Galaxy midfielder David Beckham chats with Manchester City teammates… (Kevork Djansezian / Getty…)
No subject has drawn more attention during the run-up to the MLS Cup on Sunday than David Beckham's future.
Will he return to the Galaxy? Will he take untold millions to play in (pick one) France, Brazil, England or Asia? Will he retire and accept an offer to host a talk show on TBS?
The man at the middle of the maelstrom insists he doesn't know.
"I'm concentrating on this game. Simple as that," Beckham said. "My decision will come after that, once I get a bit of a rest and see where I am."
Should Beckham begin that rest with an MLS championship, the decision might be a bit easier to make. If the Galaxy beats the Houston Dynamo on Sunday at the Home Depot Center, giving Beckham a third professional title to go with ones won in England and Spain, he would seem to be out of challenges here.
He already has raised MLS' profile, tripled the Galaxy's annual revenue and made the league a destination for other international stars.
Five years ago, Beckham was the league's first designated player. This season there were 23.
"I'm glad to have been part of something," he said. "I wanted a new experience. And that's what I've gotten here."
So with Beckham's contract set to expire in six weeks, the league, the Galaxy and its most famous player seem to be contemplating to a future apart.
"At some point all players retire and leagues and clubs move on," MLS Commissioner Don Garber said. "I don't think any league or any club can rely too much on one player. I think we're well past that."
Added Galaxy President Tom Payne: "I think we could make it work."
Beckham's firmest offer appears to be from French club Paris Saint-Germain, whose deep-pocketed Qatari investors have already spent $120 million to upgrade the roster and are looking for the Beckham brand to bring them the same status and renown the Galaxy got.
Clubs in England, South America and Asia have also expressed interest while the Galaxy, which made Beckham the richest player in MLS history when it signed him to a five-year $32.5-million contract in 2007, is flush with money after reaching a broadcast agreement with Time Warner Cable worth $55 million over 10 years.
The Galaxy's offer is said to include a sabbatical that would allow Beckham to play for England in the London Olympics next summer as well as an option to own an MLS franchise when he quits playing.
Beckham refuses to say which way he and his small army of advisors are leaning. But there are hints in how he says that, such as when he repeatedly uses the past tense when speaking about the Galaxy.
"I've had a great time here," he said. "It's a great franchise to have been a part of."
What Beckham is unlikely to choose, however, is retirement.
Although he is 36, one year removed from Achilles' surgery and has suffered with back and hamstring problems all year, he still had a stellar season, starting 29 MLS games and finishing second in the league in assists.
And looming on the horizon: The Olympic Games, an event Beckham played a part in bringing to London. Captaining the English team one final time in his hometown would provide a fitting exclamation point to a brilliant career.
"David and I have had conversations about how he's feeling, about life, how his family likes it here," said Tim Leiweke, president of AEG, the entertainment group that owns the Galaxy.
It's that last factor that might turn out to be Leiweke's trump card. Few athletes, after all, have been able to bank it like Beckham, who Forbes says made $40 million in salary, endorsements and sponsorship last year.
Money he has. As a result, the California climate might be more valuable to him than a pile of Euros.
"I've loved it from Day One," Beckham said of Los Angeles.
And so, apparently, has his family. His three sons speak with little hint of their father's working-class British accent and Beckham's wife, Victoria, gave birth to the couple's only daughter, Harper Seven, in Southern California this summer.
Beckham's newfound favorite holiday tradition? Halloween trick-or-treating.
"My No. 1 priority always is my family and are they happy," he said. "We love living here. We've loved living here for five years."
Will that be enough to keep him here? We'll find out by New Year's Eve, when Beckham officially becomes a free agent. But if he does come back, actor Al Pacino probably should be credited with an assist.
"The other day I was driving my kids to breakfast; 8:30 in the morning," Beckham said. "I stopped at a stop sign and I looked to my right and Al Pacino is walking his small kid. Which is surreal.
"There's moments like that where it's been amazing. Living in California has been really incredible."