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Beckham dives right in

Times Staff Writer

It has taken David Beckham less than 24 hours to start thinking like a Californian.

England’s multimillionaire midfielder and international sports icon had no sooner been introduced at the Home Depot Center on Friday morning as the biggest fish yet landed by Major League Soccer, than he was speaking of heading home to Beverly Hills for a dip in the pool.

“Believe it or not, without all the hype and all the circus that does surround me, I’m a pretty normal person,” Beckham said in one of a series of news conferences and interviews he gave over the course of more than four sun-splashed hours.

“I try to live my life as normally as possible. I especially try to make my children’s life as normal as possible. Once I’ve done this, in front of all these thousands of people and in front of the world’s press, I’ll go back home and jump in the pool with my kids.”

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Looking tanned and relaxed after almost a month’s vacation since winning the Spanish league championship with Real Madrid, the newest star in the Galaxy happily fielded questions from reporters who had come from around the world to see just what it was that had lured him to MLS.

For Beckham, 32, the answer was simple.

“Ever since I signed with the Galaxy, people have questioned the reasons behind me coming to America,” he said. “For me, it’s always been about the soccer. That’s always been the reason behind every move I’ve made in my career, from playing for Manchester United to moving to Spain and now moving to Los Angeles to play for the Galaxy.

“My real goal is to take soccer to a different level here. If I can do that, then I’ll be very proud of that. If I can’t, then it won’t be for the want of trying.

“Hopefully, it’s going to encourage other players to come over to the States to be part of this because I think, potentially, soccer in America could be a lot bigger than what it is at the moment.

“That’s why I’m here. That’s what I want to be part of.”

Beckham, along with his Spice Girls pop star wife, Victoria, and their three sons, Brooklyn, Romeo and Cruz, flew to Los Angeles from London on Thursday and went directly to their new $22-million mansion in Beverly Hills. The house that Posh bought.

“We’ve had 3 1/2 weeks holiday,” Beckham said, “and we just really wanted to get here and get settled and get in the house and try to relax. We arrived last night. It was a good flight. The kids slept the majority of the way, so that was good for us.

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“When we got to the airport, everything was really well organized by the police. We have to thank the police. They’ve been pretty incredible to us since we arrived. They made it successful for us to come through. And our thanks to all the media and fans that turned up at the airport.

“We arrived at the house. It was the first time I had seen it, so I was pretty excited and my wife was pretty nervous. It’s a great house, very private. The kids are very happy there. We got a few hours’ sleep last night. Jet lag has not kicked in yet. Then we got up this morning and drove down to my new stadium.”

The most serious issue on the minds of the more than 700 media members covering the event -- they came from as far away as Germany and Japan -- was the status of Beckham’s injured left ankle.

It affects his Galaxy season. It affects his recently revived England national team career.

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“Well, I was in the south of France, as you all saw last week, on a bicycle,” he said. “I was doing 45 kilometers a day. Physically, I’m great. My ankle is still slightly swollen. I ran on it for the first time about three days ago in London. It felt slightly unstable, so there’s still a bit of work to do. I’ll be getting that work done in the next couple of days by massaging and treatment and hopefully a bit of running, and we’ll take it from there. It should be all right for the game against Chelsea.”

Beckham’s debut for the Galaxy is planned for July 21 in a friendly against the English Premier League club at the Home Depot Center.

He met the rest of the Galaxy players Friday morning before being introduced to fans on the Home Depot Center field.

“It’s like the first day at school again,” he said. “They were all really pleasant, thankfully. One of them came up to me -- I can’t remember who it was now -- and said, ‘Nice to meet you. What’s your name?’

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“Cobi [Jones] has already said that he’s got his own treatment bed in the [locker] room, so I’m not allowed anywhere near it.”

Beckham discounted suggestions, mostly from Europe, that by moving to MLS he had signaled the beginning of the end of his career.

“I’m very proud of what I’ve done in my career so far,” he said. “I’ve won everything possible in England. I’ve won a league title now in Spain. I’ve successfully played for my country for 11 years and captained it for six years.

“I don’t see this period now as a winding-down period. Many people might say that. Many people who are saying that haven’t played in MLS. I haven’t played in MLS, but I know the expectations and the enthusiasm that the American people have got, especially the people in Los Angeles and at the Galaxy. They want to take soccer to a different level.

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“I want to be part of that. I might be 32 years old, but I’m as fit as I was when I was 22 and I’m as eager as I was when I was 14. So I’m ready for it.”

All in all, it was a flawless performance by Beckham, by the Galaxy and by the league.

“I think there will be other moments like this,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said, “but we’re not saying back at the office that, ‘We did this today, now what do we have to do to make a bigger splash tomorrow?’

“If we do that, well, we’re going to be making some bad decisions.”

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That thought was echoed, in a manner of speaking, by some of the livelier of the roughly 3,000 season-ticket holders on hand Friday. They made Beckham feel right at home when he walked out onto the field by singing a well-favored English soccer chant: “One David Beckham, there’s only one David Beckham.”

Beckham responded with a smile and a wave.

“It’s been a pretty successful day so far,” he said later. “I’ve enjoyed it.”

The adventure had begun. The swimming pool awaited.

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--

grahame.jones@latimes.com

--

“No other city in the United States is so frequently and enthusiastically abused for being itself.... There is a sense, of course, that Beckham, with his ‘Hollywood passes’ and his post-match sarongs, is ideally suited for a town where Jean-Paul Sartre is assumed to be a fragrance and where Venice is a boardwalk. In reality, though, Los Angeles is a hugely complex place.”

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-- Chris Ayres,

The Times of London

* For a sampling of other comments from the British press on David Beckham’s arrival in Los Angeles, and a transcript of highlights from Beckham’s introductory press conference Friday, visit latimes.com/sports.


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