[MLS SPOTLIGHT] Aside from a few friendlies on the Galaxy's pre-Christmas foreign tour, David Beckham may have represented MLS for the last time when he celebrated the league championship with his teammates a week ago Sunday at Home Depot Center.
It’s a measure of his reputation and fame that he’s very much in the news, with offers from Paris St. Germain and other clubs floating his way as the Galaxy heads overseas to cash in, yet again, on his allure.
It’s a safe bet that a fair percentage of the approximately 400 media members present at HDC for MLS Cup attended because of him, and though they may never return to see another league match in North America it’s hard to argue Beckham's 5-year stint didn’t dramatically alter the American soccer landscape and brought unprecedented awareness of MLS.
“No, the people I speak to back home enjoy it and they’re certainly getting a lot of followers,” said Galaxy forward Robbie Keane, one of the many international players to take first notice of MLS when Beckham’s blockbuster deal was announced in January, 2007. “Speaking to a lot of friends that play in the Premiership, I know for a fact there’s a lot that would like to come over here.”
Thus, the Beckham Experiment appears to have ended, though it’s not out of the question he could come back for the second half of the 2012 MLS season on loan from Paris St. Germain. Officially, negotiations began last week, with the French club offering some staggering financial guarantees as well as the opportunity to live and work in one of Europe’s historic cities.
Signing in France would free him to play for Great Britain at the 2012 London Olympics, which will be held during the summer offseason for most European leagues. He could then resume playing for PSG when the French league starts up in late August, or utilize another alternative.
One of the possible conditions of an 18-month contract with PSG is an MLS loan option, which would cover the August-to-November portion of the 2012 MLS season. He couldn’t be registered on the PSG playing roster until the secondary European transfer window opened on Jan. 1, 2013, but could again accompany the Galaxy on a postseason tour. That factor could tempt the Galaxy to work out a loan deal by balancing the marketability of a final Beckham fling against the costs of renting him.
The process worked in reverse three years ago when he clandestinely negotiated a loan deal with AC Milan that embarrassed the Galaxy and MLS when it came to light. After vehement denials Beckham would be leaving, Anschutz Entertainment President Tim Leiweke cut a deal for a sizable and never publicly revealed loan fee. He and the Galaxy also insisted Beckham return in time for the start of the MLS season in March, 2009, rather than finish out the Serie A season with Milan.
After those rocky 2007 and 2008 seasons, the Galaxy has reeled off three excellent campaigns: MLS Cup finalist in 2009 (lost on penalties to Real Salt Lake), Supporters’ Shield winner in 2010 and 2011, and champion in 2011.
Coach Bruce Arena masterminded the transformation, which smoothed over frictions between Beckham and Landon Donovan, but more importantly converted the Galaxy from dysfunctional embarrassment into formidable franchise. On this stage, Beckham-the-player at last outshone Beckham-the-icon to the mutual benefit of his team and the league.
“I don’t think this league would be anywhere close to where it is now without him,” said midfielder Mike Magee. “The effort he’s put into making this league recognizable around the world and the game he’s even played on the field has helped the league grow a tremendous amount. It wouldn’t have done that without him.”
On its tour the Galaxy will play in Indonesia, the Phillipines, and Australia. If it’s to be his last hurrah in a Los Angeles jersey, in the eyes of many, Beckham has done enough in America to move on if he so decides. Playing all 90 minutes of the final with a strained hamstring he suffered in training further burnished a season during which he registered 19 assists, including the playoffs.
"David is a champion," Arena said during a post-MLS Cup press conference. "I've been around great athletes and competitors in my life, and this guy is as good as it comes. Unbelievable desire to win. He's a great teammate, a great person. He's done it all in every country he's been in.
“What more can you say about a guy like this and what he's brought to this organization and this league in five years? He gutted it out tonight. He obviously wanted to be there.
“Whatever he decides, I support him. He’s earned that.”