Beckham perfect fit for L.A.


Published: Friday, January 12, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 12, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

David Beckham has never been simply a sports star. He is a brand, and one who briefly lived at the spot where fashion, celebrity and soccer met. The soccer component of that equation has eroded, but his star power still reverberates worldwide, so much that Major League Soccer, which has struggled for 11 years to gain prominence on the American sports landscape, has lured Beckham to Los Angeles.

Beckham will make the move from Real Madrid, the most glamorous team in Europe, and the United States' top professional soccer league will try to cash in on his celebrity appeal — and perhaps that of his wife, Victoria, the former Posh Spice of the Spice Girls pop group.

The Los Angeles Galaxy announced the move Thursday, saying that Beckham would make $250 million over the five years of his deal, including endorsement income; the team did not release his actual salary from the club. Beckham will join the Galaxy after his contract with Real Madrid expires on June 30.

For Beckham, whose time as a world-class midfielder has passed, the move may be a savvy exit strategy from the intense European soccer spotlight. The British news media, ever eager to pounce on weakness, have been particularly savage about Posh and Becks, as they are called in Britain, since his meager performance as England's captain in the World Cup last summer.

Although at age 31 he is a step or more behind the world's elite players, he still has a deft right foot that serves him especially well on free kicks and crosses. That, coupled with his reputation, may be enough to capture the attention of sports fans in the United States — even if some of them know his name only from "Bend It Like Beckham," a 2002 film whose title played on his pop-icon status.

"We want people around the water cooler talking about MLS," Don Garber, the league's commissioner, said. "But David Beckham is not going to bring soccer to the next level in this country. It's going to take a lot of things, but I hope his arrival will be an important step."

The move had been long rumored. Beckham and his wife opened a soccer academy in 2005 at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., which is also the Galaxy's home stadium. The MLS board of governors voted in November to relax salary restrictions and allow each team to sign one player for any amount. The rule became widely known as the Beckham Rule.

"David Beckham wouldn't make that kind of money in Europe," Bill Girdner, 56, a soccer fan, said Thursday at Lucky Baldwin's English Pub in Pasadena, Calif. "The other thing is jerseys is the way teams make a lot of money these days."

Beckham emerged as an international sports icon in the 1990s during his tenure with Manchester United of England's Premier League. As long as he kicked the ball into the net with that golden right foot, his fans could forgive his excesses: the outfits that ranged from sarongs to leather suits to store-ripped designer jeans and shirts open to the waist; the smirking ads for razorblades, sunglasses and perfume; the sulking and occasional histrionics; the fancy parties and A-list friends.

Beckham left Manchester United for Real Madrid in the summer of 2003, and he and a cast of world-class teammates have failed to win a major title. He played lackadaisically for England in last year's World Cup, at one point throwing up on the field. Everything fell apart during a quarterfinal match against Portugal. He injured his leg, limped off the field and promptly burst into tears.

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