After a poor start to his career in Los Angeles, David Beckham needed to leave the Galaxy to rescue his career. So far this project had been a resounding failure. Beckham needed to escape from the mess that had been created over at the Home Depot Center and come back after this loan with AC Milan to reflect on what he was going to do with his career. He was 32 now and needed to figure out how he was going to end this project.
Was he going to go to Milan and spend the rest of his career in Europe and pretend this never happened? Or was he going to go back to LA and sort this mess out that he and his advisors had partly created and prove himself to the sceptical Galaxy fans?
Just like he had done countless times throughout his career, Beckham proved his doubters wrong. He was incredible and was integral in guiding Milan to third spot in the table. He gave Carlo Ancelotti’s side more experience in midfield and slotted in nicely alongside Kaká and Ronaldinho. Two goals inside his first four matches had shown Beckham could still prove himself at the top level.
But as Beckham’s rich form kept him inside the Milan squad, there were more doubts over his future at the Galaxy. After all, why would he go back to a side that had frustrated him for the past two years when he could play Champions League football at the San Siro the following season?
The plan was to return for the start of the MLS season in March but Beckham had now extended his loan until the end of the season in May with the Rossoneri. Despite his upturn of form in Italy, Beckham’s popularity in America was now at its lowest. Not only had the Galaxy fans turned their back on him but now his team-mates had too.
Landon Donovan called Beckham out publicly for his decision to stay at Milan until the end of the season, calling him a bad leader and team-mate. Beckham swung back calling Donovan unprofessional. This was not good for anyone. If Beckham wanted to ease the tensions Stateside, a fallout with the second most important player in the squad wasn’t the best way to go about things.
When Beckham eventually returned to the Galaxy after what was a pretty decent spell in Italy, featuring 18 times for Milan, he did not receive the most welcoming of receptions. The Galaxy faithful had sided with Donovan and in Beckham’s first game back since the disaster that was the 2008 MLS season, he was loudly booed. Signs were also held up in protest. “Here before, Here after, Here despite Beckham” read one of them. Another read “go home fraud”.
Like he’d done with England just under nine years before, Beckham needed to turn round the Galaxy fans into supporters of him. His form had improved though and with Bruce Arena now improving the results of the team and the squad, the right environment was finally set for Beckham to blossom in MLS.
The feud had now also been sorted between Donovan and Beckham. Speaking on the Today Show, Beckham said “Me and Landon have spoken, he apologised. We’ve moved on”.
In order for this to be a success, Beckham had to win something with the Galaxy. The first two seasons hadn’t gone to plan but now the Galaxy had reached the playoffs for the first time in four years and were looking to win their first MLS Cup since 2005.
Beckham had forged a great relationship with Donovan on the pitch together and their partnership had led the Galaxy to the top of the Western Conference.
After seeing off Chivas USA and Houston Dynamo, Arena had guided the Galaxy to the final of the MLS Cup. Beckham was injured again but he’d changed his mindset now. He wanted this to be a success and he was playing through the pain for the sake of the team.
Agonisingly, Real Salt Lake just edged out the Galaxy on penalties in the final but there were no complaints to be made about Beckham. He did everything he could to win the game. It was his ball into Donovan that led to the only Galaxy goal on the night and he scored his penalty in the shoot-out despite being injured. It just wasn’t to be on the night.
Another loan followed back to Milan during the MLS postseason. This one wasn’t as successful. Despite highlights such as a return to Old Trafford in the Champions League, Beckham had torn his achilles tendon meaning he was out for the 2010 World Cup and had missed his last opportunity to play at a major tournament. There were doubts as to whether he could end the season with the Galaxy as well. This was a serious injury that needed attention and Beckham couldn’t be rushed back from it.
It would be another frustrating season for the former England captain. He was out for five months and only managed to end up playing seven times for the Galaxy and despite them finishing top in the Eastern Conference again, FC Dallas knocked them out of the playoffs 3-0.
Beckham had now been at the Galaxy for four seasons without anything to show for it. At 36 years old with one year left on his contract, time was running out for success.
However, the squad Beckham was playing in had improved massively since he first arrived in 2007. Halfway through the 2011 season, Robbie Keane had joined the Galaxy alongside Juan Pablo Ángel and this was the strongest Galaxy side Beckham had been a part of.
The three-man strike partnership of Beckham, Donovan and Keane was lethal in guiding the Galaxy to their third playoff spot in a row. After the Red Bulls and Salt Lake were seen off in the playoffs, Beckham now had a second chance to win the MLS Cup.
It had comfortably been Beckham’s best season. He finished it with 15 assists and had played the most games out of any of the other seasons he’d been in America. Unlike Gullit, Arena understood the importance of set-pieces and was getting the most out of his specialist. Beckham had managed to score directly from a corner and had also managed to curl in a gorgeous free-kick from 30 yards against Sporting Kansas City. The player that Galaxy fans craved for so long was finally here.
It would be Houston that would stand in the way of Beckham’s first MLS Cup. The Galaxy were the favourites and with the one-off tie being played at their Home Depot Center, where they hadn’t lost all season. It was theirs to lose. A single goal from Donovan was enough to seal a comfortable win in the end for the Galaxy and end the heartbreak. At last, Beckham had something to show for his time in America. He’d turned around the fans into supporting him, just like he’d done after France 98′.
His relationship was now fixed as well with Donovan. After the game, the two were seen hugging each other as the confetti fell from the sky.
The league was also growing. Partly due to Beckham’s influence, this project was growing into a success. Since he joined the Galaxy in 2007, attendances had increased throughout the league, more soccer-specific stadiums were being built, broadcasting revenue went up and more big names were attracted to the league. Thierry Henry was now at the Red Bulls and Tim Cahill would join the following year.
This project that had started out as an abject failure had now turned into a big success. More silverware would follow the next season after Beckham extended his contract. Another 3-1 win over Houston in the MLS Cup final in 2012, would be the perfect ending to Beckham’s career in the States.
What Beckham did was a testament to his character. He could’ve easily have quit the whole project after Ruud Gullit’s joke of a season in charge. He had options from Milan to come back permanently to see out his career in Serie A. He could’ve gone to Spurs but he stayed with the Galaxy.
He knew what the long term benefits would be if he saw out his contract. He knew that if he came back to Los Angeles he’d get loads of stick from his own supporters but Beckham also knew that he was desperate to win an MLS Cup after failure. To pick up your first winners’ medal in a third country at 36 is an incredible achievement. To have that drive and determination to do it again the next year is insane.
Beckham’s own MLS side, Inter Miami, played their first game in MLS away to the Galaxy in March. You can now only think of one thing when it comes to Beckham and his project to transform the fortunes of the MLS. It has been a resounding success.