Only Beckham matters to Beckham

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 ..."

Myself, myself ... 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 returns?

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.


10 comments about "Only Beckham matters to Beckham".
  1. James Lyon, June 1, 2009 at 9:15 a.m.

    Well put Mr. Gardner. Although having watched the Galaxy play Kansas City Saturday and come back from a 1-0 deficit to tie the game, I thought their play was inspired. As for Mr. Beckham, the Galaxy would be better off without him. He'll just be distration. Perhaps when Mr. Beckham will get the message when Landon Donovan doesn't hand over the captain's armband.

  2. Lucinda Hampson, June 1, 2009 at 10:09 a.m.

    I esssentially agree, moreover, since he has already gotten the money, Beckham feels no need to perform at a hgh level. He's satisfied just scraping by. It's a sad reflection on him.

  3. Joe Kee, June 1, 2009 at 10:17 a.m.


  4. Scott Baxter, June 1, 2009 at 10:31 a.m.

    Paul, let it go! Beckham is Beckham. By constantly whining about him you are promoting him in the media. Say nothing, turn your back, as he has. Without the press "All Things Beckham" will fade to black. Focus on what is good & great in the game. Promote discussion about US's style of play, new talent to watch, some of the wonderful things happening at the grass root level in America. You write for Soccer America right? So leave Soccer Beckham to shrivel up & go away (unless you write for soccer Beckham too).

  5. Scott Nelson, June 1, 2009 at 10:50 a.m.

    My only fear is that with Ancelloti gone Milan won't want him anymore. At least if he comes back I may get my chance to boo him every time he comes even remotely close to the ball. Seattle has already hosted the Galaxy this season, so I can't do it this year.

  6. Trudy Wells, June 1, 2009 at 10:56 a.m.

    It was always about money – for Beckham and America.
    Beckham managed to make America look cheap because of his world-fame; however, he brought the expected glamour to American Soccer for a little while at the cost of MLS players.
    In America, Soccer is just another game - a nation that has too many sports . . . a country that is fortunate to have so much of everything! Where a Soccer Player’s salary at the MLS compared to the Worlds Football / Soccer Stars is simply not very much.
    Those not yet “Soccer Lovers” are blaming the low scores . . . why get involved in a sport that makes the United States look not just unsuccessful but cheap. ”They” call it boring! When in reality it has everything to do with the absence of glamour – called money!
    Basket ball, Foot ball, hello! [Soccer is Foot ball]
    Beckham’s “Coming to America” simply didn’t help.
    How can you fault a player for wanting to play in a country where they live - breathe and sleep Soccer - where Soccer is in the blood. Italy! Really, any country but America!
    America – you try to teach “that” to your Soccer players!
    Paul Gardner, give David the respect he deserves . . . more fame is not what he needed – he had it all along!
    Too much fame is what ruined the “Galaxy idea” – money – is what stood between it all!

  7. Gus Keri, June 1, 2009 at 12:09 p.m.

    Dear Paul:
    I have been reading your columns for the last 20 years and I agree with most of what you say, usually. But today I find myself on the other side of the arguement.
    The signing of Beckham was a financial deal from the begining. It was all about the glamour and the commercialization of soccer. It was never about promoting soccer as a beautiful game, even from the MLS point of view.
    Many people knew the limitation of David as a soccer player. He needs a good team arround him to be able to contribute. This is why he failed in Los Angeles and was a success in Milan.
    From the financial point of view, MLS has benefited tremendously from this deal, much more than what Beckham gained. Beckham was making a percentage of all the mechendizing. Imagine how much MLS and LA Galaxy have made.
    Actually, all MLS teams have benefited from him playing here. I was there in Giant Stadium during his first visit to New York. It was the bigest event in the history of New York franchise, that didn't include a double header or a foreign team.
    If Beckham want to persue his dream of playing in the world cup, I will support him.

  8. , June 1, 2009 at 2:30 p.m.

    "Support Beckham" - Some people are just mad! Paul these are the merceneraies Machiavelli warns against and are “useless and dangerous".

    Beckham has shamed US Soccer by talking ill of it abroad (which it really was not necessary and showed his lack of understanding of it). Beckham not only jumped ships when he left for Milan but also tried to have Milan buy his contract so he didn't have to return to the Galaxy. Imbecil is the right word for Beckham - and if Arenas is the Arenas I think he is, he will let Beckham sit on the bench until the end of the MLS season - let his id come to terms with reality. It would be the best Coach Arenas could do for Beckham.

  9. , June 2, 2009 at 12:16 p.m.

    Ghassan is on the mark. It is childish for us to whine about any aspect of the Beckham/Galaxy story, as it only demonstrates a complete lack of understanding with regard to the motives of Beckham, the Galaxy, and the MLS.

    In my opinion, the low popularity of MLS (and the men's national team for that matter) isn't due to a lack of appreciation for soccer in the US. There is a sufficient number of educated soccer fans in the country to support a quality league. Unfortunately, uneducated network executives relegate soccer to a second or third tier sport and give it that level of commitment with regard to resources (cameras & technical crews, commentators, graphics...); and they market it with no enthusiasm. Who in the world wants to watch a match where the camera angle is like a nose-bleed seat (or is zoomed in so tight on the ball that you can't see the play develop). And, with all due respect to their accomplishments, Eric Wynalda, Alexi Lalas, and John Harkes suck the life out of a game from the booth.
    As with many things American, it's not necessarily the quality of the product; but the way that it is marketed that determines its success.

    Attracting legitimate international stars (even if they're past their prime) will help market the league in such a way that the networks will justify pouring more money into it. As the money grows, so will the ability to attract & retain talented players... and with such players; the quality of the soccer will improve.

    We must do a better job in our domestic media of not crying like petulant children when we don't understand the big picture; lest no one take our game seriously.

    Beckham (or ANY MLS player for that matter), being loaned to a higher level club - or getting call ups to his national side - should be a marketing bonanza for the league. Don't ride these guys out on a rail just because their MLS team isn't their top priority (yet). Be patient. Celebrate their continued successes. Welcome them home when they come... and see who they bring with them.

  10. Patrick Shea, June 2, 2009 at 12:47 p.m.

    All this blurry bluster overlooks another aspect of MLS. It's not the top league in the world, but it's no cakewalk either. Beckham arrived and failed as a savior his first year (valiantly risking injury but falling short). He returned more fit and committed the next year, and he actually exceeded my expectations as a savior player because that's not really like that. He shines like tin foil only when surrounded by stainless steel, not other thin sheets of flimsy aluminum.

    Over the years, a few fading foreign stars have performed admirably in MLS and others escaped like steam after short stints of abject failure. Lothar Matthaeus went to the beach and then back across the water with few memories for fans, yet Piotr Nowak won championships and stuck around to coach and truly help the game in the U.S. I don't think he ever said he would do this. He kept a promise he never made.

    Beckham is just another guy on the horizon sitting tall in the saddle on top of his white horse. Will he pull off some fairy-tale leadership and guide the gaLAxy to an MLS championship? Or yet again will he and his horse head to the glue factory when the playoffs start?

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