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
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.
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 successful
ones, 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.