Beckham agrees Galaxy move
Some transfers fly under the radar while others are remembered long after the player has retired or moved on to pastures new. On January 12, 2007, the world's most marketable footballer, Real Madrid's David Beckham, opted to join MLS side Los Angeles Galaxy and sparked bedlam. For a 31-year-old, it was a real gamble when he could have joined one of Europe's elite, but his desire to seek a new challenge and bring football (or soccer) to a new audience saw him make giant strides for the game.
The spotlight has followed David Beckham since he first made his name as a youngster at Manchester United. Quickly becoming one of the world's most iconic players for club and country - thanks to both his performances on the pitch and his superstar personal life - Beckham's £25 million transfer to Real Madrid in 2003 was one of the deals of the decade.
But, by the start of 2007, his Bernabeu dream had turned sour. No title had been forthcoming - the last was won months before his arrival - despite an outlay of over £100 million on the likes of Figo, Zinedine Zidane and Ronaldo in the three years before and he was being shunned by then-coach Fabio Capello. Beckham had watched fellow countrymen Michael Owen and Jonathan Woodgate fail to make the grade and the English grit that had been coveted so highly in the Spanish capital seemed in short supply.
Up until Capello's arrival, Beckham had been a first-choice in midfield, but by January he had only started five of Real's 16 league games and was known to be frustrated with his lack of opportunities. The Daily Telegraph's Sid Lowe wrote in October 2006: "As Real Madrid's players ran on to the Santiago Bernabeu turf to face Barcelona last night, David Beckham reached the top of the tunnel and turned a sharp left. Still wearing his club tracksuit, he settled into his seat on the bench, behind club doctors, physios and Fabio Capello, the coach who left him out. It was, alas, a journey that is becoming increasingly familiar."
Kept out of the side by the presence of former Arsenal winger Jose Antonio Reyes and Brazilian trickster Robinho, Beckham revealed that he was "sad" and "frustrated" by the situation. "I love playing football and, if I don't do that, I can't be happy," he said. "I go over it again and again and can't find an explanation. Sometimes you can't explain things, but you have to accept them. The only thing I can do is play well. It's really hard when I don't play."
The lack of playing time only contributed to what was already a slow negotiation process over a new contract. With his current deal expiring in the summer of 2007, time was running out and Lowe wrote that "Beckham's continued presence on the bench threatens to extinguish any lingering possibility of him continuing at the Santiago Bernabeu".
Indeed, an unhappy player and an unhappy club led to some confusion as January arrived. At first, a Sky Italia interview with Real director Predrag Mijatovic revealed that "Beckham's contract has not been renewed". The club later claimed Mijatovic had been mistranslated and that, in fact, an offer was on the table for a two-year extension. A day later, Beckham accepted an offer from the Galaxy.
A deal was cut for what the Galaxy, citing industry experts, said was "thought to be the biggest in sporting history". It ultimately reached more than $250 million (£128 million) in salary and about $1 million a week in commercial endorsements.
Real president Ramon Calderon was bitter. ''He's going to Hollywood to be half a film star," he said. "Our technical staff were right not to extend his contract, and that has been proved by the fact that no other technical staff in the world wanted him except Los Angeles.''
Beckham, though, was keen to insist that he was not doing it for the money, saying: "Another challenge has come up and it is the right time for us to do it. I didn't want to go out there at 34 years old and for people to turn around and say he's only going there to get the money. It's not what I'm going out there to do. I'm going to hopefully build a club and a team that has a lot of potential. I think that is what excites me."
His reception in LA saw the season ticket sales for the club's 27,000-capacity stadium, the Home Depot Centre, jump by more than 3,000 by February. The Galaxy also had to restrict their annual trials to 800 people - each of whom paid $130 (£65) to try to win the one place up for grabs in the squad - after thousands had applied.
'Soccer' was viewed as America's fourth most popular sport behind (American) football, basketball and baseball and was in need of a boost. For the country, it was the biggest moment in the sport since the likes of Pele, Franz Beckenbauer and Johan Cruyff played in the long-defunct North American Soccer League (NASL) in the 1970s and early '80s, and they were going to enjoy it.
"We've got the beaches, the glitz and the glamour, and now we even have David Beckham," LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa proclaimed but, struck by the enormity of what they had achieved, those in the MLS had the most to say about the deal.
The league's commissioner Don Garber said in a statement: "David Beckham coming to MLS might be viewed by some as one of the most important moments for soccer in this country and perhaps the history of professional sport. David transcends the sport and is a cultural icon. David is clearly one of the most recognisable athletes in the world. People are going to feel really good about David Beckham spending the rest of his career in the US."
Galaxy owner Timothy J. Leiweke simply added without the slightest hint of exaggeration: "David Beckham will have a greater impact on soccer in America than any athlete has ever had on a sport globally. David is truly the only individual that can build the 'bridge' between soccer in America and the rest of the world."
What happened next? Despite being told he would never play for the club again, Beckham was reinstated to the Madrid side by Capello, who admitted: "Intelligent people are those who know how to make good their mistakes." He went on to help the club claim the Spanish title - his first - as his final act at the Bernabeu. In July, he was unveiled in LA at a lavish ceremony and, although injury meant he played only eight games in his first season in the MLS as the Galaxy failed to make the play-offs, he brought the publicity that American soccer had craved and elevated the game to a new level.
Success finally came when, in both 2010 and 2011, he helped the Galaxy to win the MLS Supporters' Shield (an annual award given to the team with the best regular season record) and landed his first trophy by bringing home the 2011 MLS Cup. Amid speculation that he would leave the Galaxy as his contract came to an end in early 2012, Beckham rejected moves to PSG and Milan and opted to stay and continue his challenge in the MLS.