CARSON, Calif. -- David Beckham says he's happy to be back in Los Angeles.
He's happy to be back home with his wife and kids. He's happy to be back with his Los Angeles Galaxy teammates. He's happy to be enjoying the Olympics in London, like the rest of America, on tape delay from the comfort of his living room.
But you can tell he's not really happy, and he has every right to feel that way.
On Thursday night, Beckham was on the field at the Home Depot Center to take on his former team, Real Madrid, in front of 30,317, the largest soccer crowd ever at the stadium. It was, as expected, a lopsided affair that Madrid won 5-1. Beckham set up the Galaxy’s only goal with a picture-perfect serve off a free kick that went off the head of David Junior Lopes and past Real Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas.
Beckham, however, should be in England, preparing for Great Britain’s quarterfinal match against South Korea on Saturday.
After all, Beckham was instrumental in bringing the Olympics to London, calling it "one of the proudest moments I've been involved with." Giving one of the most famous and influential figures in English sports history a spot on the 18-man roster seemed like the right thing to do. Given the way Beckham, 37, has been playing of late, few would have seen it as a courtesy gesture. Beckham had every right to be on the team for on- and off-the-field reasons.
That is, of course, not how Great Britain manager Stuart Pearce felt in June when he opted to fill the three over-23 slots on his team with Liverpool's Craig Bellamy, Manchester City's Micah Richards and Manchester United's Ryan Giggs, who will turn 39 in November.
"Of course, I'm disappointed, but life goes on," Beckham said. "My family is healthy, I'm pretty healthy, so at the end of the day, I'll be there to support the Great Britain team."
Instead of being an Olympian at the Summer Games he helped attract to his country, Beckham played a central figure in last week’s opening ceremonies and will again play a part in the closing ceremonies. He helped bring the torch to the Olympic Stadium while wearing one of his custom suits and driving a speed boat, in a scene that looked straight out of a James Bond film.
"I was out on the boat for a few hours, so it was good," Beckham said. "I had a few days during the week so I was prepared. It was good times. … Obviously being an East End boy and growing up there, having the Olympics in that part of London is a very proud moment for us all. But it was a great experience being part of it, being part of such a historic moment for England. It was special."
Beckham was able to take in only one event while in England for the opening ceremonies. He attended Great Britain's 3-1 win over the United Arab Emirates in soccer, cheering on the side he had hoped to be playing on.
"I didn't really have a chance for anything else," Beckham said. "But I'm obviously back for the closing ceremonies and I'll hopefully go to a few events then."
While Beckham missed a Galaxy game to attend the opening ceremony and will miss another one to attend the closing ceremonies, England's loss during the Olympics has been the Galaxy's gain.
The same charm Beckham used to help attract the Olympics to London is what he now uses to attract others to the Galaxy and Major League Soccer. He has become the league and the game's best ambassador during a time when he easily could have sulked about one of the biggest disappointments of his career.
Beckham greeted Real Madrid players and coaches at the Beverly Hills Hotel this week while they trained for Thursday's game. He mingled with his former teammates at a cocktail reception at the CAA offices Wednesday night and exchanged old war stories with Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho.
"I'm so sorry I could never be his coach because I would love it," Mourinho said. "Now it's too late because David is in the last years of his career, but he has always been nice to me."
Mourinho and Beckham were part of the organizing committee that helped bring the Olympics to London, and after Thursday's game, Mourinho was still trying to understand why Beckham wasn't on Great Britain's team before he boarded the team bus leaving Home Depot Center.
"That is something I don't understand," Mourinho said. "The Olympic Games are in London because of him. It is because Sebastian Coe [the head of the London Olympics] and other people, but he was the most important face of that project. I don't understand why he's not playing. I cannot understand that. I think in a group of 18 players, he would have football qualities to give, human qualities, and he is one of the best soccer professionals to express what is the ideal of Pierre de Coubertin [founder of the modern Olympics]. I am so sorry he is not there. I don't understand why such a big personality in that project is now playing in this match when he should be in London."
It's a question Beckham has no doubt tried to come to grips with as he now watches the Olympics he helped secure for his country, on a television set thousands of miles away.