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He's only one man, a thirtysomething bloke from England with visions of taking his sons to Disneyland and the beach, of making his first treks to Vegas and the Napa Valley wine country, of organizing late-night runs to the hoariest of SoCal institutions. " In-N-Out Burger. Ohhhhh. . . ," says David Beckham, imagining his new life on a rainy spring afternoon in Madrid. "That's another great experience. I ate inside the last time I was there."
He's only one man, which is clear when he arrives at the photo studio sans entourage--a half hour early at that. In his white V-neck T-shirt, blue jeans and five-year-old brown work boots, the world's most recognizable athlete could almost pass for a ranch hand in Kalispell. His famous hair is shorn close (a remedy for an ill-conceived, bleach-blond dye job), and both wrists are brimming: a green malachite bracelet (for the anti-blood-diamond charity run by hip-hop impresario Russell Simmons), a silver charm bracelet (a gift from his wife, Victoria) and three multi-colored evil-eye bracelets for good luck. At the end of an hourlong photo shoot he individually thanks the small army of assistants, not once but twice. "I've never had that happen before," says one.
He's only one man, and the task before him seems as formidable as converting Americans to the metric system. Can one man make the U.S. public care about the Los Angeles Galaxy? About Major League Soccer? About a sport that neither hosting the 1994 World Cup nor harboring the greatest player ever-- Pel�--could turn into the mainstream religion that it is nearly everywhere else on the planet?
Or is it possible that 32-year-old David Beckham--ball-bending savant, global pitchman, the newest member of the American sports firmament--isn't acting alone? Could he merely be the catalyst for a transformation already underway? The mastermind of American Idol thinks so. Simon Fuller, Beckham's manager and the chief executive of London-based 19�Entertainment, acknowledges that making soccer really matter in the U.S. will be a "far greater" challenge than turning Idol into this country's most popular television program, but that hasn't stopped Fuller from hatching "a grand vision" (his words) for the next chapter of his most famous client's career.
"There seems to be a real foundation now for soccer [in the U.S.]," says Fuller, who engineered the midfielder's guaranteed five-year, $32.5 million contract (plus profit-sharing and mega incentives) with the Galaxy. "David is the most iconic of all footballers, and he's achieved pretty much everything you can achieve in Europe, apart from maybe winning a big tournament with England. He's still in his early 30s, still playing remarkably well, and you have to start thinking, What's the next adventure? The States is the last frontier in terms of soccer."
A grand vision. An adventure. The last frontier. There's something quintessentially American about what these Brits are trying to achieve. "I'm not silly enough to think I'm going to change the whole culture, because it's not going to happen," says Beckham, "but I do have a belief that soccer can go to a different level, and I'd love to be a part of that." He vows that he's in this New World Adventure for the long haul--hence the five-year deal.
As Fuller puts it, "If you have most things you want in life, you can take it easy, you can retire, you can continue to take money off a team in Europe. But our ambition is bigger than that. Shoot for the stars, and if you don't hit them, then it was fun trying.
"If you do hit them, then you've made history."
When Beckham first takes the field for the Galaxy--most likely in a friendly against England's Chelsea FC on July�21 at the Home Depot Center--he'll carry a raft of expectations, many of which he's already trying to dispel. To wit, he's not going to L.A. to join his pal Tom Cruise on the silver screen. ("Acting is never something I've been interested in," says Beckham, who won't be appearing in the NBC reality show starring Victoria, a.k.a. Posh Spice.) He's not likely to score three goals a game. ("That's one thing I'm worried about," he admits, "because people probably do think they're going to see me turn out, and we'll win our first game 10-nil.") And he's not crossing the Atlantic simply to be a marketing tool. (Though his signature cologne, Instinct, is available in many fine drugstores.)
"It's not a big brand thing," Beckham insists. "It's about me being the ambassador for MLS. If I can make people more aware and make kids realize that you can go into higher levels and make a great living from playing soccer, that's what I'm going over there to do."