Out of the side and with his contract coming to an end, many wondered where David Beckham would end up. Back in Manchester? Milan? Inter? Or would he stay at Real Madrid?
The answer, as it turned out, was none of the above, as Beckham – at the age of just 31 – decided to sign a pre-contract agreement with MLS outfit LA Galaxy. Astronomical sums of money were mooted, and no one believed the former England captain when he spoke of moving for football reasons.
As it happened, he forced his way back into the Madrid side in such a fashion that they reportedly attempted to untie him from his deal with Galaxy, albeit to no avail. He did leave with a championship to his name, at least, and then it was off to the West Coast of the USA.
A big publicity push was made to promote ‘Brand Beckham’ and ‘soccer’ in general. There were ad campaigns, magazine covers, and very little focus on the on-the-field stuff.
He made his debut as a substitute against Chelsea, a game that drew a celebrity audience and was shown on ESPN. Still, though, at this point at least, Beckham the brand was overshadowing Beckham the player.
His first season in the MLS was far from successful, with his appearances limited due to a succession of injuries. LA failed to make the playoffs, and most seemed ready to write off Beckham’s experiment already.
He spent the MLS off-season training with Arsenal, before heading back to LA to take part in pre-season training to find that Ruud Guillet was now the man in charge. The highest paid player in the MLS along with the highest paid coach, what could possibly go wrong?
Quite a bit, as it turned out. The side endured another disappointing campaign that included a seven game winless streak, the resignation of the Dutchman, and once again failure to make the end-of-season playoffs.
There was a personal highlight for the midfielder, though, with a 70-yard strike – admittedly into an empty net – drawing comparisons with his famous goal against Wimbledon for Manchester United.
At this point Beckham was back into contention for the England side – having fallen out of favour under Steve McLaren – with his old Madrid coach Capello in charge, and it was announced that he’d be spending the MLS offseason on loan at Milan. Despite this, he claimed he fully intended to return to Galaxy for the start of their season.
After two seasons in LA, Beckham was back where many felt he should never have left (or at least not so soon): top flight, high-level football with one of the biggest teams in Europe.
Any questions over his ability to perform at this standard were answered with two goals in his first four matches, with assists to boot. Due to his impressive form talk began that Milan would make a move to sign the Englishman on a permanent basis, something Beckham himself confirmed.
While a permanent deal could not be agreed, with Galaxy rumoured to be wanting figures upwards of $10m, the two sides did come to agreement on a ‘timeshare’ deal that would see Beckham see out the season with Milan, before returning to LA to play in the remainder of the MLS season.
Both fans and players – teammate Landon Donavon openly criticised Beckham – seemed to have turned against him upon his return, due to his openly seeking a move away from the club. However, his comeback saw improved performances, and LA Galaxy not only made the playoffs for the first time since his arrival, but won the Western Conference final before going on to lose the MLS final on penalties to Real Salt Lake.
The new year saw Beckham heading back to Milan for a second spell with I Rossoneri, a move he hoped would be enough to secure his place in Fabio Capello’s squad for the 2010 World Cup.
His form was impressive once more, and his making the World Cup seemed all but a formality. He made a return to Old Trafford as a substitute in Milan’s 4-0 defeat to United in the Champions League. This return was marked by slight controversy, with Becks holding aloft a green and gold ‘anti-Glazer’ scarf at the end of the game, though he played down the incident.
His season – and dreams of competing in a fourth World Cup – was brought to a halt with an Achilles injury that ruled him out of both that tournament and most of the MLS season. He did return towards the end of the 2010 season, although could not help guide the side to the MLS final.
He spent January and February training with Tottenham Hotspur, where it was originally suggested he would go on loan. Harry Redknapp, however, stated that Galaxy had blocked such a move.
Beckham was joined by Robbie Keane for the 2011 season, and along with Donavon formed a formidable trio that proved too much for most in the MLS.
The midfielder enjoyed his best season to date – finishing second in terms of assists – and the side reached their second MLS final of the Beckham-era.
This one was to be far more successful than the last, securing the title with a 1-0 win over Houston Dynamo. That victory meant Beckham had now won league titles in three different countries.
With Beckham’s contract expiring, there was once again speculation as to whether the former England man could be on the move. He put this to bed, however, by signing a new two-year deal: one many thought signaled his intent to end his playing career in Los Angeles.
2012 has seen – goalscoring wise – his most productive campaign in America, with seven MLS goals to his name, scored en route to another appearance in the MLS final.
He has now, of course, announced that the final against Houston Dynamo – to take place on December 1 – will be his last game for Galaxy, as he seeks one last challenge. If he wins, it will mean he has won the league title in his last game for United, Madrid and Galaxy.
It’s unclear as yet where he’ll end up, but there’s no doubting Beckham is leaving the MLS (if that is the case) in a far better state than when he came. Now, David, how about Sunderland? We’ve got a new Primark and everything!