[MLS SPOTLIGHT] The suspense, such as it was, ended Wednesday when David Beckham and the Los Angeles Galaxy announced he has signed a new contract for two years at a salary not specified.
His return to MLS -- versus a move to Paris St. Germain -- had been bandied about for months as the Galaxy rolled to its third MLS title and the remaining portion of his previous contract ebbed away. During the process, he steadfastly reiterated how much he and his family enjoyed living in the area, and Anschutz Entertainment Group president Tim Leiweke never wavered in his insistence to keep Beckham if at all possible.
Since PSG officials conceded several weeks ago their bid had failed, much of the anticipated scenario has gone to plan. He was named this week as one of 191 players contacted in regards to playing for Great Britain at the Olympic Games this summer, a condition of employment AEG and the Galaxy willingly conceded. In exchange, the Galaxy and MLS get him for the next two seasons, with the right to loan him out and/or take him on tour to augment his marketing allure in league stadiums and via television and sponsorships.
That Beckham passed up a lot of money -- $1 million a month salary for 18 months, plus other revenue -- from PSG is a major element of his decision to return, but so is his age and family situation: He’s 36, with four children including a son already in the Galaxy academy and a baby girl, and superstar or not, he does his share of fatherly tasks such as driving the kids to school.
He’s a star in a land full of luminous celebrities and thus is only occasionally enveloped by lights and cameras and overamped interviewers away from the soccer field. Truth be told, until hordes of foreign journalists descended upon Home Depot Center in advance of MLS Cup, for the past few seasons Galaxy training sessions with or without Becks were pretty much the same.
Most of the time, Beckham can duck the spotlight and attend to the people most important to him: his family, his friends and his teammates. In Paris, living in a new country and playing for a new team and unfamiliar owners, life could be good, but it could also be a lot worse. The Qatari consortium that recently bought a controlling interest in PSG is shooting at fat price tags attached to star players throughout Europe; aside from the financial considerations, every high-priced addition is another reason to sit down Beckham, and whatever else he needs out of life, he wants to play. Who needs that turmoil?
Beckham's sense of adventure has been sated by a tumultuous stay at Real Madrid and bumpy yet historic four-and-a half-season stint in MLS, though he and the league are radically different than they were in January 2007 when he first signed. How much of the league’s growth can be attributed to him is impossible to quantify, for beyond the six teams added – a seventh expansion team, Toronto FC, began play in 2007 -- and increased revenues in sponsorship and merchandise sales and ramped-up media coverage are the players, coaches, agents and executives who first took serious notice of MLS, and perhaps American soccer as well, when he joined up.
Perhaps the best Designated Player ever signed by MLS, Juan Pablo Angel, freely admitted Beckham’s signing moved MLS on his radar screen. Since he came aboard in 2007 with the Red Bulls, Angel has scored 71 regular-season and playoff goals. Pairing Angel and Beckham on the Galaxy at the start of the 2011 season failed miserably, yet both ended the year strongly. Angel scored seven goals in just nine games for Chivas USA, Beckham finished among the league leaders in assists and with a title.
Beckham will find the Galaxy radically changed since he lifted the MLS Cup in his home stadium Nov. 20. Defender of the Year Omar Gonzalez is sidelined with a serious knee injury, midfield linchpin Juninho has gone back to Brazil after an invaluable performance on loan, and Trinidad & Tobago international Chris Birchall is looking for a club in England. Assistant coach Gregg Berhalter, who retired as a player during the 2011 season, has left the country to coach in Sweden. The other two points of the Galaxy’s three-pronged Designated Player attack, Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan, are on loan in his native country.
The trio will be reunited prior to the start of league play in March, yet will split apart again during the season. Donovan will play friendlies and World Cup qualifiers with the USA, Keane –- his country’s all-time leading scorer -- will represent Ireland in the European Championships, and Beckham will be summoned for preparation matches as well as the Olympic Games. (So, too, might Donovan.)
Collectively and individually, they will be tasked to lead and inspire as well as produce goals and assists. Brought to this country to drive exposure and appeal, Beckham returns with his club and the league on much steadier ground.
After ducking away from a leadership role in his first two seasons with the Galaxy, and embarrassing his club and MLS by negotiating a loan deal to AC Milan through back channels, Beckham has restored the reputation he forged at Manchester United: determined, talented, affable, dedicated. Strenuous rehabilitation got him back on the field late in the 2010 season after a severe Achilles tendon injury, and last year he set a personal high in MLS by playing more than 30 matches in all competitions.
The cynics, and they are many, can point to 2011 as a simple case of a player trying his hardest in the final year of his contract and that for $32.5 million in salary over five years he fell far short of good value. On the field, last season -- as good as it was -- raised his overall grade to maybe a B-minus or C-plus.
But only the ignorant, and they too are plentiful, can argue his overall influence hasn’t been a key element in the growth of the league, and a transformation of the Galaxy from bad joke to bad-ass juggernaut.
For his team as well as the game in this country, David Beckham has been what he’s always been: a role player few can match.