MIAMI Former England captain David Beckham, hailed as a success for soccer in the United States, will say his farewell to LA Galaxy in next month's MLS Cup final with one more mission yet to accomplish.
It was only in January that Beckham signed a new deal with the Galaxy but his departure, announced on Monday, paves the way for him to enjoy a last hurrah elsewhere while the Galaxy could take the chance to look for a new big name in his place.
After five-and-a-half seasons in Los Angeles, where Beckham moved from Real Madrid in 2007, the midfielder insists he feels ready for "one more challenge" before he hangs up his boots.
The 37-year-old Beckham has struggled with injuries of late, missing almost two months of action before this month's play-offs, and it is hard to imagine him being recruited by a top European team.
A year ago he was strongly linked to French club Paris St Germain but in the past 12 months not only has Beckham's ability to deal with the aches and strains of the game declined but PSG have moved on with a series of high profile signings.
However the Englishman's noted ability to grab media attention, sell merchandise and boost attendances while still curling in his trademark free-kicks and spraying cross field passes, makes him an attractive proposition for an emerging club or league looking for a marketing breakthrough.
A source close to Beckham told Reuters that while it was still early in the process of him finding a new team, several clubs from several countries had already shown interest.
The Football Federation of Australia (FFA) said last week that they had made an approach for Beckham, looking to bring him into the A-League where former Italy and Juventus star Alessandro Del Piero is already playing.
Australia would offer him a chance of a repeat performance - as with MLS he would again be trying to increase the profile of the game in one of the few countries where soccer is not the number one sport.
But it would also be a low-key way for Beckham to bow out of the game and given that one of his reasons for re-signing with the Galaxy last year was because his family enjoyed life in California, it would perhaps only appeal as a short-term option.
So far, reports have suggested a 10-game cameo for an A-League club, such as Melbourne Heart, and that could be a lucrative and enjoyable option.
The Chinese league, whose clubs have increasingly targeted well-known international players such as Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka, would surely appeal to the marketers of 'Brand Beckham' but that would have the same draw-backs as Australia.
Beckham had a taste of Italian football during loan spells with AC Milan during MLS's long off-season and while that club could certainly do with a morale boost, it is hard to imagine a return at this stage.
What could well appeal more to Beckham's pride would be a brief but romantic return to English football.
Beckham has never said goodbye to the game in his homeland - injury cost him a place in the 2010 World Cup finals for England and then he was disappointed not to be picked for the Olympic team this year.
So the chance to make an impact once again in English football, albeit at a lesser club level, may be tempting.
While it is hard to see Beckham battling through a long Premier League season, as a free agent he could offer a late-season boost to a team chasing promotion to the Premier League or scrapping for survival.
But Beckham has also made clear that he intends to continue his involvement in MLS beyond his playing days and to use his option to have an ownership role in a future new franchise.
With his children having spent the last five-and-a-half years growing up in the States, it would not be an outlandish shock if he eventually switched to another MLS team, and the New York Red Bulls have been rumoured as a possible destination.
Although A-League clubs are the only ones to have publicly made their interest known there will no doubt be several suitors for a player who still manages to generate plenty of interest.
(Reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes)
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