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I was wrong about Beckham
by Paul Gardner, December 22nd, 2008 7AM
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Soon after David Beckham descended upon us, trailing clouds of glory in January 2007, I wrote an article that was headlined: "Beckham in MLS: A Force Or A Farce?"

I opted for the Force -- because I thought that Beckham would take things seriously. I believed that the Galaxy would now be the focus of his professional interest. I believed that his on-the-field efforts would transform the ragged Galaxy team into a contender. And I believed that he really wanted, as he said, to help the development of American soccer. I raised the point, though, that his help would not add up to much if it merely consisted of inviting rich kids to attend his expensive academy in California. He could have the biggest impact by helping the under-appreciated Hispanics to gain recognition and status.

So I was wrong. Wrong on every count. There's no need to labor all those points because Beckham has so obviously failed to measure up. We're getting the Farce, not the Force. Bad enough, but what makes his failure so blameworthy is that he has failed to take things seriously. I mean things American. They have taken second place throughout the past year to his relentless and sycophantic hunt for more England caps.

And Beckham has shown little sign that he cares that much about his lack of loyalty to the Galaxy. No doubt he is miffed at the poor quality of the Galaxy team, and the problems he's having of producing a game-winning form. I might have thought he would know how to cope with that. Evidently, he doesn't.

His solution is to flee. To flee to the bosom of the England team, to suck up to Fabio Capello, his old Real Madrid coach, the guy who got rid of him; and then, as soon as the Galaxy season came to its premature close, to flee to Italy, to Milan.

His reason for signing with Milan? To keep fit. Not for the Galaxy, but so that he can throw himself at Capello's feet again, shamelessly begging for another cap. He cannot even be truthful about his reasons -- he claims that the "5-month" MLS offseason is too much, so he needs to be playing. It is not 5 months. It is 4 months -- from November until the beginning of March. And had the Galaxy done as well as many thought it would -- under Beckham's leadership -- its season could have lasted all the way until the MLS Cup final at the end of November, meaning a 3-month layoff.

And the first thing Beckham does on arrival in Milan, at his very first press conference, is to demean American soccer: "I always said I'd miss playing at the highest level ..." Oh, really? I don't recall any such words being uttered back in the heady days of January 2007. Some dim warning light must have penetrated Beckham's normally PR-alert conscience, for he decided to quickly make a nod in the direction of America -- and promptly made matters worse with a patronizing pat on the back: "I'm not saying that in America they won't get to the highest level. One day it will happen."

Thanks, David. Having got that minor matter out of the way, you can now turn your attention to what is presumably the real game. What will that be? Is Beckham going to play any games for Milan? Does the team really need him? Watching Milan yesterday as it turned on the style in a 5-1 demolition of Udinese, one might wonder about that.

Carlo Ancelotti, the Milan coach, has greeted Beckham with some diplomatic but hardly rapturous words: "We welcome him and are certain he can give us a hand during the 10 games he will be available for."

That sounds like the sanitized corporate AC Milan view. But the club's abrasive midfielder Gennaro Gattuso struck a much more convincing note: "This Beckham thing seems very strange to me . . ." As it happens, Gattuso is out injured for the rest of the seasons. But even that won't help Beckham, who does not play the midfield Rottweiler role that Gattuso relishes in.

This Beckham thing is strange -- unless one views it as simply another marketing, shirt-selling move. That is how his American adventure is now revealing itself. Since his arrival with the Galaxy, it is reasonable to point out that his main activities -- the successfulones, I mean -- seem to have been making commercials, selling shirts and collecting caps for playing as a sub with England.

He has not, as I hoped he would, made any real soccer impression. Wrong again. I repeat my earlier assertion that Beckham at the Galaxy has created a new position: the right-sided hole-in-the-air.

And AEG finds this satisfactory? How can they? Forget all the brave words by AEG president Tim Leiweke, to say nothing of MLS Commissioner Don Garber's indignant refutal of criticism of Beckham's move to Milan. Beckham has become an embarrassment, almost a liability.

It's not simply that he is not helping to build up the image and the credibility of MLS. That would already be a serious reneging on what he's being paid a lot of money to do. It's a lot worse than that, because Beckham, by never singing the praises of his life in Los Angeles -- his soccer life, I mean -- is actively damaging the MLS. He repeatedly gives the impression that American soccer is for the birds (what else can the statement quoted above mean?), that he made a big mistake moving to L.A., and that he must therefore escape whenever he can.


  1. Luciano Castro
    commented on: December 22, 2008 at 1:48 p.m.
    I always said this individual was a waste of time, an overinflated character whose soccer abilities were limited. The main culprit in all this is Alex Fergurson (poacher No. 1 in the world of foregin talent drafted to Man United) since he has never developed a talented player. He built the Beckahm flop and sold it at a profit. When this guy went to Real Madrid, he did nothing significant except the last year at Real, but then he was surrounded by superstars that made look like a soccer player. Bob Robson, an ex England coach said, he is going to the USA on a semi-retirement, he canot play soccer at a high level, he was right. I said before and I say it now, Beckhan has been an inconsequential player in every team he has played. He might over 100 caps, but next to his name it should be added: No European or World Cup titles.
  1. Michael Jones
    commented on: December 28, 2008 at 3:10 a.m.
    Some of these statements beggar belief... if you tear away the glam and gloss of Beckham the truth is he is a very good player... and unfortunately very good players aren't going to be content to just play in MLS... for the simple reason that it isn't a top class league yet. If anyone should be disappointed in beckham it should be for coming too early in his career- he should still be playing in a top class team like Milan week in week out. Should he have loyalty to MLS? and the Galaxy? I think proving that he is still a player capable of playing for mIlan would be a fitting tribute to the league and would keep him in decent shape to start the MLS season... I fail to see how playing at the highest level slights MLS... ...and another thing... the idea that hispanic fans are going to be bowled over by the MLS is ridiculous... Mexican fans love the game... but they want to see their teams from back home... and they have plenty of access to it too on TV and often in person even... MLS needs to work on creating more atmosphere on games if it wants to attract more fans of all races and cultures... that is what everyone enjoys about the game all around the world... I have been to several games in MLS yet sometimes the atmosphere is so dull you can hardly tell it isn't a pre-school recital... the league needs to foster noise and crowd involvement... maybe someone should read Chuck Culpepper's book Bloody Confused... it shows what football around the world is about.... it sure isn't about polite applause and security escorting over enthusiastic fans out of the game... it is about passion and enthusiasm spilling over... the average MLS game has more in common with the local library than it does a Boca Juniors game... maybe that is why Beckham is currently in Milan and not LA... and there are very few players in MLS who wouldn't swap places with him given half a chance...of that there can be no doubt. Another point- Bruce Arena has done so much for US soccer- I find it amazing he is held in such low regard. He deserves much better. That in itself is a sad indictment of the US soccer community. Very sad. But I am sure he will prove his detractors wrong. Good luck Bruce!

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