The unexpected resurrection of David
Barely two months before leaving for the Los Angeles Galaxy, David Beckham is playing his best football since joining Real Madrid in 2003 - a paradoxical resurrection crowned by his return to the England team.
Beckham's career at Real Madrid has been marked by the support of fans and antagonism of analysts, who see him as more popstar than outstanding footballer.
However, the 32-year-old midfielder has now managed to get everyone on his side, and there is a broad consensus that he is one of the great pillars of Real Madrid's comeback to lead La Liga with only two games remaining.
"I now have a great chance of leaving with a league title in my pocket. That would be wonderful, and the perfect way to say goodbye," Beckham told the BBC. "I'm currently playing very well at Real Madrid, and I want to leave that way. I'm enjoying playing as much as I did years ago, and I feel like the happiest man on earth when I take the pitch."
He now has the opportunity to settle his Real Madrid account, which shows no important titles. Only five months ago, even suggesting that Beckham could leave in style would bring jeers.
Beckham shocked the footballing world by agreeing a five-year contract with Los Angeles Galaxy worth some $250 million, after deciding not to renew his Real Madrid contract, which expires at the end of the season. The announcement of the deal in January did not go down well in the Spanish capital.
Real Madrid President Ramon Calderon complained that Beckham had "taken the club for a ride" while coach Fabio Capello said clearly that Beckham would "train with the team" but would not play again.
"Beckham decided to go to the US. We cannot count on a player who has already signed a big contract with another team," Capello said.
Such treatment must have been shocking for the wealthy, dashing Beckham, after years in the limelight as one of the world's most celebrated sportsmen.
Observers point to his wife, former Spice Girl Victoria, as the person who had convinced Beckham that the best option was to move to the US - a way of expanding the image of both stars to the world of show business.
Capello certainly did not like the decision then and for a month stood by his banishment of Beckham. However, Capello relented, and it paid off.
The star returned and rescued the best of his game to become the best ball-passer at Real Madrid and the heart of the team. In light of the midfielder's performance, the Italian coach has radically changed his tune.
"Beckham is playing like never before. He is extraordinarily fit, his head is very balanced, and he is very eager. He centres the ball with precision, speed and quality," Capello said. "He deserves to return to the England national team, without a shadow of doubt."
Beckham is now set to return to the England squad for the friendly against Brazil that will inaugurate the new Wembley Stadium in London and for the Euro 2008 qualifier on June 6 at Estonia.
The star - who has not played for England since he announced his decision to step down as captain after last year's World Cup - returns to the national team in a situation quite similar to that experienced by Real Madrid earlier this season.
Coach Steve McLaren had never before called Beckham to the national team, and turns to him with England in a difficult position to qualify for Euro 2008.
Beckham's star is again burning bright, just when most people were predicting his sunset in football.