Goodbye America, it's been magical! Beckham hailed by his peers after dazzling USA
23:23 GMT, 2 December 2012
How do you know when you’ve made it in America Public endorsements from national icons certainly do not do any harm.
‘David Beckham, thank you for making pro soccer relevant in the USA,’ tweeted Magic Johnson, the former LA Lakers basketball star in the run-up to his neighbour’s final game in the MLS on Saturday afternoon.
Beckham is not short of famous friends in California. On Friday he told how he recently called up Michael Jordan for a restaurant recommendation during a visit to Chicago. This, over the last six years, has gradually become the life of the former England captain.
Family party: David Beckham shares the glory with his sons Brooklyn Beckham, Cruz Beckham and Romeo Beckham
Paying tribute: Beckham was much loved by the Galaxy fans
Famous friends: Magic Johnson tweeted about Beckham to thank him
Early on Saturday evening, though,
Beckham received a tribute from his peers that — set against the
background of his time in the States — perhaps meant more to him as he
celebrated LA Galaxy’s 3-1 Cup final victory over Houston Dynamo in the
dressing room of the Home Depot Center.
‘One more year, one more year, one
more year,’ was the spontaneous song from Beckham’s Galaxy team-mates
as he prepared to say his farewells. Quite something, that, from a group
of players who as recently as 2009 were questioning his commitment to
Moments later Beckham sat in the press
conference next to Landon Donovan, the colleague who famously said
three years ago: ‘I can’t say he’s a good team-mate. He’s not shown
that. At a minimum you should bust your ass every day. That hasn’t
happened.’ Here, in the aftermath of victory, was Donovan’s latest take.
Fond farewell: Beckham crowned his six year spell with LA Galaxy with another MLS Cup victory, after they beat Houston Dynamo 3-1
Impact: Beckham is hailed by the adoring Galaxy fans
‘David’s demeanour earlier this season
was overwhelming,’ Donovan said. ‘All the players were saying it. We
were struggling but he simply influenced people.
‘Players bought in to what he was saying and here, months later, we have our reward.’
Donovan is a complicated character,
one currently contemplating his own future in MLS. His tribute to
Beckham, though, appeared genuine and in tune with much of what has
recently been said here about the league’s most famous player.
There will, of course, not be one more
year for the 37-year-old Beckham. He leaves America as a winner and
that will be important to him. It was the way he left Manchester United
in 2003, and Real Madrid in 2007 too. He will not be back.
Equally pertinent, though, is that he
leaves believing he has ultimately kept his side of the bargain he
struck when he arrived in LA at the relatively young age of 31.
Still got it: Beckham produced a number of superlative, hallmark passes during the final
Hair-raising: Beckham challenged Houston's Ricardo Clark to the ball
Questions about his commitment, about
the sincerity of his oft-stated belief in the future of MLS, dogged his
early years in Los Angeles.
On Saturday night, though, he left the field embraced not only as an Englishman abroad but as one of the league’s very own.
This has been a difficult journey at
times. Loan spells in Milan in 2009 and 2010 raised understandable
questions about his priorities, as indeed did his early returns to
England to extend his inter-national career.
To be here on Saturday, though, was to realise that America now loves Beckham just as much as Beckham loves America.
‘If this had been a failed experience
with David then it would really have set us back as a league,’ said MLS
commissioner Don Garber. ‘But it hasn’t been. It has, in the end, been
Here's the punchline: Beckham celebrates after Omar Gonzalez had brought the match level at 1-1 early in the second half
Once upon a time, Beckham looked up
from the Home Depot field to see banners telling him to ‘go home’. It
wasn’t only Donovan who wondered where his heart and mind really lay.
On Saturday, though, the slogans pleaded: ‘Please take us with you,’ and declared: ‘David we will miss you.’
Garber added: ‘It took time for David
to find his legs here and get used to things. There were some trials and
tribulations with the loans in the early part. They created issues.
‘But we look back now and see that we
had a lot of “full-time David” and that “full-time David” over-delivered
on a lot of levels.
‘There are very few people in the world who don’t know about MLS now and that’s because David’s been here.’
As is often the case in America,
perspective is required. Off-the-field measures in MLS suggest muted
improvement during the Beckham years.
Average attendances have risen from
15,500 per match to 18,800. There are now 19 franchises in the MLS,
compared to 13 in Beckham’s first season. Television viewing figures,
meanwhile, remain fairly stagnant, with just over a million people
tuning in to watch Beckham on Saturday.
Much loved: Beckham's departure was mourned by LA Galaxy fans, who made a number of tribute banners for his farewell
The great, sprawling monsters of
American football, basketball and baseball are not under any threat from
what remains a minority sport and an admission from the Galaxy on
Friday that they are targeting the Brazilian Kaka as Beckham’s
replacement in a bid to attract Hispanic TV audiences suggests some
decisions are still being made for reasons not entirely centred on
Nevertheless, it can be argued that Beckham’s presence in LA has, latterly, helped to inch the game forwards.
‘When David came here people overseas
described it as a retirement league,’ said Garber. ‘Now people can see
it’s much more competitive.’
At Home Depot on Saturday, Beckham was
feted. Win or lose, this was set up to be his day. Playing in his now
familiar deep midfield role, he passed the ball very well.
He may not be able to run like he
once could. As a football technician, though, he remains imperious and
his control over a football — his judgment of weight and distance — is
as exquisite as ever.
Joking with a team-mate last week,
Beckham likened himself to the New England Patriots quarter-back Tom
Brady, only to be told: ‘No, man, you are not that good.’
Memento: This Galaxy fan wanted the shirt of Beckham's back
It’s easy to see his point, though. On
Saturday, given the time and space a 37-year-old needs, he increasingly
dictated the rhythm of the game as Galaxy recovered from a half-time
deficit to win.
When they earned a last-minute
penalty, it looked momentarily as though Beckham might take it. Some
farewell that would have been, but common sense dictated otherwise and,
after Robbie Keane had sealed victory from 12 yards, Beckham departed
the stage to a generous ovation.
Where he goes next is the question. In
all honesty a place in a top European side looks some way beyond him.
For now, though, he will lay that issue to one side.
‘This is a good day,’ Beckham said. ‘I
tell my children every day that if you want something you have to put
in the hard graft. I think I have done that here. It’s been a successful
‘All I hope is that people have enjoyed watching me play. My impact here will have to be judged by others.’