It’s been quite a ride, hasn’t it? Ironic that on this Thanksgiving Day – that most American of holidays – I’m writing an Englishman and expressing how appreciative I am of everything he’s done on these shores.
It hasn’t always been rosy, of course. There were times when I questioned whether you really wanted to be here at all. Heck, a lot of us did.
But now that the ride is about to come to an end, roughly six years after it began, it’s pretty safe to say that the Major League Soccer you’re leaving behind (for now, you promise us) is a much better place than it was when you first got here. And for that, we all owe you our thanks.
I remember the day I first heard you were making the leap across the Atlantic. Believe it or not, I was in Brazil on vacation. And even you may find this hard to believe: They were skeptical down there. A cab driver in Rio de Janeiro simply laughed when I told him the news and responded, “Now you can have Ronaldo, too, and they can be fat and lazy together.”
I laughed, because it was funny. But while I was cautiously excited about your arrival, and what that would mean for soccer in America, I also bristled. Because I knew that happy Carioca’s joke was a perception much of the world would have: that you were coming here for a paycheck, the attention and a happy retirement.
WATCH: Beckham explains his decision
And six months later, when you finally arrived, it was a little bit of a nervous feeling. It was just too much hype. The amount of press was ridiculous. I remember your official introductory presentation at the Home Depot Center, when I was crammed into the southwest corner of the stadium along with press from so many international outlets, it was like the World Cup.
It was cool, don’t get me wrong. But I couldn’t understand how you’d live up to this. The cameras tracking your every move in a friendly – a friendly! – against Chelsea. The reality series starring your wife. The seemingly naïve pronouncements, like your dream was to play against Chivas de Guadalajara in the LA Coliseum in the Copa Libertadores.
I was rooting for you, but it didn’t add up. And the more time you missed due to injuries, national team call-ups and loan spells over the next two years, I grew ever more skeptical. Your team was bad. Really bad. The mention of Ruud Gullit, Galaxy coach, still makes me bristle.
And it seemed like you wanted out. In a way, I didn’t blame you. The Beckham Experiment, as some called it, didn’t seem like it was working. You were headed to AC Milan, or maybe back to England. Anywhere but Carson.
But then something funny happened. You got serious. You saw the Galaxy, and AEG, and MLS wanted to fix this mess. Bruce Arena came in as your head coach. Landon Donovan wanted to mend fences. The level of talent around you improved. At some point, you made peace with a decision that you may have made hastily back in 2007.
You got it. You remembered why you were here. Whether it was by your own volition or someone sat you down and spelled it out for you, it doesn’t really matter. By 2009, you proved something very important to us: You were in this 100 percent. And as we’ve all come to learn about you over your career, there’s one thing that is very, very hard to stop: David Beckham, when everyone else has seemingly written him off.
I don’t need to recount all the details of the last four years. The three MLS Cup appearances, two Supporters’ Shields and early debate that this version of the Galaxy is one of the best teams in league history speak for themselves.
The growth the league has experienced since you’ve been here is very much thanks to your contributions, too: the expansion of clubs, the explosion of soccer-specific stadiums, the mammoth TV deals and extended sponsorship deals, the unprecedented global reach, the spiking attendances and an influx of foreign talent that we can attribute directly to your leap of faith.
We all know about all of that. But what I’m thankful for, David, is that somewhere along the line, you figured it all out. You remembered why you came here, even if you lost the plot for awhile. You made peace with your decision, you looked around and saw how important your presence here was and you did what you do best: You put your head down and got back to being a competitor.
The look on your face when you kissed that trophy last November said it all: It was all worthwhile. You didn’t have to stay after that, but you did, one more season. And even if you don’t get that second straight MLS Cup, you’ll know it was all worth it.
And so, we wish you luck in Australia, or Scotland, or wherever it is you may be going. And we take you at your word that you’ll be back to become an owner somewhere within in MLS.
By now, we all know the truth: MLS with David Beckham is much better off than MLS without him. And for that, all of us give thanks.
Jonah Freedman is the managing editor of MLSsoccer.com. “The Throw-In” appears every Thursday.