So the Beckham saga -- if that's what it is -- staggers on, Failure after failure, mistake piled upon mistake, a farcical sequence of laughable bumblings and ineptitudes that have long since blotted out the basic fact that Beckham came here to play soccer and -- his words -- to help "make the sport as popular here as it is in the rest of the world."
If that means merely getting publicity for himself, and hoping that some of it will draw admiring attention to the Galaxy, to MLS, and to the sport itself, well, there's a mighty problem to be overcome.
Beckham can only increase interest in the sport itself by putting on classy displays on the field -- preferably spectacular displays. He draws fans, there's no doubt about that. But those fans -- the ones who turn out to see him, who wouldn't normally be at an MLS game -- what have they seen from Beckham that would make them fall in love with soccer, or induce them to come back to see other games?
Nothing. Quite apart from all the games that Beckham has missed, and those that he has played when not fully fit, or when jet-lagged, his appearances have been anything but special. And that is a huge problem. When fans come to see a player who has been hyped to the skies and they see him perform in a decidedly non-super-star way, what are they to think? Very likely they will decide that if that's the best soccer can offer, if that's what all the fuss is about, then you can keep the sport. It's a dud.
So Beckham, instead of turning people on to soccer, is just as likely to be turning them off. True, it's not all his fault. The Galaxy have been abysmal. Beckham needed a good team to allow his skills to flourish, and he never got it. His supporting cast was nowhere near good enough.
But much of the blame lies with Beckham and his cohorts. He has made it insultingly clear that the Galaxy do not rank highly in his mind. His pursuit of more and more England caps has been conducted shamelessly at the expense of his Galaxy career. And now he has approached AC Milan because he wants to play for them -- on loan, of course, just to keep fit. Keeping fit for the Galaxy? No -- Beckham has, again, made it clear that the idea is to keep himself fit for possible future England appearances.
A monster mess -- one that Bruce Arena, in his dual role of coach and general manager, can only return to sanity by putting his foot down and demanding Beckham's full commitment to the team. So far, in that respect, Beckham's behavior has been both shameful and unprofessional. Unfortunately, the same would have to be said of AEG, who brought Beckham here and who have allowed the Beckham clique to run things their way.
And being a largely British clique, one knows immediately that they will be people who know little of American soccer. But behave as though they know everything.
Bringing in Ruud Gullit as coach was one of their moves. A colossal gaffe. We have heard from Gullit. After weeks of almost disdainful work with the Galaxy, he departed for the usual reasons -- anything but getting fired, that is. Yes, we've heard from him, and he has told us that there's an anti-soccer conspiracy here, and that "they" won't allow the sport to succeed.
How likely is that? Ludicrous, I'd say. And yet ... on that very point, I'd like an explanation. From the Galaxy, or from MLS -- but above all from ESPN.
Yes, ESPN, the MLS broadcasting partner. Could it be that ESPN is out to slyly sabotage soccer -- and David Beckham in particular? That's not an idea that recommends itself to me, but how else can one interpret the facts I shall now set out?
During last Thursday's ESPN2 telecast of the Chicago Fire vs. Red Bulls game, while hosts Rob Stone and Julie Foudy were swapping banalities about Beckham going to Milan -- we got, on screen, some action footage of Beckham. It's that footage that needs an explanation.
Here is the league's big star -- presumably therefore also ESPN's biggest selling point for the sport. So you show him doing something brilliant no? I mean, if this were football, you wouldn't show a QB falling flat on his face as he throws an interception, or if it were baseball, a slugger striking out?
Yet that is exactly, in equivalent terms, what ESPN gave us for Beckham. An 18-second clip showing him looking utterly incompetent, making a clumsy hash of two consecutive tackles, ending up on his backside for both, never getting anywhere near the ball.
Someone at ESPN had to select that footage. And someone at ESPN had -- I presume -- to approve it. This is worrying, because there is absolutely no way -- whether you know soccer or not -- that you can notbe aware that the player with the ball (it's Shavar Thomas of Chivas-USA) is making Beckham look foolish.
I don't know how long ESPN has been using that footage -- but this is at least the second time that I have seen it. Has no one at MLS seen it? Do they not care that their prize player is being turned into a laughing stock on national television? Has MLS complained -- or are they as frightened of ESPN as the Galaxy appear to be of Beckham?
For me, what it comes down to is this: I'm strongly reluctant to accept Gullit's casual complaint that a mysterious "they" are sabotaging soccer in this country. But I do not see how the derogatory footage of Beckham used by ESPN could have been selected either by ignorance or accident. Quite a quandary.