Becks gets his groove back as brightest star in Galaxy

'Comeback' king can bow out with MLS glory tomorrow, writes Guy Adams in Los Angeles

Los Angeles

The other day, at around 8.30am, David Beckham was driving his children to breakfast at a restaurant near their Los Angeles home. Having stopped at a junction, he glanced to his right, and spotted an elderly gentleman on the pavement. It was Al Pacino, walking his dog.

"The whole thing was just surreal," recalled Beckham this week. "We've had a pretty normal life out here, but there have been plenty of moments like that, when living in California has really been something special."

The encounter with a famous neighbourhood dog-walker was, he added, one of many occasions during their five years in the first city of showbusiness when the expatriate Beckham clan has "sat back, as a family, and realised how lucky we all are".

So far so cute. But in the past, sports writers would be almost duty bound to respond to that anecdote with an observation: that for all the glee with which he has embraced Hollywood culture while away from the pitch, David Beckham's time in the USA has, in sporting terms, been a complete bust.

That was the received wisdom three years ago, when Beckham's first full season at LA Galaxy ended with the team finishing a dismal sixth, of nine clubs, in Major League Soccer's western division, parting company with its manager Ruud Gullit in the process.

It was also the received wisdom as recently as this time last year, when an injury-ravaged Beckham had taken the field for the Galaxy just 18 times in the previous 24 months, a period in which his team-mates had played almost 70 games.

But something odd has happened in this twilight stage of David Beckham's spell in Los Angeles. Something as unlikely, but as strangely thrilling, as any of those impossible free-kicks he would unwind during the glory days when he was the world's most valuable footballer.

It can be summed up in five words: Beckham got his groove back.

In defiance of the cynics who called his American adventure an expensive PR stunt, and for all the choruses of doubt that his 36-year-old frame would allow him to return to anything like his best, England's former captain has somehow managed to spend 2011 playing some of the most intelligent, and effective, football of his life.

You can see evidence of Beckham's renaissance in the fact that the current MLS campaign has seen him play 26 times for the Galaxy, more than any previous season. Or in the appearance of his name in second place in the League's table of goal-providers kept by statistics-obsessed US fans, with 15 "assists".

You can also see it in the sunnynature of his relationship with team-mate Landon Donovan, with whom he was once virtually on non-speaking terms. Today, they are the nation's most dangerous midfield pairing. And Donovan has taken to wearing Beckham's No 23 tracksuit in warm-ups, hoping his magic "rubs off on me".

Beckham's return to form was formally recognised this week, when he won the title of "Comeback Player of the Year" at the MLS end-of-year awards. He had helped Los Angeles to a season when they have topped the League, with 19 wins and 10 draws from their 34 regular-season games, and an unbeaten record at home.

If all goes according to plan, the Beckham comeback will also be in evidence tomorrow night, when the Galaxy take on Houston Dynamo in the MLS Cup, the biggest game in the US "soccer" calendar. The long sold-out fixture, the final of the League's post-season play-offs, is taking place at LA's home ground, the Home Depot Center.

The Beckham on show, playing in the centre of midfield alongside Brazil's Juninho, in a 4-4-2 formation which also features Donovan on the right wing and the Republic of Ireland's Robbie Keane at centre forward, is a player who has worked out how to get the best out of his creaking frame.

He was never blessed with blistering pace but he is still passing the ball like a dream, and remains one of the world's most dangerous dead-ball specialists. In the quarter-final of the play-offs, against the New York Red Bulls, a perfectly-weighted Beckham corner produced LA's crucial equaliser.

Beckham has also been resourceful and effective in open play. Later in the same game, his ability to frustrate defenders saw him on the receiving end of the foul which led the match-winning penalty. And in the semi-final against Real Salt Lake, Beckham's curling cross led to the first of his team's three goals.

That he is now playing with commendable passion was obvious from that fixture, when he was by some distance the most animated man on the field. It is perhaps also evident from Beckham's collection of yellow cards – with 10, he's received more than any other MLS player this season.

Beckham dearly wants Galaxy to win what will be their first MLS title since he swaggered into town. Perhaps that will be his legacy. For there is every-likelihood that tomorrow's game will be his farewell.

The $32.5m five-year contract he signed with such fanfare in 2006 reaches completion tomorrow night. Although Galaxy have offered him a one- year extension, apparently on the same salary, he is being courted by a string of foreign clubs, most notably Paris Saint-Germain, now owned by Qataris with open chequebooks.

Galaxy are not in a position to compete financially with the French club's offer. Their only leverage in negotiations is the prospect of La Famille Beckham being able to spend another year in a city they clearly adore.

At a press conference on Thursday night, Beckham told reporters that he won't make a decision on his contract until after the MLS final. "My No 1 priority is always my family. We love living here, but I will make up my mind based on how I feel physically."

Asked how long he wants to carry on, he added: "I'm 36 years old, but I still love the game like I did when I was 21."

This Sunday, the "soccer" fans of Los Angeles will be hoping he succeeds in rolling back the years.

News
people
News
people And here is why...
News
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Burr remains the baker to beat on the Great British Bake Off
tvRichard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
The village was originally named Llansanffraid-ym-Mechain after the Celtic female Saint Brigit, but the name was changed 150 years ago to Llansantffraid – a decision which suggests the incorrect gender of the saint
newsWelsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
News
i100
Sport
footballArsenal 4 Galatasaray 1: Wenger celebrates 18th anniversary in style
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
tv
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Scott Thomas in Electra at the Old Vic
theatreReview: Kristin Scott Thomas is magnificent in a five-star performance of ‘Electra’
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

She's having a laugh

Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

Let there be light

Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

A look to the future

It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
The 10 best bedspreads

The 10 best bedspreads

Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'