Can the Current World Cup Stars Compete With David Beckham?

David Beckham set the bar for athletes-turned-celebrities -- can anyone top him?

June 18, 2010 — -- They can run, kick and head-butt with the best of them.

But does anyone from the current crop of World Cup stars have what it takes to be the next David Beckham?

These days, Beckham, the 35-year-old Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder, is known less for his skills in the stadium (he's not even playing for his native England in this year's tournament because of a torn Achilles tendon) than for his photogenic family (Posh Spice Victoria Beckham plus their three tykes) and shirtless ad campaigns (Armani, Gilette, Motorola.)

Arguably, no athlete can top him in terms of worldwide recognition. From Hollywood to Hanoi, Beckham reigns king. His celebrity status even eclipses his relatively sub-par soccer skills.

"David Beckham, when he came over to the U.S. and became a megastar, was a mediocre player," said Rob Tuchman, founder of New York City-based sports marketing firm TSE Sports & Entertainment. "The Beckham model is, 'I've got the looks, I was a great player at one point, my name was built up and now I'm trying to cash in on that.'"

Though there are plenty of hunks who can match Beckham's visual appeal and athletic aptitude, concocting another cocktail of soccer-star-slash-international-sex-symbol isn't as easy as, say, mixing a mojito.

"One, you've got to be recognized as one of the best players in the world. Two, you've got to be very good looking. Three, you've got to be willing to soak up the limelight. Four, if your wife or girlfriend also happens to be famous too, all the better. Five, your team has to win a lot," said Jen Chang, Sports Illustrated's soccer editor. "That's a lot of boxes to check."

But, considering that soccer ranks as the most popular sport in the world, if any athlete can break out of the box and emerge as an all-around celebrity, it's one of these guys.

"They play a sport that is accessible to virtually anyone anywhere in the world," said Lee Igel, an assistant professor in the sports business and management program at New York University. "Fans engage in some romanticism; that they have an affinity for players is in good part due to their not feeling too far removed from perceiving themselves on the field."

Below, check out five current World Cup players who could compete with Beckham's celebrity -- emphasis on "could." Keep in mind, despite his not-so-legendary soccer skills, the guy's legacy will be hard to beat. As Chang mused, "There never was a David Beckham before David Beckham."

Cristiano Ronaldo

Without a doubt, Cristiano Ronaldo qualifies as the most Beckham-like of the bunch. The 25-year-old Portuguese footballer flexed his pecs on the cover of June's Vanity Fair and displayed his washboard abs for a series of Armani ads. Inking a $132 million contract with the Spanish team Real Madrid made him the best-paid soccer player in history. And he has a hankering for Hollywood -- Ronaldo's been romantically linked to Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian.

But Ronaldo hasn't nailed Beckham's affable attitude, and that could hamper his ability to win mass appeal. "On the field, Beckham was very likeable," Chang said. "He's not the kind of person that runs around diving and complaining all the time. Ronaldo is and a lot of people don't like him for that. He's also very arrogant, and makes contentious statements and talks about himself a lot."

Landon Donovan

Beckham's American-born, 28-year-old L.A. Galaxy teammate could emerge as a star in his own right, but only if he can use the World Cup to prove to his home country that team U.S.A. is worth watching.

"He's probably one of the world's top 50 players and he has an opportunity to be big, but the U.S. has to do really well and people have to start believing that the U.S. is producing some legit players," said Tuchman.

Lionel Messi

Argentinian footballer Lionel Messi has the skills -- at age 22, he's already being touted as one of the best soccer players of his generation. But in the sex-appeal department, he doesn't quite stack up.

"Lionel has a talent to transcend the sport, but in terms of being on the cover of GQ and making women in Asia faint, that's not going to happen," said Chang. "He looks like a little kid, he's down to earth, he doesn't wear high end clothing. He's five foot six."

Thierry Henry

At 32, Thierry Henry's days as a force to be reckoned with on the field may be over -- he's been benched for most of the World Cup. But considering his ad campaigns for the likes of Tommy Hilfiger and Reebok and his potential move to the U.S., he may have a shot at enduring stardom.

"He was, at one point, the best player in the world," Tuchman said. "He's going to possibly play for the Red Bulls in New York. He's the one who could follow the same formula as Beckham -- he's got the look, he's got the athletic ability."

Fernando Torres

26-year-old Spanish soccer star Fernando Torres has already made inroads into the entertainment industry. He's done cameos in Spanish movies and music videos and, last year, released the autobiography, "El Nino: My Story." But he's not willing to play the Hollywood game.

"He's not the type of person who likes the limelight," said Chang. "He's very quiet, he lives with his wife and child, he doesn't hang out with the A-list crowd."

Looks like Beckham's crown is safe for now.