The Galaxy's David Beckham talks with reporters during a news conference… (Alex Gallardo / Associated…)
David Beckham plans to play soccer next year. The only questions now are where, when and for how long.
"I still feel that I have something left in me as a player," Beckham said Tuesday, a day after announcing his retirement from the Galaxy. "I still feel like I have one more challenge in me as a player. Even at 37 years old. I still can play at a high level.
"Where that will be yet I haven't decided. I have some exciting opportunities on the table."
What's not on the table is a return to the Galaxy — at least not as a player. Beckham may very well come back as an owner, though. And given the partnership he has forged with Tim Leiweke, president of AEG, the Galaxy's parent company, expect that to happen here in Southern California, where Beckham's successful mission to transform U.S. soccer began more than five years ago.
It was the Galaxy and Leiweke who made the bold move of recruiting Beckham to Major League Soccer in 2007 and he rewarded the team and the league by raising their international stature to levels neither could have dreamed of. But that chapter of the Beckham Experiment will end after the Dec. 1 league championship at the Home Depot Center, which he says will be his last competitive game in an MLS uniform.
After that he'll mull offers from locales reportedly including China, Russia, Australia, Brazil, the Middle East and France, and even a possible return to England, a sentimental choice that would give the former captain of the English national team a chance to play the last game of his storied career at home.
"There are options and I'm very lucky at my age to have options," he said. "People have talked about my retirement. And I actually don't feel as if I'm ready to retire yet. So that's not one of my options."
Playing in China — which has already lured former Chelsea teammates Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka — would allow Brand Beckham to expand its international reach deep into the world's most populous country, while the oil-rich owners of clubs throughout the Middle East will throw wads of money Beckham's way in the hope he can do for their teams and league what he did for the Galaxy and MLS.
Meanwhile, discussions have already begun with teams in Australia, who have expressed interest in having Beckham play at least 10 games in that country's A-League.
Beckham said any decision about where he plays next will have to wait until after the MLS Cup, in which he and his teammates will be playing for their second consecutive league title against the Houston Dynamo, the team they beat in last year's final.
"I came to the decision solely because I felt that I had achieved everything that I wanted to achieve with the Galaxy," Beckham said. "Right now my focus is on the final."
Wherever Beckham goes after that, though, his stay won't be a long one.
His contract with the Galaxy and the league contained a clause allowing him to become an MLS owner at a below-market rate, an option he has long promised to exercise. But rather than signing on with an expansion franchise, expect Beckham to become an equity partner with the Galaxy, a deal that would allow the team to continue profiting from its relationship with Beckham while allowing Beckham to learn the management business from one of the most successful ownership groups in U.S. sports.
Beckham and Leiweke, who have grown close over the last half-dozen years, shared a bottle of wine on the charter flight home from Sunday's playoff game in Seattle and both seem interested in continuing their business and personal relationships.
"My commitment to the league stays the same," Beckham said Tuesday. "I still want to be part of this league. I still want to be an ambassador for this sport in this country and that continues.
"My commitment for the Galaxy doesn't change."
Leiweke, who said Beckham told him of his decision last month, believes the transition into ownership will be a smooth one.
"With David this is the right decision. It's the right time," he said.