He didn't want to be a savior, yet David Beckham may well arrive as one. The league he will play in is doing just fine, but his new team is on the skids.
The international superstar shunned by his club and country has been recalled by both, but it's to America he's headed. David Beckham is the dawn of a new era and it can't start soon enough for his new team.
Major League Soccer in 2007 is far from a thriving success, but lucrative sponsorships, a viable business plan rooted in mid-sized facilities and stringent cost restrictions, decent media contracts and realistic expansion possibilities paint a promising landscape.
As a centerpiece of that landscape, it has a splendid stadium in which a tenant, Chivas USA, is leaving its landlord, the Los Angeles Galaxy, in the dust. Two months into the season, Los Angeles had won just one of eight games, and it faces a rough second half of the season loaded with road games to spread the Beckham mystique to as many league cities as possible.
The Galaxy is preparing to welcome a superstar but is far from the superclub that general manager Alexi Lalas and Anschutz Entertainment Group president Tim Leiweke envision. Playing for a crummy team will be akin to Coach Frank Yallop handing Jeff Gordon the car keys to a rusting hulk.
Fortunately for coach and GM, their new player isn't a glamour boy obsessed with his own image, a preening pretty boy devoted to his sheen and little else. His charming good looks and fashion-perfect physique adorn products from sunglasses to swimwear. That's what sponsors pay for, but that's not what was bred at Manchester United and bought for big bucks ($41 million) by Real Madrid.
Within the taut torso beats the heart of a competitor, a battler, a showman with substance. At United, players are driven to win with flair in their feet and joy on their faces, but the winning comes first. The Galaxy can use some dipping free kicks and wicked crosses, most definitely, but what it needs more are heart and fight and spirit.
"He just wants to play soccer, he loves the game," says Rapids midfielder Terry Cooke, who played with Beckham in the United system when they were teenagers. "At United we were taught to play the game with a smile on your face and he always does that, Becks. I try to do it as well, to an extent. Obviously if I'm losing I'm not going to smile. Beckham's always been on successful teams, he's always been a winner, and he's going to bring that to the Galaxy."
(This article originally appeared in the July 2007 issue of Soccer America Magazine.)