By Paul Gardner
The return of David Beckham nears. Far from being a return in triumph, this is not even an occasion for celebration. Beckham, apparently, understands
nothing of this. Guilty of deserting his post with the Galaxy, he hopes that the team's fans "realize by now the reasons why I made this move. I'm sure they do deep down. I'm sure they'll be
supportive when I come back."
This is merely the latest in a stream of drippy statements that Beckham has made since going to join Milan. Statements that reveal a self-obsessed man living
in a world where his celebrity status has rendered him incapable of seeing events from any viewpoint other than his own. Statements that have degenerated from seductive naivete through laughable
simplicity to crass stupidity and, with this latest effort, now border on plain imbecility.
Beckham hopes that the fans "now" understand his reason for deserting them. Can he really be
that blind? There have never been any doubts about his reason, other than those introduced by him and his spin doctors. Does Beckham really believe that the Galaxy fans are so thick that they cannot
recognize overweening self-glorification when it struts before their eyes?
Having found MLS and the Galaxy not to his liking, Beckham got out as soon as he saw an opportunity, and the
hell with all his pledges to help soccer grow in the USA. In fact, the violins began to play almost as soon as he arrived, with all that emetic guff about playing for England -- guff that added up to
nothing more than Beckham's search for personal fame, his driving necessity to grab 100 caps playing for England. By playing a few minutes here and there in a number of pathetic exhibition games,
Beckham reached his tawdry milestone.
His performances for the Galaxy were those of an uncommitted mercenary. (Machiavelli is the expert on mercenaries -- he defined them as "useless and
dangerous.") Yet Beckham now says "I've always said, and I will always say, that I am still committed to MLS and to the Galaxy, no matter what anyone says."
Right, David. But even you
might want to admit that your way of demonstrating that commitment -- by abandoning the Galaxy, by making a series of denigrating statements about the team and MLS -- is mighty strange? Then again,
maybe you won't, because the extent of your self-absorption is quite staggering.
Take this business of playing for England, of wanting to be a part of the 2010 World Cup squad. Does
Beckham -- who, next year, will be an increasingly injury-prone 35-year-old -- really see himself as the key to an England victory? Or is this yet more ego-tripping? Beckham's own words, uttered last
March as he tried to prolong his stay at Milan, strongly suggest the ego is in command: "I just want to help myself now, to give myself every chance of being involved ..."
... but this is not the ego, this is surely the id speaking. In Freudian terminology, the id is the uncontrolled pleasure-seeking urge that wants whatever feels good at the time, with no consideration
for the reality of the situation, that doesn't care about the needs of anyone else; it wants only its own immediate satisfaction.
Of course, it's a childish urge. But therein lies most of
the considerable, boyish, attraction of David Beckham, his ability to charm and to delight, his ability to display a convincing wide-eyed innocence while he does the selfish thing, and his inability
to understand that others (what others?) might find his behavior obnoxious.
So he professes to believe that "deep down" the Galaxy fans will understand and presumably love him, just as he
is quite sure the Galaxy players also love him. Really? The superstar who earns more than the rest of the team lumped together, who repeatedly absented himself and contributed absolutely nothing to
what ended up as a bum season (two bum seasons, actually), then left everyone in the lurch as he saw brighter lights gleaming in Milan . . . this is the guy the players are going to worship when he
I don't know about that. But even if his reception, by fans and players, does
turn out to be hostile, Beckham sees nothing to be concerned about. Never mind how upset
the fans or the team may be, only Beckham matters to Beckham: "I can only play the game and enjoy myself ..." If there's abuse, then "I'm sure I can take it."
So that's all right, then.
Beckham now returns for just half a season to a team that has been plugging along without him, tying most of its games and being rather boring while doing so. Of course, it's possible that he will
inspire his teammates, that he will play brilliantly and lead the Galaxy to the championship. Anything is possible in this crazy sport. It's also possible that we will get more of the same, a
mercenary going through the motions, this time trying to avoid injury as he saves himself for the glamour of Milan and the glory of the World Cup.
By now, the Beckham charisma has worn a
bit thin, at least on this side of the Atlantic. That reality has not penetrated the Beckham id -- he still seems to find it impossible to believe that anyone can doubt his sincerity or can disapprove
of his behavior.
As he is unlikely to return to the Galaxy once this season is over, the sensible thing to do would be to forget about coming back altogether. I'm sure American soccer
would somehow muddle through without the commitment that Beckham found so easy to announce but so difficult to turn into action.