By Paul Gardner
I would have thought -- I'd bet most people would have thought -- that when you pay an athlete astronomical sums for his services, you get to tell him when he must make himself available, no?
Not when his name’s David Beckham, it seems. Here you have the Los Angeles Galaxy, or maybe it’s AEG, paying DB something like $6.5 million a year, yet it seems always to be DB who calls the shots.
For four years, four almost farcical years, we’ve watched as Beckham has decided that he wants to play in this or that or the other game for England, that he wants to go on loan to AC Milan, almost that he will play for the Galaxy when he damn well feels like it, and that he’ll be the one who tells everyone else when he’s fit to play.
So we’ve had four years of intermittent appearances, never a full season, never a fully fit Beckham. And while he’s been playing the superstar, the attitude of his paymasters has been one of exemplary sycophancy. Whatever David wants, David gets. The Galaxy, apparently, has been totally at David’s Beckham-call.
Nor is this comedy-routine over yet. Long after everyone else has grown thoroughly sick of his tedious and self-centered pursuit of more England caps and perhaps a place on the 2014 England World Cup team, Beckham continues his toadying to coach Fabio Capello.
So this winter, after his abortive -- but I must admit, quite impressive -- efforts on behalf of England’s World Cup bid, he pops up again in England, this time sniffing around the gates of Tottenham Hotspur’s White Hart Lane stadium seeking to get signed on for yet another foreign loan.
Considering that the previous loan spell, with AC Milan, ended up with Beckham nursing a snapped Achilles’ tendon and sitting out for five months, the proper response from the Galaxy ought to have been an indignant Are you kidding?
At one point it did look as though the Galaxy was, finally, putting an end to Beckham’s globetrotting. It actually said No. Or seemed to be saying No. It was “fully expecting he [Beckham] reports with the rest of his Galaxy teammates in late January for the upcoming season.”
Despite that, a loan deal was clearly being negotiated. It didn’t happen -- not because the Galaxy wanted Beckham back in L.A. where he belongs, but apparently because the Galaxy realized that one busted tendon was quite enough, so the insurance payments became an issue.
But the failed loan deal did not mean the return of Beckham to the USA. Instead, Beckham would train with Spurs -- and would not report back to the Galaxy until three weeks after the start of its preseason training.
AEG president Tim Leiweke would have us believe that this is a triumph for him and the Galaxy: “I am the one that made the decision in asking David to come back and play a full season in MLS ...” -- an astonishing attempt to parade weakness as firmness. What on earth is Leiweke doing asking Beckham to get back where he should be, when he should be telling him?
So the Galaxy embarrassed itself by backing down. Why did they reverse themselves? Oh, you can put that down to another business decision. Leiweke has recently revealed that AEG had encouraged Beckham to go to Tottenham because of a relationship with Spurs chairman Daniel Levy.
What sort of relationship would that be? There is a brand new stadium nearing completion in East London -- it will be the main athletics stadium during the 2012 Olympic Games. Once they’re over, the stadium is up for grabs. Two London Premier League clubs have expressed interest in making it their future home -- West Ham United, a genuine East London club, and Spurs, whose home territory has always been North London.
There is a third interested party: AEG, which sees the stadium as an ideal venue for rock concerts. Hence the “relationship” with Spurs. This looks like a real estate deal.
Not that it is being presented as such -- it has been dressed up as a good soccer deal for the Galaxy. But that is a flimsy pretext. You can be sure things are at their flimsiest when the words describing them get longer and more pretentious. So AEG and Spurs have created a “strategic alliance” that in some as yet unexplained way will benefit the Galaxy.
Strong rumors circulated yesterday that West Ham is the favorite to get the stadium. The rumors were speedily denied by the Olympic Park Legacy people, who have the final word; their decision will be announced on Friday.
Should West Ham win the rights to the stadium, and assuming that the Galaxy doesn’t then go into a deep sulk and call everything off, we may well get the alliance with Spurs anyway. We have experienced quite a few of these link-ups or alliances or partnerships between American and foreign pro clubs -- and I cannot recall a single one of them that has had any noticeable effect on the American end of things. In particular, the oft-repeated promise of an “exchange” of players seems never to happen.
If there were to be such an exchange, you can be sure it would involve the foreign club sending players it does not rate highly, maybe even wants to unload, while snapping up in return the most promising of the Americans.
What, then, can Spurs -- a team that hasn’t won a major trophy in 20 years (no, I do not count the Football League Cup) -- bring to the Galaxy? We saw the team here last summer -- not bad, not great, rather ordinary really.
Do they have marvelous new training and coaching methods? Are they ready to impart some new infallible tactical knowledge? Of course not. I doubt whether AEG would feel that Spurs knows more about marketing. I also doubt that Bruce Arena needs any help from London on the coaching front. There is also the glaringly obvious fact, which should not be unknown to Leiweke and the folks at AEG, that the Brits have not had any worthwhile ideas about the playing of soccer for at least 50 years.