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A French toast to David Beckham

KEVIN BAXTER / ON SOCCER

The international star is as good as gone to Paris Saint-Germain, but that doesn't mean he didn't make an impact in America.

December 24, 2011|By Kevin Baxter
  • Midfielder David Beckham is greeted by Tim Leiweke, president and CEO of Galaxy owner Anschutz Entertainment Group, after winning the Western Conference semifinals against the Red Bulls.
Midfielder David Beckham is greeted by Tim Leiweke, president and CEO of… (Jae Hong / Associated Press )

Au revoir, David Beckham.

Although your aides-de-camp keep insisting nothing has been decided, everybody knows your move to the French club Paris Saint-Germain is pretty much a fait accompli.

(By the way, David, I hope you're reading this closely because you really should learn the language.)

When the deal does become official — which probably will be after New Year's to assure the greatest possible media coverage — we hear a "movie star" unveiling will be staged in central Paris. Sounds as if this will be the biggest signing on French soil since the Treaty at Versailles.

And the French may wind up regretting this deal almost as much.

Everyone says Europe is broke, but you're going to be getting more than $1 million a month. And that's after taxes.

So expect the French honeymoon to be short. In fact, Eva Joly, the Green Party candidate for president in next year's elections, has already called the contract "shocking," while Jean-Marc Ayrault, who represents the Socialist party in Parliament, said "I've had enough of these enormous salaries."

But they're lefties so, you know, let them eat cake.

They don't even know about the sponsorship deals; the house for you, Posh and the kids; or the $28,000 annual "scholarships" for your three boys at the hoity-toity British School of Paris.

Shoot, you're a one-man stimulus package.

Yet all that sounds a little like deja vu on this side of the pond. After all, we gave you a movie star welcome too — with real movie stars. We also gave you the richest contract in the history of our quaint soccer league, after which our economy totally tanked.

Oh well, c'est la vie.

Yet before the ink on your contract with the Galaxy had dried, you had become an enfant terrible, missing more than half the team's games in your first four years — many of them during your failed attempt to make England's World Cup team.

Surely the French know your raison d'etre this summer is not to help Paris Saint-Germain win its first Ligue 1 title since 1994. You're hoping to prove your fitness for next summer's Olympics Games, an event you played no small part in bringing to London.

What a glorious farewell — being the captain of the national team in your hometown. But you'll be 37 then and the English will need proof that you can still be a tour de force. So while your body and your bank account will be in France, your heart and mind will be focused on London.

Which doesn't mean this can't work. Au contraire.

Your final season in MLS was, well, c'est magnifique. You finished second in the league in assists, made the Best XI and won the league's comeback-player-of-the-year award — all while being a model citizen and leading the team to an MLS title.

But then all that was really little more than icing on the croissant. The real reason you were brought here was to give our sleepy little league the international prestige and profile it sorely needed to expand — the je ne sais quoi it clearly lacked.

And in that you were a spectacular success.

Major League Soccer — and especially the Galaxy — are now global brands. You proved that coming to MLS didn't mean dropping off the soccer map, thus making it safe for players such as Cuauhtemoc Blanco, Thierry Henry, Robbie Keane and Rafa Marquez to follow you.

During your time here MLS forged record-breaking national television contracts while the Galaxy signed a 10-year, $55-million deal of its own. Average MLS attendance surpassed that of the NHL and NBA.

"MLS wouldn't be what it is today if David didn't decide in 2007 to come play," Commissioner Dan Garber said of your impact.

After delivering all that, in addition to your long-promised MLS Cup, you probably figured there wasn't much left to do for an encore. (Yes, that's a French word too.)

Here's something you might not know, though. The Galaxy and MLS probably will be better off without you. Maybe not at first, but certainly over time.

Even Garber said the league needs to prove it's not all about one player.

"I don't think any league or any club can rely too much on any one player as the person that we all depend on," he said. "I think we're well past that."

And despite your spectacular 2011 season, there's no doubt you're slowing down. Plus there's little appetite left within the Galaxy to deal with the split loyalties you're certain to display as the Olympics near. The front office may have offered you a six-week sabbatical to go to London, but you can bet that deal wasn't endorsed in the locker room.

Plus the money the team saved for you can now be used to sign a younger and arguably more useful designated player, such as 33-year-old Chelsea striker Didier Drogba, whose agent said a move to L.A. was possible.

Other media reports have linked the Galaxy to Ronaldinho, Frank Lampard and Michael Ballack — pretty much everybody but Pele.

"We're committed to other designated players," your old friend Tim Leiweke, president of AEG, the entertainment group that owns the Galaxy, told me. "There will be others that are going to want to come now. I promise you our future is better than our past."

So thanks for the memories, David. Best wishes and bon voyage. I really hope this move doesn't prove to be a faux pas.

When all the contracts are signed, send me an invitation to your big soiree. I promise to RSVP.

kevin.baxter@latimes.com

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