When David Beckham says he intends to take on one more challenge before hanging up his boots, we had better take him seriously. Since Sir Alex Ferguson ended his dream of staying at Old Trafford for the whole of his playing career, Beckham has handled his moves across the football chessboard with considerable shrewdness and few missteps.
One day he will probably take up the option he negotiated on his arrival in the United States, the one offering him the chance to head up a newly-formed Major League Soccer club (known as an expansion team). Or he might return to LA Galaxy as an investor. Before that, however, there is still business to be done, and the last dregs of pleasure to be squeezed out of playing on the pitch.
Along with underestimating his talent for kicking a ball and influencing the course of a match, the mistake many people make about Beckham is to assume that somehow almost anything in his life takes precedence over the actual game. But look at his record: here is a man who made his first-team debut at 17 and is still competing for a national title at 37. On the way he has played with distinction for Manchester United, Real Madrid, Milan and LA Galaxy, for whom he will play a final match on 1 December, in an attempt to retain the MLS Cup.
His six years at the Home Depot Centre, where he will make his farewell appearance, have been a time of steady growth for a league that came into being at the time of the 1994 World Cup but endured difficult times until his arrival, with weaker teams going to the wall on a regular basis. If life in Lotus Land has been good to him and his family, then he has been good for Major League Soccer. It is still no threat to the national popularity of baseball, basketball or college and pro football, but it has carved out a solid niche, and he has been its figurehead of its journey to stability.
True, there are some Galaxy fans who resent the two winters he spent on loan in Milan while trying to maintain his fitness in order to keep playing for England. Elsewhere, however, the supporters of his various clubs have nothing but praise for his contribution and commitment. In Madrid he won over a deeply sceptical Fabio Capello and helped secure a league title at the end of a difficult season. A couple of years later he did well enough at Milan, where he played under Carlo Ancelotti and Leonardo, for the club to try to hang on to him after his loan period came to an end. He was also able to avail himself there of the expertise from the team of physiologists that had prolonged the active life of such players as Paolo Maldini, Pippo Inzaghi and Clarence Seedorf.
If Beckham has been a shade manipulative, plotting his way through football to his maximum advantage, then perhaps we can blame Ferguson, who gave him a brutal demonstration that loyalty means nothing. Unable, in his old-school way, to see the substance beneath the flashy trappings, the United manager not only discarded Beckham but ensured that the club made a vast profit from a player who had cost them nothing and had given them so much. That, if nothing else, taught Beckham how football works.
There will be plenty of offers for his services in his final season. Some of them will probably come from England, with Queens Park Rangers potentially to the fore, especially if Harry Redknapp – who welcomed him to the training facilities at Tottenham Hotspur – takes over from Mark Hughes. Given Beckham's inherent and essentially unpretentious love of football, the modest environment of Loftus Road might not prove a deterrent to the acceptance of Tony Fernandes's money.
But what sort of a challenge would that represent to a man who has already proved himself in four countries? Our last chance of seeing him in England probably vanished with his omission from Britain's Olympic football team, a decision that, after all his work on behalf of the 2012 bid, he swallowed with no public display of disappointment, leaving the rest of us to conclude that Stuart Pearce's threadbare team could only have been improved by his presence. To Beckham, a new challenge is more likely to involve another venture into terra incognita, with Australia and China among the favourites.
His family's needs will also be taken into consideration. Like her husband, Victoria Beckham has overcome scepticism to build a free-standing career. Her fashion business is an international success, and somewhere like Shanghai, where Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka play for one of the city's two Chinese Super League teams amid the fast-proliferating neon skyscrapers, might be appealing.
Paris Saint-Germain, where Ancelotti is making use of the Qatar Investment Fund's resources and Mrs Beckham would no doubt enjoy seeing her clothes in the boutiques of the Faubourg Saint-Honore, is another possibility, although it is hard to see her husband making much of an inroad into a side with Champions League pretensions.
All in all, as the rumours have been saying, Australia's A League looks the best bet: Sydney FC if he and his family want the bustle and glamour of another great international city, Melbourne Heart if he fancies a slightly more laid-back life by the bay in St Kilda, Adelaide United if he likes the idea of watching cricket at one of the world's loveliest grounds, Newcastle Jets if he's interested in a reunion with his former England colleague Emile Heskey, and Perth Glory, amid the mineral-rich remoteness of Western Australia, if money is the principal lure.
Whatever he decides, it will probably involve an element of risk as well as guaranteed reward. There was no shortage of scoffing when he announced that he was taking off for Southern California, but he made it work. He usually does.