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Thursday, January 19, 2012
GALAXY: Beckham's choice is L.A. win

By Scott French

David Beckham
David Beckham's decision to rejoin the Galaxy wasn't as much a victory for the team as it was for the city of L.A.

LOS ANGELES -- The decision was made over a glass of wine with his wife on New Year's Eve, and the contract, he says, was signed not long after. David Beckham's return to the Galaxy, it turns out, was never really in doubt.

Consider it a victory for Los Angeles more than anything else. The English superstar might love playing for the Galaxy, but he and his family are head-over-heels for the city.

That was the message Thursday afternoon at Staples Center, where Major League Soccer's biggest name was reintroduced after the Galaxy's announcement he had signed a two-year contract.

The details remain a little fuzzy -- Is it two years or one year with a one-year mutual option? Has he actually signed? Are the $15 million reports close to reality? -- but Beckham's desire to continue the work he has done for MLS, American soccer and L.A.'s team is clear as can be.

Not that he didn't enjoy watching the media scrum detail how his move to Paris Saint-Germain, which dangled a lucrative offer before him, was a certainty.

“It was fun watching it, to be honest. I must admit,” Beckham said after the news conference. “Everyone was just talking about it. Even when I made the decision, I was kind of like, 'Should we wait a few more days ...'

“I always said at the end of last season that there was a good possibility I was coming back. ... I'm happy. I'm very happy to be back. I'm happy to continue playing here. [My family are] all happy. We've been happy here the last five years. We thought: Why change something that works? The kids love living here, I love living here. Los Angeles has been amazing to us as a family. So we're going to continue to enjoy it.”

Beckham said he and his wife, Victoria, discussed their options over a glass of wine in their London home on Dec. 31, the day his first, five-year contract with the Galaxy expired, and “that was probably the time I made up my mind and decided that we want to continue our lives in Los Angeles.”

His passion for the Galaxy, for the kind of team they've evolved into since Bruce Arena took charge in August 2008, about a year after Beckham's arrival -- and the success that the team found last year, when it won a second straight Supporters' Shield and the franchise's third MLS Cup crown -- had plenty to do with it.

Winning the title, he said, was “the only thing I kept on coming back to” as he mulled a PSG offer reported to be worth $18.7 million over 18 months and several other options, including with two English Premier League clubs (widely reported as Tottenham and Queens Park Rangers, although Beckham wouldn't say so).

He said that winning the MLS Cup title, the club's primary goal, at the end of his contract suggested that “maybe it's in the stars that it's time to step away or step down or stop playing” and that that “all went into my head. I'm not going to lie. ...

“What gets better than winning the championship on your home ground, in front of your home fans, being presented the trophy by your owner [Phil Anschutz]. That's the only thing that kept on coming back to me -- it made me think about it a little more. But it didn't take long for me to decide: 'You know what? The only way of getting back is doing it again.' And that's what I aim to do again this season.”

The MLS Cup championship, he says, was a career highlight, and it has welded him more strongly to the franchise. He says there is still much to accomplish as a league “ambassador,” that he'd like to help the league build on the strides it has taken in his five seasons in America, but that he's not returning because there's still work to be done. He's back because he loves it here.

“It's not unfinished business. It's just doing it again. Simple as that,” Beckham said. “Obviously, winning a championship is over now. We've done that. I've done that. Especially after four years of being so close -- especially the two years before [when the Galaxy reached the MLS Cup final in 2009 and won the Supporters' Shield in 2010] -- and then winning it the way we did, it actually is one of the most emotional times as a player for myself to win this championship.

“I'd won championships before in Manchester and in Spain, but there was something about this one was more emotional. Obviously, I was emotional for the others, but there was something in this one.”

Beckham, who says he has no plans to retire in two years --  “I want to continue to play as long as I can” -- reports he signed the contract in early January and the announcement was delayed until after he returned to California from holidays in England. Tim Leiweke, president and CEO of Galaxy owner AEG, said there are a “variety of contracts” that must be signed, “probably a half-dozen pieces of paperwork” and that “some have been signed and some haven't” but that “once we agreed to terms with him and [business manager] Simon Fuller, handshakes were good enough for us, and then the lawyers could paper it.”

(Leiweke also wouldn't say definitively that it's a straight two-year deal. He told ESPN Los Angeles two weeks ago that the deal would be for one season with a mutual option for a second. “It may be one and one. No one knows,” he said. “We have a commitment to him for two years, he has a commitment to us for two years. We'll see how he feels at the end of the year.”)

Leiweke said that when he “got back in the office” on Jan. 2 that “we were pretty comfortable that despite the headlines in Paris, he was coming back.”

The French media, in particular, went gaga over Beckham's prospective arrival. It reported details of the Beckham's house-hunting excursions in the toniest of Paris' arrondissements, the exclusive schools where his children would study, the suburban home, near PSG's training center, he and Victoria had purchased. And just before New Year's, daily newspaper Le Parisien scooped everyone: “He said yes.”

Just then, Beckham was saying no.

One story that got plenty of mileage had Victoria Beckham scouting locations in Paris back in November, right after the MLS Cup win.

“It wasn't true,” Beckham said. “There's many reports always saying we're buying houses in different places. That was definitely not true that she was in Paris. People are saying she's looking at schools, she's looking at houses, we've already got a house. But she's in the fashion business, so going to Paris, it's a normal thing for her. But she wasn't there that time.”

Leiweke said his optimism was aided by his limitations with French.

“My French sucks, so that helped a lot. I wasn't reading those papers,” he said. “I learned a long time ago with David not to believe everything you read with a lot of the media in Europe. There were a lot of stories over there, and I kept on telling everyone: 'Guys, they wrap dead fish in it the next day, just take a deep breath.'

“A lot of people just couldn't believe he would come back after it seemed like he had already bought a home and enrolled in a school and hired a nanny ... but we understand the French media in particular can be pretty crazy. So we didn't read much into it, we just kind of stayed the course to try to get him re-signed, and we had faith that with both David and Victoria, they were going to make a decision about the kids. We knew the kids loved it here. ... I think we just had confidence he'd make the decision as a dad before he'd make a decision as a businessman.”

Arena, too, was confident.

“I was always optimistic because I really felt that this year he was incredibly comfortable around the team, understood what we were about, understood the league and was just happy,” the Galaxy's head coach and general manager said. “I felt if he left, it was just going to be an unbelievable offer for him to get up and leave with his family. It was never like we all knew it was said and done. We worked literally all through the year to get David back here.”

The Galaxy had one thing PSG, Tottenham, QPR, the clubs in Italy, Brazil, the Middle East, goodness knows where else didn't have.

“Everyone talks about Paris and how fantastic and romantic a city it is, and it is,” Leiweke said. “But he turned down the money to stay here because he felt so strongly about this city and how they welcomed him here and the fact that he has privacy here. That was a big deal for him.

“It was not the Galaxy that won out here. It was L.A. that won out here. ... One of the key points today is David Beckham chose L.A., not just the Galaxy, and that's a huge, huge moment for our city.”