David Beckham will play his final game for the Los Angeles Galaxy in the Major League Soccer Cup next month.
Beckham and the Galaxy announced the English midfielder’s decision on Monday, a day after the defending MLS champions advanced to their second straight league final. Los Angeles faces Houston for the MLS title on December 1.
The 37-year-old Beckham is not retiring, but the superstar he gave no hint of his next move.
“I’ve had an incredibly special time playing for the LA Galaxy,” Beckham said in a statement. “However, I wanted to experience one last challenge before the end of my playing career. I don’t see this as the end of my relationship with the league, as my ambition is to be part of the ownership structure in the future.”
Beckham played in Los Angeles for six seasons since his groundbreaking move from Real Madrid, reaching three league finals and winning one MLS title last year during his best stateside campaign.
He agreed to a two-year contract extension with the Galaxy in January after playing out his initial five-year deal, turning down potential moves to wealthy Paris Saint-Germain and other clubs – including at least one Premiership team, according to Beckham.
Beckham had not given any overt indications he was planning to leave the Galaxy after this season with a year left on his deal. Last week, the longtime England captain pointedly denied rumours linking him to a short-term stint in Australia.
However his recent announcement sparked interest from Down Under.
Already fired up by Football Federation Australia’s announcement last week that Beckham’s representatives had been in touch, A-league clubs have been lining up to signal their intention to have the 37-year-old in their midfield.
The clubs were clearly undeterred by Beckham’s comments that he had “absolutely no plans” to play in Australia.
“David Beckham has confirmed the MLS Cup final will be his last game for the Galaxy. The race is on,” was posted on the official Perth Glory Twitter account.
Melbourne Heart chief executive Scott Munn confirmed his club would definitely be putting in a bid to bring “Brand Beckham” to Australia’s second largest city.
“What I can say is that it’s certainly real, we’re putting forward an offer, it’s compelling and the opportunity is here for him to come here,” he told reporters in Melbourne.
“That is absolutely legitimate. Let’s let David get through next week, play the final of the MLS and hopefully he’ll have a win. Then I’m sure he’ll assess every offer.”
Central Coast Mariners have also signalled their interest, while Western Sydney Wanderers could launch a bid with backing from the FFA, who is funding them in their debut season.
Sydney FC are unlikely to make a move having signed Juventus and Italy great Alessandro Del Pier for this season, although his salary of A$2 million (US$2.08 million) a year is an indication of the sort of money that might be on the table.
Beckham came to Australia with the LA Galaxy last year and helped attract a crowd of 34,608 to a friendly against the Melbourne Victory.
Beckham has been the star player for MLS’ highest-profile franchise during his tenure, which began with a handful of rocky seasons before the Galaxy became a power under Coach Bruce Arena in recent years. As Beckham indicated in his news release, his MLS contract includes the option to purchase a league franchise when his playing career ends, and Beckham has long been keen on an ownership move.
“In my time here I have seen the popularity of the game grow every year,” Beckham said. “I’ve been fortunate to win trophies, but more important to me has been the fantastic reception I’ve had from fans in LA and across the States. Soccer’s potential has no limits in this wonderful country, and I want to always be part of growing it.”
Beckham’s announcement indicated the MLS Cup would be his final “competitive” match with the Galaxy, which means he might participate in lucrative overseas friendliest often played by the Galaxy in recent years. But Los Angeles has no overseas exhibitions currently scheduled, so the championship game might be his final bow.
“Seldom does an athlete redefine a sport,” said Tim Lei eke, the president of Galaxy owners AEG. “David not only took our franchise to another level, but he took our sport to another level It has been an honour and privilege to be a part of his world, and more importantly, to have him be a part of ours.”
Beckham has been among MLS’ top players when healthy throughout his contract, and the gifted playmaker has meshed well with fellow international stars Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan during the Galaxy’s past two seasons. Los Angeles got off to a slow start this year, but has played splendidly down the stretch and into the post-season, rolling to a first-round elimination of the Supporters’ Shield-winning San Jose Earthquakes and a two-game victory over the Seattle Sounders in the Western Conference finals.
MLS has grown exponentially during Beckham’s tenure as the league’s face, expanding to 19 North American teams with record attendance and much-improved broadcast deals. The Galaxy reached the most lucrative television deal in MLS history last year with Time Warner Cable Sports.
“There is no doubt that MLS is far more popular and important here and abroad than it was when he arrived,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said. “David has achieved great things on and off the field during his time with the Galaxy, and he will always be an important part of our history. We look forward to his continued involvement with the LA Galaxy and the league.”
Beckham began his pro career with 12 years at Manchester United before his move to Real Madrid. He left for the Galaxy in 2007, building on a worldwide fame that reportedly produces more than US$40 million per year in endorsement income.
Additional reporting by Reuters