England's celebrity footballer signs off - for now - as an American champion after contributing to second MLS Cup win
With the sound of studs still clattering on the concrete as team-mates carried their second successive MLS Cup back to the dressing room following their 3-1 victory over Houston Dynamo, David Beckham slid into his seat in the Home Depot Center TV studio to face the press after his final game in America.
The labyrinth of windowless breezeblock corridors beneath the Center are built for function rather than aesthetics but this was no less stage-managed an appearance than the thousands the player has made during a playing career that has been inseparable from a commercial career as the face of the Beckham brand.
And even in leaving, the player was mindful of his markets: "On my boots I have the English flag and the American flag. I might be English but I'm very proud to have been part of this amazing country – and continue to be part of this amazing country." It was a comment that invites cynicism. Even Beckham was moved to mutter a wry aside when once again asserting his ongoing commitment to the game in the United States ("I've said it enough times now...") But his warmth for life in America is genuine and he noted how happy his family have been here. His sons were mascots for the final and have grown up in LA.
Perhaps just as significant is Beckham's ongoing relationship with the Galaxy, which may yet extend to an ownership stake. The CEO of the Galaxy ownership group AEG, Tim Leiweke, famously sold Beckham on the idea of being on the ground floor of something big when he came to the US, and his contract allows him either to buy a franchise option from the league at a reduced rate or to buy into an existing franchise, including, of course, LA Galaxy. With talk now turning to thoughts of a high-profile player to replace Beckham, it is telling that the current frontrunner is a former Beckham team-mate at Milan: "I think most clubs would like Kaka to come into their team...I've spent a lot of time with him when I was at Milan. He's a great talent, a great person, he's a hard worker – he's one of the most professional players that I've ever come up against and played with. He's still a Real Madrid player, so it's obviously disrespectful to speak about him coming here when he's still in contract, but of course, if there was any chance of getting Ricardo here, you'd do anything."
Spoken like a true owner. As Beckham made his comments, Landon Donovan was hunched beside him on the podium, demurring when asked if he had made any decision about his own future. The player had scored the winning penalty, taking his all-time post-season scoring record to 22, and now a record five goals scored in four MLS Cup finals, including last year's winner. The American player of his generation has publicly acknowledged burn-out this year, though he is only 30. "Right now, my gut says to get away for a while," he said.
At one point, as the Beckham Experiment threatened to implode, Donovan might have reasonably expected to outlast the Englishman at the club and he may yet do so after a break in the game. They are differing characters who have clashed at times but who have reached a rapprochement on the field. Donovan took pains to credit Beckham's role in the club's turnaround after a disastrous start to the year – "David's demeanour was influencing everybody and he decided at that point that he was going to take control."
Beckham now takes his playing leave of America as a reigning champion, having taken a final round of applause while being subbed in injury time: "It was always going to be an emotional day. So yeah, coming off was tough – but I enjoyed the win."