been posted on giant advertising billboards around the world, be taken seriously as a business leader in his own right?
      "To a certain extent, I think Beckham is currently 'lost in transition,'" says British sports business expert Simon Chadwick.
      "He is still very popular and is presumably able to continue drawing upon the revenue opportunities that were created during his playing days.
      "But as his tribulations in Florida demonstrate, his reputation as a player alone is unlikely to sustain him in the long term when it comes to the harsh realities of business."
      Beckham's bid to set up a new Major League Soccer franchise in Miami, made possible by a $25 million clause in his playing contract when he joined Los Angeles Galaxy in 2007, has been beset by delays since it was announced 14 months ago.
      Despite the delays, the Beckham camp are confident they're close to finalizing an investor group and that by 2018 the Miami franchise will be up and running.
      Fynn believes it is the right move for Beckham, in contrast to working with a casino group -- "which should be resisted."
      "The MLS is a successful operation, football in America is growing at club and national team level, and the opportunity of being involved in a U.S. franchise is an extension of his playing career," he says.
      York says club ownership could expose Beckham to "fantastically dodgy third-raters who are there to exploit people in silly deals" but that he and his wife have always been "very good" at finding the right people to advise them.

      Career opportunities

      Victoria's Spice Girls career was groomed by pop Svengali Simon Fuller, the "American Idol" creator whose 19 Entertainment agency has been largely responsible for shaping David's financial fortunes.
      With Fuller's guidance, Beckham -- as well as trying to make a hit of the niche Haig Club whiskey -- is now developing his own-branded products and partnering with retailers such as H&M.
      "The Beckham brand captured the early 21st-century zeitgeist, which played out well across the world," says Chadwick.
      "It was the epitome of the metrosexual male: ambitious and successful; good husband and father; sexy and well dressed; sensitive and caring while remaining masculine.
      "He defined a new type of athlete brand which, even now, has yet to be duplicated in the same way -- the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo simply haven't been able to duplicate the brand proposition that Beckham has been now for almost two decades."
      However, it is now time for the ex-Manchester United and England star to create "Beckham Mark II," says Chadwick, an upgrade which "moves him on from the 'Class of '92,' the Spice Girls and Real Madrid."
      "I think he's still largely trading on the equity of his 'Beckham Mark I' incarnation. If he isn't to become the new Pele of his era -- signing whatever lucrative deal comes his way -- then Beckham and his advisers need to create a more compelling, contemporary and relevant brand proposition," Chadwick claims.
      "For the first time in many years, I think Brand Beckham lacks clarity and focus."
      As proof of that strategic inconsistency, Chadwick points to Beckham's work at the 2012 Olympics and the UN, which positioned him as a sports diplomat, while his MLS project suggests he wants to be a sports entrepreneur.
      "The problem is, he can't be everything to everyone, and he (and his advisers) therefore need to create a clear, tightly-defined and well-accentuated brand proposition in the same way as the Beckham of 10 years ago was," adds Chadwick.
      It's an argument that is rejected by Beckham's people who point to a coherent strategy built around Beckham as a creative director in promoting a number of brands, his role at Miami, as well as his ever increasing charity work, which he views as a key part of the legacy he wants to leave for his children.
      Earlier this year Beckham launched a charitable collaboration with UNICEF -- the world's leading organisation for children -- providing help to kids in danger zones across the globe.
      "My number one priority is the '7' fund," Beckham told CNN at the launch in London.

      Simply the Becks

      While Beckham has been criticized for his associations with gambling and alcohol -- though curiously a British advertising standards body ruled he is no longer considered a role model for children when rejecting a viewer complaint -- he has made further inroads into the Asian market.
      As well as being the face of Sands China, which has casino operations in Macau among its divisions, in 2013 he signed a multimillion-dollar deal to become a goodwill ambassador for the Chinese Super League.
      "I think it's a risky thing," says York. "It's quite difficult to crack China. It can take a long time and a lot of money, and there's a lot of competition in that market."
      However, Fynn believes Beckham is a perfect fit for the Chinese market if he sticks to football and is not being used by the national federation -- which has cracked down on corruption at all levels in recent years -- to "cover up past mistakes."
      "They love Premier League football and although it's some years since he played in the Premier League, he's associated with the best of English football," says Fynn, who also writes soccer books, most recently 2014's "Arsene and Arsenal."
      "More than that, he's a world superstar over and above his limited playing ability. If you go back to the impact he had at Paris Saint-Germain, he was only a bit-part player but he gave the club a sense of credibility and popularity that had hitherto been lacking."

      'Extreme intelligent self-consciousness'

      York believes the Beckhams have shown over the years they have the skills to adapt to new challenges.
      "When he started, British footballers weren't known for being very articulate, but he was particularly inarticulate -- people talked about him as if he was stupid," York explains.
      "Even though he was living a modern life, he seemed to be part of the old cockney world. He didn't talk Estuary (a refined southern English accent), he talked cockney -- 'we was, you was.' Now he can hold his own on a platform. He knows his way around. An extraordinary confidence.
      "Because of that, because he's more able to express himself, you know that really he's pretty canny," adds York, who in August will perform a new one-man event, "A Show for the Nicer Type of Person," at the Edinburgh Fringe festival.
      "He's learned to vamp a camera like a model does, how to use his body, how to be happily objectified and make money from it. He knows what he's doing at every point, in the way that someone who's a professional model does, and more.
      "He didn't used to -- he was just a nice-looking footballer who wore nice-looking footballer suits -- then he became this heavily-inked, much-undressed person. It's like being an actor or model, you have to learn extreme intelligent self-consciousness."

      Miami acid test

      The Miami venture -- in which Beckham is a co-owner with Fuller and Bolivian businessman Marcelo Claure -- could be crucial to the future of the family brand.
      "It would give them a way of transitioning into early middle age in a right way," says York. "He's done everything commercial you can do in sport except own a team."
      Fynn hopes the franchise will be more successful than Beckham's soccer academies in London and Los Angeles, which closed within five years of their 2005 launch.
      "Possibly not enough care and attention was given to the concept for it to be successful," he says.
      The expansion franchise has twice been denied in its plans to find a downtown venue for a new stadium, and its entry date into the MLS has yet to be confirmed.
      "The next two or three years are therefore likely to be an acid test of just how proficient Beckham is as an entrepreneur, leader and manager," adds Chadwick.
      What is not in doubt is Beckham's place among the entertainment elite. He will reportedly fly his friends -- including Hollywood heavyweight and fellow motorbike aficionado Tom Cruise -- to Morocco for his birthday celebrations.
      As the old saying goes, "Life begins at 40."
      Only time will tell if that proves to be true for Brand Beckham.