Soccer billionaire to lure Beckham across the Atlantic

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The Independent US

Even at first glance it seems a no-brainer. David Beckham may soon be facing a choice between eking out the last years of his football career on drizzly winter afternoons somewhere like Blackburn - or under the balmy sun of America's West Coast, with a little light celebrity partying for post-match relaxation.

And as the most famous footballer in the world contemplates his future from the substitutes' bench of Real Madrid's Bernabeu stadium, there is another powerful force pushing him into a move to the United States: money. The US football league has just amended its salary cap to allow teams to pay one star player an unlimited amount, a change openly dubbed the "Beckham rule".

The former England captain has reportedly been stalling on signing up for another season at Real Madrid, but a return to the Premiership also seems unappetising. It seems increasingly possible that Beckham will choose to blow the final whistle on his European football career. And if this is the end, the moment has been prepared for. Philip Anschutz, the billionaire leisure industry mogul and sometime friend of John Prescott, has been building up his relations with Beckham and hopes to lure him to join his Major League Soccer club, Los Angeles Galaxy.

Meanwhile, the Beckham publicity machine, under New York billionaire Robert Sillerman, has drawn up plans for a Vinnie Jones-style afterlife in the film industry.

Most Americans, derisive still of soccer, are only dimly aware of David Beckham. His fame rests more on his celebrity lifestyle, his ex-Spice Girl spouse and his promotional work for Gillette and milk. A move to MLS, though, would provide the Beckhams with a base from which to manage a perpetual publicity blitz, of the sort that they have orchestrated on previous US visits, when Victoria has had to dash coast-to-coast to promote her clothing ranges.

MLS believes it would be a mutually beneficial arrangement. Desperate to attract elite players from Europe who can draw big crowds, it has just torn up pay rules designed to avoid the fate of the old North American Soccer League. In the 1970s the NASL attracted big crowds with the likes of Pele and George Best and other stars who came from England for a last big payday, but collapsed after an orgy of overspending. Its successor allocated clubs $1.9m (£1m) to pay 18 players' wages, but from now they will be allowed to pay over the odds for one star.

When England played Colombia in the US last year, Beckham said: "I'd love to be well-known here." It seems it might only be a matter of time.

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