SAN DIEGO - David Beckham's much trumpeted five-year American adventure, which began amid hype and rich promise in June 2007, now seems destined to end with a whimper after only two seasons.
The England midfielder joined the Los Angeles Galaxy from Real Madrid on a deal worth an estimated $250 million as part of an orchestrated bid to lift American soccer to a new level.
One of the world's most marketable sports figures, Beckham was enthusiasm personified when first paraded in front of Galaxy season-ticket holders and sponsors' guests at the Home Depot Center.
"To move to a different country on the other side of the world is something I'm looking forward to," he said after being introduced amidst a burst of gold, blue and white confetti.
"I think potentially in the States soccer could be as big as it is everywhere in the world and I'm very proud to be part of that for the next five years, and maybe after that."
Two dismal seasons later, Beckham has set his sights on a permanent move to Italy where he joined AC Milan on a two-month loan to help him in his bid to play one more World Cup with England in South Africa next year.
After scoring just five goals for the Galaxy in 30 games since his arrival in Major League Soccer (MLS), Beckham has remembered what it is like to play soccer in the top flight.
Renowned for his sublime free-kick talent, the former England captain had been wallowing in a relative backwater in the U.S. where he was surrounded by mediocre players in a struggling team.
The contrast with Italy's Serie A could hardly have been starker.
Since joining Milan on loan during the U.S. close season, he has scored two goals in his first five starts and has revelled in the company of world-class players.
"I knew I'd have fun but I didn't expect to have so much fun," Beckham told Italian paper Corriere della Sera last week. "The possibility to play at Milan is something special.
"Everyone has done their bit to make me feel at ease. I've been welcomed really well."
Beckham referred also to the mounting frustration he had experienced playing for the Galaxy.
"The U.S. championship is young," he said. "I think it will take 10 years more to hit big targets. I must admit that, having played in Europe, sometimes it has been frustrating to take part in certain games."
Beckham's enthusiasm for Milan has been unrestrained over the last few weeks but it was only on Wednesday that he finally went public with his yearning to quit the Galaxy.
"I have expressed my desire now to stay in Milan and hopefully the clubs can come to some agreement," he said after a friendly between the Glasgow Rangers and Milan at Ibrox.
"My main objective is to stay at this club and I enjoy playing here and at the highest level and it would give me more of a chance (of playing in the 2010 World Cup)."
Although Milan have not yet made an offer for the Englishman, lawyers on both sides are now exploring the best way forward.
On Thursday, Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena said Beckham's request for a permanent move to Italy would be handled in the best interests of the club to avoid any possible distraction ahead of next season.
By putting self-interest and further international honour ahead of promises he made to the Galaxy and U.S. soccer only 18 months ago, Beckham risks a major dent in his well-crafted image.
He may well regret leaving the European game too early for MLS but a premature departure from Los Angeles would simply mark out his American adventure as a failure.comments