The way David Beckham tells it, moving to America was always part of the plan. “I don’t want to go out to America at 34 years old and [have] people… saying, ‘well, he’s only going there to get the money’,” the 31-year-old said overnight, confirming his move to Major League Soccer outfit LA Galaxy and effectively ending his top-level career.

Beckham’s contract, if you’re wondering, is worth $US250 million over five years and has been called the biggest ever in sport. So there’s absolutely no chance this is about the money.

All the talk from Becks and his new American employers is that Becks will do for American soccer what Michael Jordan did for basketball everywhere. In fact, more so:

“David Beckham will have a greater impact on soccer in America than any athlete has ever had on a sport globally,” said Galaxy president Tim Leiweke, evidently not one for understatement.

Perhaps this is true, and Becks will succeed where Pele, Johan Cruyff, and a fat, ageing Paul Gascoigne failed. If he does, Beckham’s five years in LA will be a watershed for football in North America and by extension around the globe, looked back on (as Beckham evidently wishes) as an act of charity for the sport he loves. If he doesn’t, the financial black hole could cripple LA Galaxy, America’s strongest soccer club. At the very least, it would prove that no marquee name is a magic ticket for a struggling code, no matter how many times he’s appeared on the side of a Pepsi bottle.

Of the others affected by Beckham’s decision, English football is a loser. New manager Steve McLaren’s shake-up after the World Cup may not have been intended to force the 94-game former skipper out of the side, but now it looks as though that is what it achieved. Beckham is past his best, but the English side needs his experience and would have benefited from his input ahead of the European championships next year. The decision to turn down a reported nine European offers suggest Becks accepts that his international career is over.

For his current club Real Madrid, Beckham’s departure marks the end of the Galacticos experiment, designed around the simple theory of throwing money at the game’s best players. Real has won nothing since Beckham joined in 2003, and now Zinedine Zidane has retired, Luis Figo has been shipped off to Inter Milan and Ronaldo continues to billow. The new policy is throwing money at promising youngsters.

Old Golden Balls leaves for the US at the end of the European season.

Peter Fray

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