By DEREK VANDIEST
LOS ANGELES -- He's never met Wayne Gretzky. But David Beckham wants to.
Yesterday one of the most famous soccer players on the planet expressed an interest in making an acquaintance with the greatest hockey player of all time.
It's fitting, considering the two were brought to Los Angeles for similar reasons.
"I'm interested in any person that made a difference like he did in his sport," Beckham said. "I think without a doubt he's a legend. I think he's one of the best sportsmen of our time - of anybody's time."
Gretzky came to Los Angeles 20 years ago and helped hockey grow in the United States. Without him there probably wouldn't be NHL franchises in San Jose, Anaheim, Phoenix and Dallas.
Beckham was brought to Los Angeles last year to do the same for soccer.
The former Manchester United and Real Madrid star went from playing with the Galacticos to toiling with the Galaxy compliments of a five-year, $250-million contract.
"When you do something like that to a sport, which (Gretzky) did, that is what you need," Beckham said. "That's what everybody needs in their lives, someone to look up to and role models like him."
Bringing Beckham to Los Angeles was a bold move by the Galaxy in an effort to take soccer to the next level in the United States.
On May 13th, Beckham and the Galaxy will be in Edmonton to take on the Vancouver Whitecaps in an exhibition game at Commonwealth Stadium. Organizers have sold 27,000 tickets to the game at this point and are hoping for a crowd in excess of 40,000. Last year the two teams met in Vancouver drawing over 48,000 to B.C. Place stadium.
"I don't know much about Edmonton," Beckham said.
"I've talked to a few people up there that said it may be cold. But that's nothing I'm not used to because I'm English and we're used to that kind of weather.
"But it's great to play in a new place, especially somewhere where Wayne made famous. It'll be an honour to play there."
Going to Edmonton is an opportunity for the Galaxy to promote their brand. It's something the team has done a lot of since Beckham's arrival last July. They've already toured Australia and Asia this year.
Beckham is obviously the main attraction and playing exhibition games is part of the deal.
"I grew up in Detroit, so I spent most of my Saturday nights watching Hockey Night in Canada," said Galaxy president and general manager Alexi Lalas.
"You can't live in Los Angeles and not understand the impact that Wayne Gretzky had on the sport and the community. To a certain extent David has already had that type of impact in elevating the awareness and educating everyone on the sport.
"You can draw a lot of comparisons between the two. David is a huge world-wide star as was Wayne, and ultimately on any given day, they were probably the best person out there on the field."
Coming over after a long European season with Real Madrid, where he helped the Spanish side capture the league title, Beckham was limited to five MLS games with the Galaxy last year due to injury.
This season, he's healthy, in shape and ready to match the impact on the field that he made off it.
"There were such incredible expectations and such high hopes when he arrived," said Lalas.
"He lived up to a lot of it. Obviously he's a human being. Not being 100% was difficult and challenging for everybody and, not the least of it, for him.
"I know he felt to a certain extent that he was letting people down. It's great to see him 100% healthy, helping our team win, scoring some goals, getting some great assists, linking up with other star players that we have. That's what we need David Beckham to do on the field and off it, he's already doing what we need him to do."
There was a suggestion perhaps Beckham might want to wear Gretzky's No. 99 when he plays in Edmonton.
"I'm not sure I'd be allowed to wear 99," he smiled. "The 23 is my number. ... I was always a fan of Michael Jordan and he was a big idol of mine and what he did in his sport. To have the number 23 shirt was something special for me and I brought it over to the Galaxy as well. But 99? I don't know if I can pull that off."
© Edmonton Sun 2008