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John Leicester column: Love or hate Beckham, he can’t be ignored

  • FILE - In this July 13, 2007, file photo, England soccer player David Beckham holds up his new jersey as he is introduced as the newest member of the Los Angeles Galaxy soccer team in Carson, Calif. The 38-year-old midfielder, who recently won a league title in a fourth country with Paris Saint-Germain, said Thursday, May 16, 2013, he will retire after the season.  (AP Photo/Nick Ut, File)

    FILE - In this July 13, 2007, file photo, England soccer player David Beckham holds up his new jersey as he is introduced as the newest member of the Los Angeles Galaxy soccer team in Carson, Calif. The 38-year-old midfielder, who recently won a league title in a fourth country with Paris Saint-Germain, said Thursday, May 16, 2013, he will retire after the season. (AP Photo/Nick Ut, File)

  • FILE - This combo of file photos shows England soccer star David Beckham's various hairstyles. The 38-year-old midfielder 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. (AP Photo/File)

    FILE - This combo of file photos shows England soccer star David Beckham's various hairstyles. The 38-year-old midfielder 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. (AP Photo/File)

  •  FILE - In this June 2, 2005, file photom soccer star David Beckham poses with kids from the Los Angeles area during a field skills demonstration following a news conference in Carson, Calif. The 38-year-old midfielder, who recently won a league title in a fourth country with Paris Saint-Germain, said Thursday, May 16, 2013, he will retire after the season.  (AP Photo/Stefano Paltera, File)

    FILE - In this June 2, 2005, file photom soccer star David Beckham poses with kids from the Los Angeles area during a field skills demonstration following a news conference in Carson, Calif. The 38-year-old midfielder, who recently won a league title in a fourth country with Paris Saint-Germain, said Thursday, May 16, 2013, he will retire after the season. (AP Photo/Stefano Paltera, File)

  • FILE - This undted photo provided by H&M shows a look from the collection created and modeled by David Beckham. 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. (AP Photo/H&M, Alasdair McLellan)

    FILE - This undted photo provided by H&M shows a look from the collection created and modeled by David Beckham. 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. (AP Photo/H&M, Alasdair McLellan)

  • FILE - In this July 21, 2003, file photo, English soccer player David Beckham greets fans after his presentation by Real Madrid in Madrid, Spain. The 38-year-old midfielder, who recently won a league title in a fourth country with Paris Saint-Germain, said Thursday, May 16, 2013, he will retire after the season. (AP Photo/Paul White, File)

    FILE - In this July 21, 2003, file photo, English soccer player David Beckham greets fans after his presentation by Real Madrid in Madrid, Spain. The 38-year-old midfielder, who recently won a league title in a fourth country with Paris Saint-Germain, said Thursday, May 16, 2013, he will retire after the season. (AP Photo/Paul White, File)

  • FILE - In this Dec. 21, 2008, file photo, English soccer star David Beckham greets young fans prior to the start of a Serie A soccer match between AC Milan and Udinese at the San Siro stadium in Milan, Italy. The 38-year-old midfielder, who recently won a league title in a fourth country with Paris Saint-Germain, said Thursday, May 16, 2013, he will retire after the season.  (AP Photo / Antonio Calanni, File)

    FILE - In this Dec. 21, 2008, file photo, English soccer star David Beckham greets young fans prior to the start of a Serie A soccer match between AC Milan and Udinese at the San Siro stadium in Milan, Italy. The 38-year-old midfielder, who recently won a league title in a fourth country with Paris Saint-Germain, said Thursday, May 16, 2013, he will retire after the season. (AP Photo / Antonio Calanni, File)

  • FILE - In this May 26, 2007, file photo, Real Madrid's David Beckham of England, reacts after receiving a yellow card during a Spanish league match against Deportivo la Coruna at the Santiago Bernabau stadium in Madrid. The 38-year-old midfielder, who recently won a league title in a fourth country with Paris Saint-Germain, said Thursday, May 16, 2013, he will retire after the season. (AP Photo/Paul White, File)

    FILE - In this May 26, 2007, file photo, Real Madrid's David Beckham of England, reacts after receiving a yellow card during a Spanish league match against Deportivo la Coruna at the Santiago Bernabau stadium in Madrid. The 38-year-old midfielder, who recently won a league title in a fourth country with Paris Saint-Germain, said Thursday, May 16, 2013, he will retire after the season. (AP Photo/Paul White, File)

  • FILE - In tihs June 24, 2004, file photo, Portugal's Luis Figo, left, walks by England's David Beckham during their Euro 2004 quarterfinal soccer match at the Luz Stadium in Lisbon, Portugal. Beckham, who recently won a league title in a fourth country with Paris Saint-Germain, said Thursday, May 16, 2013, he will retire after the season.  (AP Photo/Armando Franca, File)

    FILE - In tihs June 24, 2004, file photo, Portugal's Luis Figo, left, walks by England's David Beckham during their Euro 2004 quarterfinal soccer match at the Luz Stadium in Lisbon, Portugal. Beckham, who recently won a league title in a fourth country with Paris Saint-Germain, said Thursday, May 16, 2013, he will retire after the season. (AP Photo/Armando Franca, File)

  • FILE - In this March 17, 1999, file photo, Manchester United's David Beckham celebrates as he leaves the field after his team tied 1-1 with Inter Milan in a Champions League second leg quarterfinal match at Milan's San Siro stadium. The 38-year-old midfielder, who recently won a league title in a fourth country with Paris Saint-Germain, said Thursday, May 16, 2013, he will retire after the season.  (AP Photo/Alex Trovati, File)

    FILE - In this March 17, 1999, file photo, Manchester United's David Beckham celebrates as he leaves the field after his team tied 1-1 with Inter Milan in a Champions League second leg quarterfinal match at Milan's San Siro stadium. The 38-year-old midfielder, who recently won a league title in a fourth country with Paris Saint-Germain, said Thursday, May 16, 2013, he will retire after the season. (AP Photo/Alex Trovati, File)

  • FILE - In this Oct. 8, 2005, file photo, England captain David Beckham reacts as he is booked by referee Luis Medina Cantalejo during their 2006 World Cup qualifying soccer match against  Austria at Old Trafford, Manchester, England. The 38-year-old midfielder, who recently won a league title in a fourth country with Paris Saint-Germain, said Thursday, May 16, 2013, he will retire after the season. (AP Photo/Jon Super, File)

    FILE - In this Oct. 8, 2005, file photo, England captain David Beckham reacts as he is booked by referee Luis Medina Cantalejo during their 2006 World Cup qualifying soccer match against Austria at Old Trafford, Manchester, England. The 38-year-old midfielder, who recently won a league title in a fourth country with Paris Saint-Germain, said Thursday, May 16, 2013, he will retire after the season. (AP Photo/Jon Super, File)

  • FILE - In this March 30, 2005, file photo, England's David Beckham tries his free kick shot towards the goal during their World Cup Group 6, qualifying soccer match at at St James Park ground, in Newcastle, England. The 38-year-old midfielder, who recently won a league title in a fourth country with Paris Saint-Germain, said Thursday, May 16, 2013, he will retire after the season.  (AP Photo/Scott Heppell, File)

    FILE - In this March 30, 2005, file photo, England's David Beckham tries his free kick shot towards the goal during their World Cup Group 6, qualifying soccer match at at St James Park ground, in Newcastle, England. The 38-year-old midfielder, who recently won a league title in a fourth country with Paris Saint-Germain, said Thursday, May 16, 2013, he will retire after the season. (AP Photo/Scott Heppell, File)

  • FILE- In this June 3, 2006, file photo, England's David Beckham dribbles the ball against Jamaica during their international friendly soccer match at Old Trafford Stadium, Manchester, England. The 38-year-old midfielder, who recently won a league title in a fourth country with Paris Saint-Germain, said Thursday, May 16, 2013, he will retire after the season.  (AP Photo/Dave Thompson, File)

    FILE- In this June 3, 2006, file photo, England's David Beckham dribbles the ball against Jamaica during their international friendly soccer match at Old Trafford Stadium, Manchester, England. The 38-year-old midfielder, who recently won a league title in a fourth country with Paris Saint-Germain, said Thursday, May 16, 2013, he will retire after the season. (AP Photo/Dave Thompson, File)

  • FILE - In this July 1, 2006, file photo, England's David Beckham reacts on the sideline during a quarterfinal World Cup soccer match against Portugal in Gelsenkirchen, Germany. The 38-year-old midfielder, who recently won a league title in a fourth country with Paris Saint-Germain, said Thursday, May 16, 2013, he will retire after the season.  (AP Photo/Matt Dunham, File)

    FILE - In this July 1, 2006, file photo, England's David Beckham reacts on the sideline during a quarterfinal World Cup soccer match against Portugal in Gelsenkirchen, Germany. The 38-year-old midfielder, who recently won a league title in a fourth country with Paris Saint-Germain, said Thursday, May 16, 2013, he will retire after the season. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham, File)

  • FILE - In this Nov. 17, 2003 file photo,  soccer player David Beckham pauses during a signing session for his autobiography "My Side" held at a London bookstore. Beckham says he is retiring from soccer at the end of the season. The 38-year-old Beckham recently won a league title in a fourth country with Paris Saint-Germain. He has become a global superstar since starting his career at Manchester United. (AP Photo/Richard Lewis, FIle)

    FILE - In this Nov. 17, 2003 file photo, soccer player David Beckham pauses during a signing session for his autobiography "My Side" held at a London bookstore. Beckham says he is retiring from soccer at the end of the season. The 38-year-old Beckham recently won a league title in a fourth country with Paris Saint-Germain. He has become a global superstar since starting his career at Manchester United. (AP Photo/Richard Lewis, FIle)

  • FILE - This is a Sunday, Jan. 15, 2006 file photo of Real Madrid's David Beckham, left, as he congratulates  goalscorer Zinedine Zidane  during their Spanish league soccer match against Sevilla  at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium in Madrid, Spain.  David Beckham is retiring from soccer after the season, ending a career in which he become a global superstar since starting his career at Manchester United. The 38-year-old Englishman recently won a league title in a fourth country with Paris Saint-Germain. He said in a statement Thursday May 16, 2013  he is "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." (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue, File)

    FILE - This is a Sunday, Jan. 15, 2006 file photo of Real Madrid's David Beckham, left, as he congratulates goalscorer Zinedine Zidane during their Spanish league soccer match against Sevilla at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium in Madrid, Spain. David Beckham is retiring from soccer after the season, ending a career in which he become a global superstar since starting his career at Manchester United. The 38-year-old Englishman recently won a league title in a fourth country with Paris Saint-Germain. He said in a statement Thursday May 16, 2013 he is "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." (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue, File)

  • FILE - In this Aug. 27, 2002 file photo, Manchester United's David Beckham, right, celebrates his goal against Zalaegerszeg of Hungary with teammate Philip Neville, left, during their UEFA Champions League qualifying match in Manchester, England. Beckham says he is retiring from soccer at the end of the season. The 38-year-old Beckham recently won a league title in a fourth country with Paris Saint-Germain. He has become a global superstar since starting his career at Manchester United. (AP Photo/Max Nash, FIle)

    FILE - In this Aug. 27, 2002 file photo, Manchester United's David Beckham, right, celebrates his goal against Zalaegerszeg of Hungary with teammate Philip Neville, left, during their UEFA Champions League qualifying match in Manchester, England. Beckham says he is retiring from soccer at the end of the season. The 38-year-old Beckham recently won a league title in a fourth country with Paris Saint-Germain. He has become a global superstar since starting his career at Manchester United. (AP Photo/Max Nash, FIle)

  • FILE - In this July 13, 2007, file photo, England soccer player David Beckham holds up his new jersey as he is introduced as the newest member of the Los Angeles Galaxy soccer team in Carson, Calif. The 38-year-old midfielder, who recently won a league title in a fourth country with Paris Saint-Germain, said Thursday, May 16, 2013, he will retire after the season.  (AP Photo/Nick Ut, File)

    FILE - In this July 13, 2007, file photo, England soccer player David Beckham holds up his new jersey as he is introduced as the newest member of the Los Angeles Galaxy soccer team in Carson, Calif. The 38-year-old midfielder, who recently won a league title in a fourth country with Paris Saint-Germain, said Thursday, May 16, 2013, he will retire after the season. (AP Photo/Nick Ut, File)

  • FILE - In this Jan. 5, 2006, file photo, former NASCAR driver Dick Trickle attends a driver's meeting for the Bodine Bobsled Challenge at the Olympic Center in Lake Placid, N.Y. Authorities in North Carolina said Thursday, May 16, 2013, that Trickle has died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. He was 71. (AP Photo/Mark Goldman, File)

    FILE - In this Jan. 5, 2006, file photo, former NASCAR driver Dick Trickle attends a driver's meeting for the Bodine Bobsled Challenge at the Olympic Center in Lake Placid, N.Y. Authorities in North Carolina said Thursday, May 16, 2013, that Trickle has died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. He was 71. (AP Photo/Mark Goldman, File)

  • FILE - In this July 13, 2007, file photo, England soccer player David Beckham holds up his new jersey as he is introduced as the newest member of the Los Angeles Galaxy soccer team in Carson, Calif. The 38-year-old midfielder, who recently won a league title in a fourth country with Paris Saint-Germain, said Thursday, May 16, 2013, he will retire after the season.  (AP Photo/Nick Ut, File)
  • FILE - This combo of file photos shows England soccer star David Beckham's various hairstyles. The 38-year-old midfielder 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. (AP Photo/File)
  •  FILE - In this June 2, 2005, file photom soccer star David Beckham poses with kids from the Los Angeles area during a field skills demonstration following a news conference in Carson, Calif. The 38-year-old midfielder, who recently won a league title in a fourth country with Paris Saint-Germain, said Thursday, May 16, 2013, he will retire after the season.  (AP Photo/Stefano Paltera, File)
  • FILE - This undted photo provided by H&M shows a look from the collection created and modeled by David Beckham. 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. (AP Photo/H&M, Alasdair McLellan)
  • FILE - In this July 21, 2003, file photo, English soccer player David Beckham greets fans after his presentation by Real Madrid in Madrid, Spain. The 38-year-old midfielder, who recently won a league title in a fourth country with Paris Saint-Germain, said Thursday, May 16, 2013, he will retire after the season. (AP Photo/Paul White, File)
  • FILE - In this Dec. 21, 2008, file photo, English soccer star David Beckham greets young fans prior to the start of a Serie A soccer match between AC Milan and Udinese at the San Siro stadium in Milan, Italy. The 38-year-old midfielder, who recently won a league title in a fourth country with Paris Saint-Germain, said Thursday, May 16, 2013, he will retire after the season.  (AP Photo / Antonio Calanni, File)
  • FILE - In this May 26, 2007, file photo, Real Madrid's David Beckham of England, reacts after receiving a yellow card during a Spanish league match against Deportivo la Coruna at the Santiago Bernabau stadium in Madrid. The 38-year-old midfielder, who recently won a league title in a fourth country with Paris Saint-Germain, said Thursday, May 16, 2013, he will retire after the season. (AP Photo/Paul White, File)
  • FILE - In tihs June 24, 2004, file photo, Portugal's Luis Figo, left, walks by England's David Beckham during their Euro 2004 quarterfinal soccer match at the Luz Stadium in Lisbon, Portugal. Beckham, who recently won a league title in a fourth country with Paris Saint-Germain, said Thursday, May 16, 2013, he will retire after the season.  (AP Photo/Armando Franca, File)
  • FILE - In this March 17, 1999, file photo, Manchester United's David Beckham celebrates as he leaves the field after his team tied 1-1 with Inter Milan in a Champions League second leg quarterfinal match at Milan's San Siro stadium. The 38-year-old midfielder, who recently won a league title in a fourth country with Paris Saint-Germain, said Thursday, May 16, 2013, he will retire after the season.  (AP Photo/Alex Trovati, File)
  • FILE - In this Oct. 8, 2005, file photo, England captain David Beckham reacts as he is booked by referee Luis Medina Cantalejo during their 2006 World Cup qualifying soccer match against  Austria at Old Trafford, Manchester, England. The 38-year-old midfielder, who recently won a league title in a fourth country with Paris Saint-Germain, said Thursday, May 16, 2013, he will retire after the season. (AP Photo/Jon Super, File)
  • FILE - In this March 30, 2005, file photo, England's David Beckham tries his free kick shot towards the goal during their World Cup Group 6, qualifying soccer match at at St James Park ground, in Newcastle, England. The 38-year-old midfielder, who recently won a league title in a fourth country with Paris Saint-Germain, said Thursday, May 16, 2013, he will retire after the season.  (AP Photo/Scott Heppell, File)
  • FILE- In this June 3, 2006, file photo, England's David Beckham dribbles the ball against Jamaica during their international friendly soccer match at Old Trafford Stadium, Manchester, England. The 38-year-old midfielder, who recently won a league title in a fourth country with Paris Saint-Germain, said Thursday, May 16, 2013, he will retire after the season.  (AP Photo/Dave Thompson, File)
  • FILE - In this July 1, 2006, file photo, England's David Beckham reacts on the sideline during a quarterfinal World Cup soccer match against Portugal in Gelsenkirchen, Germany. The 38-year-old midfielder, who recently won a league title in a fourth country with Paris Saint-Germain, said Thursday, May 16, 2013, he will retire after the season.  (AP Photo/Matt Dunham, File)
  • FILE - In this Nov. 17, 2003 file photo,  soccer player David Beckham pauses during a signing session for his autobiography "My Side" held at a London bookstore. Beckham says he is retiring from soccer at the end of the season. The 38-year-old Beckham recently won a league title in a fourth country with Paris Saint-Germain. He has become a global superstar since starting his career at Manchester United. (AP Photo/Richard Lewis, FIle)
  • FILE - This is a Sunday, Jan. 15, 2006 file photo of Real Madrid's David Beckham, left, as he congratulates  goalscorer Zinedine Zidane  during their Spanish league soccer match against Sevilla  at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium in Madrid, Spain.  David Beckham is retiring from soccer after the season, ending a career in which he become a global superstar since starting his career at Manchester United. The 38-year-old Englishman recently won a league title in a fourth country with Paris Saint-Germain. He said in a statement Thursday May 16, 2013  he is "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." (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue, File)
  • FILE - In this Aug. 27, 2002 file photo, Manchester United's David Beckham, right, celebrates his goal against Zalaegerszeg of Hungary with teammate Philip Neville, left, during their UEFA Champions League qualifying match in Manchester, England. Beckham says he is retiring from soccer at the end of the season. The 38-year-old Beckham recently won a league title in a fourth country with Paris Saint-Germain. He has become a global superstar since starting his career at Manchester United. (AP Photo/Max Nash, FIle)
  • FILE - In this July 13, 2007, file photo, England soccer player David Beckham holds up his new jersey as he is introduced as the newest member of the Los Angeles Galaxy soccer team in Carson, Calif. The 38-year-old midfielder, who recently won a league title in a fourth country with Paris Saint-Germain, said Thursday, May 16, 2013, he will retire after the season.  (AP Photo/Nick Ut, File)
  • FILE - In this Jan. 5, 2006, file photo, former NASCAR driver Dick Trickle attends a driver's meeting for the Bodine Bobsled Challenge at the Olympic Center in Lake Placid, N.Y. Authorities in North Carolina said Thursday, May 16, 2013, that Trickle has died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. He was 71. (AP Photo/Mark Goldman, File)

Like his former Manchester United boss, Alex Ferguson, David Beckham picked the right time and best way to retire – as a winner and before the worst ravages of age became painfully apparent.

It always was a stretch to believe that Beckham, at 38, would or should sign up again with Paris Saint-Germain for what would have been his 22nd season of professional soccer.

Given all he has already achieved in the sport and the undeniable fact that the years were clearly sneaking up on Beckham, what would have been the point? Another year of bench-warming and bit parts in Paris wouldn’t have added anything of great substance to a career that hit its zenith more than a decade ago, under Ferguson at United.

Even if PSG did win its first French league title since 1994, Beckham’s final four-month stint in Paris this season felt more like a long goodbye than a glorious ending to his journey through soccer.

Simply by turning up in Paris in January and by announcing that he was donating his playing salary to charity, Beckham made the requisite splash for PSG’s Qatari owners who have the wealth to match their ambition of turning the club into a European soccer titan. But Beckham subsequently didn’t play enough minutes or have a big enough on-pitch impact to silence those doubters who said PSG hired him more for his marketing clout than for his fading soccer skills.

After PSG drew, 2-2, at home with Barcelona in the Champions League in April, a match in which Beckham seemed particularly sluggish and was substituted 20 minutes from time, he emerged from the Parc des Princes changing rooms looking, as always, fabulous. His hair was immaculate, his three-piece suit exquisitely cut.

But it quickly became apparent that the advancing years were encroaching on his thoughts. He used the phrase “at my age” twice in one answer and noted, “I’m not getting any younger” when asked if he might play in Paris for another year. It felt like the end for Beckham was imminent, or that it should be.

After Beckham announced his retirement as a player yesterday, his former Manchester United teammate Gary Neville asked him in an interview for Sky Sports television when he had made the decision. Beckham responded, perhaps only half-joking, that it was “probably” during that Champions League quarterfinal first-leg match in Paris, “when (Lionel) Messi was running past me.”

Although he became a fashion and sex symbol, Beckham should be remembered first and foremost as a very, very good soccer player.

Not a great one. That term should be reserved for the likes of Messi or Beckham’s former Real Madrid teammate Zinedine Zidane, the true soccer geniuses. Still, to focus primarily on his haircuts, tattoos, clothes and gift for self-promotion would be unfair to Beckham the athlete, the player, the worker-bee who relentlessly practiced his trademark free kicks and took such good care of his body and desire to play.

Beckham’s move to the United States in 2007 may well have been Major League Soccer’s gain, but it felt like Europe’s loss, like the theft of a national treasure. In an outpost of the global game, a country where the only soccer that really counts is played with an olive-shaped ball, Beckham used up – some would say squandered – his last good years as a player.

As captain of England, Beckham was passionate and decisive. His last-gasp free kick under pressure against Greece that qualified England for the 2002 World Cup was storybook stuff. You could tell that Beckham meant it when he said that playing for his country was a source of great pride for him.

Although people maybe sniggered at times at Beckham – especially when he and his wife, Victoria, did silly things like venturing out in matching his-and-hers black leather suits – they also crossed fingers that he would recover from a broken foot in time for the 2002 World Cup. If not for that injury, how many Britons today would be able to locate the metatarsal bone? Love Beckham or hate him, he made it impossible to ignore him.

When England fans turned against Beckham, showering him with abuse and hanging him in effigy after he was sent off against Argentina in the 1998 World Cup, he put on a brave face and plowed on. Kudos for that and for being cheery and good-humored more often than not. Being David Beckham must feel crazy at times, but he hasn’t grown crazy because of that. There is no argument that Beckham has been a fabulous ambassador for his sport and its development, as well as for himself.

Congratulations, also, Posh and Becks – as he and Victoria quickly became known – for not getting delusions of grandeur, for sticking together through thick and thin. That is a feat not to be sniffed at in this era of mass divorce, with four children and their own careers to manage, and with lurking tabloids picking over their every move and alleged infidelities. As with Ferguson and his wife, Cathy, Beckham’s retirement brings to mind that oft-heard phrase which suggests that some men might not have achieved as much without the great women behind them.

First Ferguson surprised everyone by announcing his retirement at age 71. His midfielder Paul Scholes, Beckham’s teammate from his United days, is joining him. Now Beckham is bowing out, too.

All leave as champions, the best way to go.

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