LOS ANGELES – David Beckham has the pop-star wife, Beverly Hills home, millions in the bank and even a spot on those annoying California tourism commercials.
And finally, two years and two months after moving to the United States, he has the full respect of his Los Angeles Galaxy teammates.
The transformation of Beckham from a closeted outsider in the Galaxy locker room to archetypal team player has taken place behind closed doors in one of the England midfielder's rare sanctuaries away from the public glare. Yet the seismic shift in his attitude and approach to Major League Soccer since returning from a loan stint at AC Milan in July has not only infused fresh life into the Galaxy, but it has also given U.S. soccer's fans and followers a fresh respect for the 34-year-old.
Just a few months after the details of Beckham's fractured relationship with Landon Donovan and other Galaxy players were laid bare in the book "The Beckham Experiment," the environment now at the Home Depot Center is drastically different as the team maintains a steady push toward the MLS playoffs.
Donovan, who provided the most outspoken voice in lamenting the fiasco that was Beckham's first two seasons, has been comprehensively won over by his colleague's newfound enthusiasm.
"David has been terrific," Donovan told Yahoo! Sports this week. "Everyone sees what he does on the field and how much that has been helping us. The biggest thing for me is seeing how he is on a daily basis, how he is interacting with everyone in the locker room.
"It is so different now. People accept who he is, that we are never going to have a life like his; it is hard to imagine it. He accepts us, who we are and what we have to offer this team individually.
"It would be weird to say I'm proud of him – that would make me sound like his dad or something – but let's just say I am very impressed. Every day."
Donovan accepts that some of his own comments, while genuinely voiced, were not necessarily conducive to a stable situation. Yet once things were hashed out after Beckham's return, with new head coach Bruce Arena serving as mediator, the upturn in fortunes has been dramatic.
"We all get it," Donovan said. "David gets it and so do I. We got into a bad situation that everyone was frustrated with. None of us were ourselves.
"You need to understand everything he goes through and have some compassion for it. It is extraordinary to cope with that and be a professional soccer player. He has dealt with niggling injuries for a long time, but you don't hear him complain."
The Galaxy are reaping the benefits. Friday night's nationally televised contest with the Chicago Fire is a chance to effectively cement a playoff place with two regular-season games remaining. Only respective conference leaders Columbus and Houston have better records than L.A. and Chicago, which are both 10-6-11.
With greater structure and organization under Arena, the dismal days of Ruud Gullit's doomed tenure seem like a distant memory. Once playoff time comes around, the big-game experience of Beckham and Donovan could be a critical factor.
"I think it can be a huge advantage," said Donovan, who is taking a significant role in the United Against Malaria campaign ahead of next year's World Cup. "They are big games; you want to show these guys on our team what they are all about. This is when you really show your ability and experience as a player.
"We are not the sort of team who can just go out there and pass it around and just play. We need to have more structure than that.
"We are unrecognizable from where we were. We have an identity now, and when we get away from that we get punished. When we are disciplined and stick to our plan, we are very good."
- David Beckham