When he went public with his decision, many pundits in Europe and across the globe suggested that it heralded the end of an era. The feeling among those “in the know” was that he had called time on a career at the highest levels because he could no longer “cut it”. The rap on Beckham was that he had lost some of his desire for the game and that he was no longer the all action player who had won a hat full of domestic and European titles with Manchester United.
After all, the right-sided midfielder had in short order lost the captaincy of his country, his place in the national side and his starting spot for Los Merengues (Real Madrid). Adding insult to injury, he had been dropped from the Real Madrid squad the week before the Galaxy announcement by the club’s coach Fabio Capello. Consequently, the move to MLS was seen as a smart financial decision for the Beckham brand while alluding to a recognition that Beckham-the-soccer-player was ready for semi-retirement. The decision by Real to initially offer a contract extension did not change this narrative.
Fast forward two years and things are quite different for Beckham. While he has not had a huge amount of on-field success with the LA Galaxy, he has helped to grow the sport significantly in the U.S. and has been a key part of MLS at a time when it seems to be growing from strength to strength. The latest positive MLS story has FC Barcelona buying into a team to play in Miami. Beckham has helped the growth of MLS – of that there can be no doubt.
What is also clear is that his stint in the U.S. has refreshed Beckham. He has returned to the England fold and showed that he still has a role to play coming off the substitutes bench. He has also shown that he is still respected at the highest levels of the game. Italian giants AC Milan have welcomed Beckham with open arms as he begins a two-month loan with the club. Beckham fans know that he will handle himself well in a club that includes Kaka and Ronaldinho among its stars.
So what is next for Beckham? He will be returning to the Galaxy in the spring and it seems likely that this could be the season that his MLS side will make a run at the championship. They have a coach who understands the league and are starting to build a balanced squad. Beckham also knows that he will be judged on success and wants a title badly.
Despite that desire, a title season is not a forgone conclusion and should not be the only indicator for whether Beckham has succeeded in the U.S. He has brought a lot to the league and will continue to do so. An MLS title is not the only metric that matters.
However, for those in the U.S. who think that another season without a title should lead to a parting of the ways between player and league consider the words of Zinedine Zidane in a Sunday Mirror interview when Beckham left Madrid:
“There was never any doubt in my mind that he wanted to end his career at the club. But what is the point of staying somewhere you're clearly not wanted? Is it a big mistake? Absolutely. I think Madrid should have done everything in their power to keep him because he's unique. They won't find it easy to replace him - it's almost impossible.”
Raj Purohit is the author of "Beckham and the Conquest of America".