By Paul Gardner
The latest in the tedious series of non-events that make up David Beckham's contribution to American soccer took place last week in New Jersey's Giants Stadium.
The return (yet again, and possibly not for the last time) of Beckham. The Red Bulls were as hospitable as you would expect a team with a 2-13-4 record to be - they offered little in the way of serious opposition to the Galaxy.
All in all, a cozy little evening. I say "little" because the mere mention of the name Beckham is supposed to ensure a huge crowd - yet only 23,238 officially turned up. (I emphasize the "officially" in case Beckham is listening. His statements about his involvement in MLS get sillier and sillier each time he opens his mouth, and he has now let it be known that he only reads "authorized" books - meaning that he won't read Grant Wahl's "The Beckham Experiment" - the book that paints him in rather less then heroic colors).
Now 23,238 is, frankly, a pretty pathetic turnout for a super star. Especially when you recall that the first time Beckham played here, in 2007, he drew over 66,000. So over 40,000 area fans have discovered that watching Beckham play soccer is no big deal. Last Thursday those 40,000 fans stayed home.
Of the 23,238 who did turn up, maybe 10,000 were there because of Beckham. And of those 10,000, it is legitimate to wonder how many of them have any interest whatever in the sport of soccer.
Beckham attracts a whole bunch of fringe groupies, and he must by now be accustomed to being greeted by the same sort of high-pitched shrieks, squeals and swoonings that used to greet the Beatles.
We got plenty of that at Giants Stadium - but we also got something rather different. A steady chorus of boos for Beckham - whenever he played the ball, especially when he took corner kicks, and climaxing with a pretty impressive volume of abuse when he was substituted out at the 70th minute.
I wonder if that will worry Beckham? I suppose not. It has become apparent, from the series of fatuous statements that he keeps repeating about his commitment to the Galaxy, and how he delights in his role as an "ambassador" for MLS, that Beckham simply does not understand what is going on.
He does not understand because he can see no further than his own ego, or his own advisors, allow. Playing only a few games for the Galaxy is fine with him, because his absence was all in a good cause - meaning that it benefitted David Beckham.
And this obtuseness is scheduled to continue. What matters to Beckham is next year's World Cup and his place on the England team that, we can safely assume, will take part in it. That, plus turning out for AC Milan, a much more fashionable club than the Galaxy, part of a much more fashionable league than MLS.
If Beckham has his way - and who's to stop him? - he will miss most of the 2010 MLS season playing for Milan and for England. This is an odd sort of commitment - but Beckham apparently sees nothing wrong. He says that he doesn't feel the need to apologize to anyone.
Beckham, it seems, doesn't do apologies. One of the real low-spots in Wahl's "Beckham Experiment" book comes when last season's Galaxy, on the verge of elimination from the playoffs but still with a slim mathematical chance of survival, traveled to Houston for the game that would either do them in or keep them alive. Beckham, who was the club captain, was suspended for the game ... and so simply did not bother to turn up, preferring to spend the time in England endorsing a food product and then returning direct to Los Angeles. Apology? Forget it.
Did he even bother to turn up the other night at Giants Stadium? What did he do during his 70 minutes on the field? Where was the Beckham magic? Let's see, my notes show that his first touch, after 8 seconds, was a long ball forward that went straight to a Red Bull defender. There followed an unremarkable throw-in, a midfield pass that went directly to Albert Celades of the Red Bulls, and after that, a foul. Then we got two Beckham free kicks - one was headed away by the Red Bulls' Luke Sassano, the other didn't even make it over the wall. A mighty cross-field ball, right to left, came to earth yards away from any Galaxy player, then a cross went straight to Red Bull goalkeeper Danny Cepero. While all that futility was going on, the Galaxy had scored three goals, without Beckham having played a significant part in any of them.
A very ordinaryperformance - heck, the Galaxy might as well have signed any old Premier League midfielder. But coming from the league's highest-paid, most ballyhooed, and certainly most self-centered player, it was an eminently boo-able performance.
It leaves you wondering what goes on in Beckham's head. How difficult would it be to offer an apology to the Galaxy fans for his repeated absences (and for their increased season-ticket prices)? Why not do that? It's certainly good PR, and Beckham employs people to make sure he keeps his image in order.
But not in this case. Making fools of American sports fans can hardly be his intention, but that's what he is doing. So which is it? Is the guy simply too arrogant, or is he too thick, to understand that people would react badly to his barely concealed contempt for American soccer and his blatant selfishness?