In 2003, David Beckham became just the third English player to join the historic Spanish giants Real Madrid, moving from Manchester United for €35 million.
One of the Galactico-era signings alongside the likes of Luis Figo and Zinedine Zidane, Beckham was one of the more industrious members of the side who brought balance and work rate as well as quality on the ball, and the fact he spent four seasons in the side is testament to his importance at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Beckham couldn't really have started any better. With the side having won La Liga the year previously, they opened the season with the Spanish Super Cup against Copa del Rey winners Mallorca in a two-legged affair.
The new midfielder made an immediate impression, providing an assist for Luis Figo to open the scoring less than 20 minutes in. They lost the game 2-1, but the second leg saw silverware immediately claimed with a 3-0 victory, 4-2 on aggregate, with Beckham netting the final goal of the encounter.
Under newly-appointed Carlos Queiroz, a familiar face from Beckham’s days in Manchester, the England star did not require much time to settle in, scoring five times in his first 16 matches (including a goal less than three minutes into his La Liga debut).
However, the season quickly went south for Los Blancos. Real Madrid were runners-up in the Copa del Rey, were knocked out of the UEFA Champions League at the quarter-final stage and finished the league season in fourth place, meaning the team, whose president Florentino Perez expected them to win either the Spanish league or the Champions League each season, did not match expectations.
Beckham constantly found himself in the middle of a Madrid managerial merry-go-round. Jose Antonio Camacho lasted just three matches, Garcia Remon was dismissed come the winter of 2004, and Vanderlei Luxemburgo was sacked a year later, just one day after Beckham received his third red card of the 2004-05 season.
The summer 2006 off-season marked a turbulent time as the club's presidential elections were held. Ramon Calderon became the new Real president. As expected, none of the club officials who served under the previous president was kept, including head coach Juan Ramon Lopez Caro.
Initially, out of favour with newly arrived head coach Fabio Capello, Beckham started only a few games at the beginning of the season. In fact, of the first nine games Beckham started this campaign, Madrid lost seven.
In January 2007, Madrid claimed Beckham’s contract had not yet been renegotiated. There was a reason: just one day later, it was announced Beckham had signed a five-year deal with MLS side LA Galaxy, beginning in July.
Capello said shortly after that Beckham had played his last game with the Spanish giants, yet just over a month later his tune changed. He allowed Beckham to play against Real Sociedad in La Liga, and the faith was immediately repaid when he scored a free kick in an eventual 2-1 win. That was a major catalyst in getting his career in Spain up-and-running again with one final push over the final hurdle.
Towards the end of the season, as Beckham was getting back into Capello's good books after successfully fighting his way back into the first team. There was still, just about, time for one last chapter in Beckham's Real Madrid adventure—and it proved the most critical of all, as finally, Beckham had a major title to show for his time in Spain.
The final game of the season in La Liga saw Beckham named in the starting lineup; a win would seal the title by virtue of head-to-head against Barcelona.
Real were a goal down before the break and lost Ruud van Nistelrooy to injury early on before Beckham himself was injured. He continued initially before being subbed off for Jose Antonio Reyes, who immediately scored after coming on, in an eventual 3-1 win. Madrid won the title by virtue of a better head-to-head record with Barcelona.
Beckham, left with a winner’s medal, after a relatively barren run of silverware in his four years in Spain. Madrid coaches and directors relentlessly criticised Beckham’s commitment to the cause, yet it was not a view shared by his teammates.
Ronaldo said: "We knew before he was a good player, but we did not expect him to be such an influential player, to show such commitment to the team spirit. The way he runs for everything, the way he tries his best. He has everyone's respect."
So, from Galactico to Galaxy. The announcement of his move stateside made global headlines and elevated the league's profile. Gate revenues rocketed, sponsorship increased, and Beckham-fever had fully hit Los Angeles.
His influence was so great that in the months following the announcement, the additional terms of Beckham's contract became public knowledge. One unique contract provision was giving him the option of buying an MLS expansion franchise in any market except New York City at the fixed price of $25 million whenever he stopped playing in the league – an allowance that the league's owners had never given to a player before (Now you know where Inter Miami came from…)
On the pitch, however, Beckham’s career in the MLS was struggling to get flowing. Frequent injury troubles kept Beckham out for extended periods of time. Galaxy was eliminated from playoff contention on 21 October, in the final MLS match of the season, a 1–0 loss to the Chicago Fire.
Beckham played as a substitute in the match, bringing his season total to eight matches played (5 league); one goal scored (0 league); and three assists (2 league).
2008 proved more fruitful for the MLS’ biggest star. His first league goal came in April against San Jose, and victory against Kansas City in May moved the club into first place in the Western Conference, with their first winning record in two years. This game was also notable for Beckham’s outrageous 70-yard finish.
Despite his appeal across the pond, his love of the game was constantly drawn back to Europe. Beckham joined AC Milan on loan in January 2009 but insisted he had no intentions of leaving permanently. Many in Milan thought the deal was simply a PR stunt, while back in LA there were many who believed Beckham would go back on his promise and not return in time for the start of the MLS season. They were proven right.
After impressing at the Italian club, scoring two goals in his first four matches and assisting on several more, rumours began to swirl that Beckham would stay in Milan, with the Italian club reportedly offering to pay a multimillion-dollar fee for him.
The rumours were confirmed on 4 February, when Beckham stated that he was seeking a permanent transfer to Milan in a bid to sustain his England career through the 2010 World Cup. Milan, however, failed to match Galaxy's valuation.
When he eventually returned, he was met with a toxic atmosphere. Many LA fans showed dislike and anger towards him as he missed the first half of the season and several held up signs saying "Go home fraud", and "Part-time player".
Yet, if anything, it inspired Beckham to prove them wrong, and he helped lift LA from third to eventually win the Western Conference final, only to lose on penalties in the final of the MLS Cup.
Beckham again returned to Milan on loan in November but that venture was cut short when he tore his achilles tendon in March. He eventually recovered to be fit by the start of the season in September. And after having his best season with the Galaxy to date and finishing second in the league in assists, Beckham finished his fifth MLS season on a high.
On 20 November 2011, he joined an elite group of players to have won league titles in three countries, when Los Angeles won their third MLS Cup against the Houston Dynamo.
The following season Beckham helped the Galaxy to a fourth-place finish in the MLS Western Conference 2012 regular season scoring seven goals and adding nine assists. The Galaxy defeated Vancouver, San Jose, and Seattle on their way to the MLS Cup final where they defeated the Houston Dynamo again to retain the cup. Beckham received a standing ovation when he was substituted late on, after announcing earlier that this match would be his last for the club.
Beckham's absence from the start of the MLS season during his loan spell with Milan prompted a huge condemnation including his own teammates. Landon Donovan said Beckham wasn’t committed.
Years later, his opinion changed. He said of Beckham: “He's a very humble, good human being. Unfortunately, I didn't give him a chance to show that. I had an idea of what he was like before he got here and that was unfair on my part. I learnt a lot about myself in that way and David is just a good person and a good team-mate."