(Corrects age of Beckham’s debut in 18th paragraph.)
David Beckham will end his six-year stint with the Los Angeles Galaxy in next month’s Major League Soccer championship game, saying he wants to experience “one last challenge” before the end of his playing career.
Beckham, the 37-year-old former England captain, didn’t elaborate on his future playing plans in a statement last night on the Galaxy’s website. Although the Dec. 1 MLS Cup against the Houston Dynamo will be his final competitive game for the Galaxy, Beckham said that he hopes to remain affiliated with the U.S. league as part of the ownership structure.
Beckham signed with the Galaxy in January 2007 and helped lead the team to three MLS Cup berths and the third championship in franchise history last season. Beckham’s presence coincided with a period of unprecedented growth for the 17-year-old league, which has added seven clubs in the past six years while 15 of the 19 MLS teams now play in soccer-specific stadiums, up from five before 2007.
“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 L.A. 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, who had signed a two-year contract extension in January, scored 18 goals and had 40 assists in 98 regular-season games for the Galaxy. He also recorded eight assists in 16 MLS playoff games, setting up one-third of Los Angeles’s postseason goals. Beckham became the first MLS player to have an assist in five straight playoff contests, including one in all four of the Galaxy’s games during their run to the 2011 MLS Cup title.
Off the field, Beckham’s presence helped the Galaxy reach a 10-year partnership with Time Warner Cable Inc. (TWC:US) in November 2011 that’s the most lucrative broadcast deal of its type in MLS history. Exposure of the Galaxy and MLS are at all-time highs, as the league has national television contracts with Walt Disney Co.’s ESPN, NBC Sports and Los Angeles-based Univision Communications Inc., the Spanish-language TV network.
“Seldom does an athlete redefine a sport, and David not only took our franchise to another level but he took our sport to another level,” said Tim Leiweke, president of Galaxy owner Anschutz Entertainment Group. “It has been an honor and privilege to be a part of his world, and more importantly, to have him be a part of ours.”
Beckham’s original five-year contract included the option to buy a franchise after he retires from playing in the U.S. and Leiweke has said MLS has made arrangements for Beckham to become an owner and run his own franchise.
His playing future remains unclear.
Paris Saint-Germain is among “a host of leading clubs” ready to make him an offer, the British Broadcasting Corp. reported. Beckham had talks with PSG in 2011 before deciding to stay with the Galaxy.
He’s also received approaches from Russia, China and Brazil, the BBC said, although he’d only go to a club where he’s assured of regular first-team play.
Beckham’s spokesman Simon Oliveira didn’t respond to a voicemail seeking comment.
Football Federation Australia said Nov. 16 that it was approached by the midfielder’s representatives in relation to an A-League club acquiring his services in the 2012-13 season. Beckham’s management denied the link, saying he had “absolutely no plans” to play in Australia. Beckham previously had two loan spells at AC Milan during the MLS offseason.
“I’ve had an incredibly special time playing for the L.A. Galaxy, however, I wanted to experience one last challenge before the end of my playing career,” Beckham said yesterday.
A-League teams Perth Glory and Melbourne Heart said today they are still interested in bringing Beckham to Australia, where ex-Italy forward Alessandro Del Piero and Beckham’s former England teammate Emile Heskey are playing this season.
A posting on Perth’s Twitter account said that “the race is on” following the announcement that Beckham will leave the Galaxy, while Heart Chief Executive Officer Scott Munn said his team would put forward a “compelling offer” to Beckham.
“Let’s let David get through next week, play the final of the MLS, and hopefully he’ll have a win,” Munn told reporters. “Then I’m sure he’ll assess every offer.”
Beckham made his debut for Manchester United in 1992 as a 17-year-old and came to prominence by scoring from the halfway line against Wimbledon on the opening day of the following season. He won England’s Premier League six times with United, the F.A. Cup twice and the Champions League, Europe’s top prize.
He won the Spanish league title while at Real Madrid, which he joined in 2003, and played in 115 games for England, the most by a non-goalkeeper. When Beckham came to Los Angeles in 2007, he was the highest-profile signing by a U.S. soccer team since 1975, when Pele joined the New York Cosmos of the old North American Soccer League.
“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 in a statement. “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.”
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