Living in America is Beckham's best option
Whether Predrag Mijatovic was mistranslated or not, the writing was always on the wall in the Bernabeu dressing room.
Any amount of scrabbling by Beckham's people on Wednesday about contract talks being ongoing could not hide the fact that the door that their No. 23 was headed for is marked salida.
Coach Fabio Capello's overhaul of the nine-time European champions might be stalling, but the Italian does not see the Englishman as being central to his plans. And while the marketing department of any club will always have a use for his chiselled features, Beckham faced an identity crisis.
Footballer or figurehead? Does he still have ambitions to be a footballer? Or is the infamous Brand Beckham more important? In moving to the U.S., he would be admitting that his days as a footballer capable of competing at the top level are done. At 31, that must be a jarring reality.
But fame and fortune can be sought elsewhere when you are David Beckham. Though he might have less choice in the matter than he would care to admit.
With his 32nd birthday coming in May, Beckham's peak as a player is behind him. Most would say his career zenith was reached in the years between 1999 and 2002, with the crunch of Aldo Duscher's boot on his metatarsal in a Champions League tie between Manchester United and Deportivo La Coruna being the moment that stopped the Beckham juggernaut dead in its tracks.
After that things got difficult; he was barely fit at the World Cup, he fell out with mentor Sir Alex Ferguson. Thus came Bootgate and being benched for a 2003 quarterfinal with Real. Though he ended his United career with the flourish of a Premiership title and a trademark free kick at Goodison, it was an exit from an Old Trafford faithful that ended up in the hands of the spin doctors. Did Fergie push him? Or did Beckham engineer his move?
It was probably a lot of both. That some Manchester United fans choose to call him "Liar23," an oblique reference to his DB07 range of bric-a-brac, tells a story. Beckham's place at United is in the past. Ferguson himself might have faltered and lost the faith of some. Yet new stars like Rooney and Ronaldo have rendered Beckham a page in an overpriced opus.
In the summer of 2003, Beckham took part in two world tours. One, taking in the U.S. and Far East, was pushing Brand Beckham. It saw him attend the MTV awards and be mistakenly called "Derek" by a misinformed presenter. Then he took heat for wearing a shirt very much like that of England's in promoting engine oil in Japan.
He returned home to find a new home -- the Bernabeu and Madrid. And was then off to the Far East again as part of the galacticos shirt-selling drive. Soccer achievement seemed a small part of Beckham's public image at this time. And it has remained so since. Real Madrid has failed to win a single trophy since his arrival. And England has faltered as his captaincy lost its inspiration.
Not that Beckham can be fully blamed for either of those. He was praised for his efforts in his first season by a surprised Spanish media, which had previously doubted Madrid's motives in buying him. Zidane, Figo, Raul and Ronaldo were all on the wane. And he was not the only star to fail at Euro 2004 or Germany 2006. He was just the most famous.
In both cases he seems to have taken significant blame for failures. Steve McClaren's first media-friendly grandstanding gesture was to drop him from the England squad. And Capello has started him just nine times this season, preferring to play Jose Antonio Reyes, Robinho and even an out-of-position Raul on the right flank, having deciding that any experiment with Beckham as a central midfielder is now completed.
If he had stayed at Real, Beckham would have had to resign himself to a peripheral role until, at least, Capello left the club. And time is not on the side of a player whose lack of pace becomes ever more pronounced. So a waiting game was out of the question, especially as money surely cannot be an object.
A new challenge would be the aim of the Beckham we knew in the 1990s. A Premiership return would have represented significant belief in his playing abilities. There would be no hiding place amid the media glare. With the top echelon of clubs surely not looking for a 30-plus right-midfielder, a midranking club might have seen his value as both player and commercial entity.
The Spurs were perhaps the largest concern, where he might have found a home. But they have Aaron Lennon, who has already taken his place with England.
Below that, a return to Greater Manchester with either City or Bolton seemed unlikely. So too a northeast move to Middlesbrough or Newcastle. Mrs. Beckham would surely have seen to that.
West Ham, in the area of his birth, would have represented romance and settled scores, considering the effigies fans burned of him at Upton Park back in 1998. Yet this is a club whose future might lie outside the Premiership.
So the choices of an emotional return home seemed scant. A move to Italy would have satisfied the missus' thirst for fashion, yet Serie A is no longer blessed with lucre. Juventus is still enmired in scandal, Milan is attempting to get young players in to succeed geriatric incumbents, while Inter seems to have too strong a squad to require him. So too Lyon in France. Germany is not known for paying big wages either.
This lack of options might have led Beckham to re-sign the deal that supposedly remained on an expensive desk in the bowels of the Bernabeu. Though that does not take into account the lure of dollar and celebrity that await a move to the U.S.
In moving to America, Beckham can satisfy his craving for the trapping of stardom. The friendship he and Victoria have cultivated with Hollywood oddballs Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes confirms that the circle of celebrity is all-important. Next stop, Hollywood.
So Beckham looks to have chosen being a figurehead over being a footballer. MLS needs to build on its solid foundations. He can be the architect of growing the game in the U.S., no doubt in tandem with the soccer schools business he is already pursuing. The adulation and extra butts on seats will satisfy Beckham and the league's owners, of which he might well end up being one.
So the money looks like it's more than all right, the time is right, the profile is right. They have been cashed in for Beckham's standing as a player at the top level. John Brewin is the U.K. editor for ESPNsoccernet.
• Any thoughts on this article? Feel free to email John Brewin