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Beckham bids farewell to Man United fans

David Beckham talks to his wife Victoria before Manchester United's play against a Europe XI side during a match to mark the 50th anniversary of Manchester United's participation in European soccer Tuesday March 13, 2007 at Old Trafford in Manchester. The Europe XI team is coached by Italian World Cup winner Marcello Lippi. (AP Photo/Jon Super)

MANCHESTER, England --Manchester United turned David Beckham into an international star, and on Tuesday he bid an emotional farewell to Old Trafford before he leaves European soccer for the United States.

Beckham joined United in 1989 at 14, debuted the next year, and transferred in 2003 to Real Madrid. He will join Major League Soccer's Los Angeles Galaxy after his contract with the Spanish club expires June 30.

"The time I spent at this club was the best time in my whole football career," Beckham told the 74,000-sellout crowd at halftime of a charity match.

Injury forced him to withdraw from a star-filled European side that faced United to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the European Union and the Red Devils' half century of play in continental soccer. Man United won 4-3, getting two goals from Wayne Rooney and one each from Wes Brown and Cristiano Ronaldo. El-Hadji Diouf scored twice for Europe and Florent Malouda had a goal.

Since he moved to Spain, the 31-year-old Beckham had returned to the stadium in northwest England as the captain of England's national team but hadn't been able to personally thank United for 14 years that brought the club many trophies.

"I've waited four years to actually come back and to actually say thank you to the fans and the people of the club," he said.

Beckham won six English Premier League titles and the European Champions League during his United career.

He told fans he was grateful for the strong support shown in his toughest time -- after he was ejected during England's World Cup match against Argentina in 1998.

"I think I wouldn't have got through many things without the people in this stadium," he said.

On the field, he publicly supported United manager Alex Ferguson, who struck Beckham's eye with a football boot on the eve of his departure.

"Everybody knows here that you've got the best manager in the world at this club," he told the crowd to rapturous applause.

United leads the Premier League by nine points and remains in contention for the Champions League and The Football Association Cup.

"I think this team is going to be incredible, and I think they're going to go on and win many things, not just this year but throughout many years to come," he said. "So good luck and thank you."

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