The former England captain is hoping to cement his legacy in America and leave LA on a high by winning the MLS Cup
In sport as in life, winners write the history, but David Beckham and the Los Angeles Galaxy have dispensed with this convention in the runup to Sunday's climax to the Major League Soccer season, in which they face the Houston Dynamo for the MLS Cup at the Home Depot Centre here in LA.
It is a home game for the Galaxy, who are overwhelming favourites to win what in all likelihood is the Englishman's final competitive game in the States. Neither the player nor his camp are confirming anything, at least not publicly, but it would come as a surprise if Beckham did not take his talents back to Europe once his contract ends next month. In the meantime, there is the Dynamo, lambs to the slaughter if this day goes according to the Hollywood script.
"You always feel unfulfilled if you don't win a trophy, no matter where you play. People asked the same question in my fourth year at Real Madrid and I ended it winning a trophy," Beckham said this week in an interview with Yahoo Sports. "I really want to win on Sunday."
No one should doubt that, just as no one should doubt that Beckham is equally set for another battle. Major League Soccer is on the upswing and, as he prepares to leave, probably for Paris St-Germain, he is determined to claim his share of the credit for a significant shift in American sporting culture.
"I have definitely achieved what I wanted to off the field," he said. "I wanted this game and this league to grow, and I didn't expect it to happen so quickly. I said back then it wouldn't happen in one or two years, but in five years a lot has happened. Attendances now rival NBA and NHL – all that in a country where soccer is not the No1 sport. That is something I am proud to be part of."
Tim Leiweke, president of AEG, which owns the Galaxy, and the man responsible for bringing the former England captain to Los Angeles on a five-year deal, has been equally anxious to cement Beckham's legacy. This week, the Galaxy announced a 10-year, $55m television deal. "We don't talk about this deal without David Beckham," Leiweke said, a bold declaration and one he qualified. "There is a component in this that gives them some certainty about our commitment to having designated players. We don't name specific players, because players come and go and this is a 10-year deal, but they know we've made a commitment towards maintaining the quality."
In other words, the deal is not dependent on Beckham's presence in the Galaxy team, the narrative of an Englishman abroad, lifting football in America on his Herculean shoulders and carrying it to the promised land, as mass-market appeal is more simplistic and self-serving than the reality has turned out to be.
There is little question Beckham has raised the profile of MLS, that he has been a diligent and respectable pitchman for the league; a model sportsman in the mould of Magic Johnson, with whom Leiweke sought to compare him this week. Yet he will never be remembered as fondly as Johnson, an enduring American and, specifically, Los Angelean hero. There is no shame in that.
As Dirk Nowitzki, the German-born basketball player who dominated last year's NBA finals, will testify, the US remains a little insular when it comes to sport. They prefer their heroes home-bred. For all his global celebrity and media savvy, Beckham's Englishness was always going to be a problem. But perhaps the biggest problem was the manner of his arrival in the States – that over-wrought, over-sold unveiling at the Home Depot Centre in front of thousands of Galaxy fans and some Hollywood A-listers.
Judged at the time a public relations triumph, it was revealed over time to have been a ghastly mistake, which set expectations that could not be met. Off the pitch, Beckham's natural reserve was at odds with his image as a larger‑than-life tabloid staple. On the pitch, his nuanced, supportive style came as a disappointment to an audience that had been sold the new Pelé.
Disillusionment quickly set in, with US sports fans and, one has to believe, with Beckham. Certainly, he could not wait to get back to Europe and loan spells with Milan, where he excelled. Yet even this backfired, especially with Galaxy fans, who could not reconcile the enthusiastic, influential player who cut a swathe through Serie A with the sometimes lethargic, often-injured midfielder who made little impact on their team's fortunes.
Beckham became involved in an altercation with a Galaxy fan during his first game after returning from a long spell in Italy and was accused by his team-mate Landon Donovan of lacking commitment. A triangle of internal conflict was made complete last winter, when Beckham pushed hard to go on loan to Tottenham, only for AEG to insist he stay in Los Angeles.
In typical Beckham fashion, he took his medicine and knuckled down. Certainly, the fifth and final season of his contract with Galaxy has been his best, and relations with his team-mates appear to be back on an even keel. When the lineups are announced, no name will be cheered louder by the fans than Beckham's. It has taken a while, but the Englishman may have achieved his American dream, finally becoming the darling of LA.