If David Beckham decides to end his five year spell in Los Angeles, he will bow out as a champion, following a pattern that was established at Manchester United, maintained at Real Madrid and culminated in LA Galaxy winning the MLS Cup at the weekend. A 1-0 win over Houston Dynamo at the Galaxy’s Home Depot Centre further decorated Beckham’s illustrious career and will go some way towards vindicating his decision to leave Europe in favour of the maligned, fledgling MLS.
If Beckham’s intention was to improve the fortunes of both LA Galaxy and the MLS as a whole, the project appears to have been a reasonable success, although his long term impact may not become apparent for some time yet. Scrabble may still get better TV ratings and NBC Sport’s recent three-year agreement amounted to a relatively paltry $10-12m a year, but that is only half the story. Attendances are on the up, climbing by 7.2% this year to an average of 17,852, the tenth highest in world football, the number of competing franchises has also grown from 14 to 19 during the Beckham era. Despite selling 600,000 Beckham shirts in his first year at the club, the biggest selling sports jersey of all time, it was always going to be on the pitch where his impact would be most stringently assessed.
In an injury interrupted first season, Beckham and the Galaxy underachieved, failing to make the play-offs, a feat repeated in the following season. In the off-season, Beckham joined Milan on loan, to maintain his fitness and international prospects. This spell was subsequently extended, much to the chagrin of the Galaxy supporters. On his return to Los Angeles, the Galaxy won the Western Conference, losing in the MLS Cup final to Real Salt Lake on penalties. Beckham again returned to Milan, tearing his Achilles tendon in the process, an injury that ruled him out of World Cup contention and much of the MLS season. On his return, LA Galaxy secured a second successive Western Conference title and a first MLS Supporters Shield since 2002.
The 49 games he played for England and Milan during his time in Los Angeles did nothing to endear him to supporters, but team and individual performances improved year on year with both enjoying their best season to date this term. With plenty of help along the way – the appointment of manager Bruce Arena and the arrival of Keane proved significant – Beckham eventually won over the Galaxy faithful with his humility and honest endeavour. Although an extension to his MLS adventure is not out of the question, it remains unlikely and a move to the nouveaux riche of Paris Saint Germain has been mooted. With designs on the Olympics, David Beckham’s blockbuster career remains a big box office draw, with the latest instalment eagerly anticipated.