For unadulterated drivel you’ll have to look far and hard to find anything to beat the sheer hogwash surrounding David Beckham’s decision to re-sign with the Los Angeles Galaxy.
We should, it seems, all bow down and count our blessings as the 36-year-old St. David graciously allows us the privilege of watching him pant and puff (in both the physiological and the marketing senses of that word) his way through two more years of Galaxy games.
Wow, what bliss! Though it is slightly tempered by the suspicion that, based on the history of his previous five years at the club, we’ll probably have to make do without him for about half of that time -- you know, the Olympic Games, ceremonial appearances, fancy weddings, injuries, that sort of thing.
That possibility, those distractions, are not mentioned in the stream of facile bunkum emanating from the St. David camp. Because he and his PR guys would have us believe that his real reason for coming to the USA in 2007 was a burning desire to help raise the popularity of soccer in this country.
They expect us to believe that and, no doubt, the persuasive arts of modern PR will make it sound plausible to some. From where I’m sitting, it looks an utterly fraudulent claim, a shameless exercise in market-speak.
Committed to growing the game in the USA? How was it, then, that when Beckham’s original contract with the Galaxy expired last year he did not at once negotiate a new one? How was it that he was seen to be entertaining offers from all over the place, that he was seriously considering decamping for PSG?
After months of that, months of demeaning both the Galaxy and American soccer, when finally all the other offers proved unsatisfactory for whatever reasons, Beckham returned -- one might think he was forced to return -- to the good old Galaxy, the team that had been paying him a fortune, the team that had supinely allowed him to absent himself whenever he wished to, as his last resort.
But we surely knew not to expect anything better. I cannot recall a single instance during Beckham’s five Galaxy years when -- given the opportunity to desert the Galaxy and play, or simply go, somewhere else -- he has opted to stay with the Galaxy.
The Galaxy always came second. Or maybe nowhere. Repeated absences to play for a few minutes with England to rack up his total of caps, with the fitness-draining transatlantic flights; the first loan deal with AC Milan, which was supposed to see Beckham back in L.A. for the beginning of the 2009 MLS season but which got extended into July; the second Milan loan deal which ended with a ruptured Achilles tendon, meaning that Beckham missed virtually the entire 2010 MLS season; add in his trip to the royal wedding, to Gary Neville’s testimonial game, his no-shows at various Galaxy road games where his presence had been trumpeted ... and you have four years during which Beckham’s presence was overshadowed by his absences.
What did he do, during that time, to advance the cause of American soccer? If you listen to the marketeers -- and, alas, to MLS Commissioner Don Garber who has allied himself to their vacuities on this matter -- you will hear that Beckham has worked all sorts of wonders for the status of the league. You will have to take their word for it, because these are not immediately obvious benefits. Things like raising the “awareness” of the league, and its “credibility."
It’s unclear how you measure those things. But I would find it absurd to suggest that Beckham’s four-year trail of belittling MLS by constantly seeking to be somewhere else can in any way have helped the league’s credibility.
The marketeers do have some statistical evidence to support their claims. Every time the Galaxy played a road game, the attendance went up by several thousand. A clear “Beckham effect,” and an impressive one. Until one asks a few questions. Do any of those “extra” spectators return? Do any of them become fans? If they are, as one suspects, merely celebrity fans, are they even likely to return? Do they matter at all?
More to the point, would Beckham have done anything on the field to excite them? Having seen most of Beckham’s MLS games, I can answer that last question quite easily, with a firm “No.” Beckham’s memorable playing moments were few and far between.
During Beckham’s first four years with the team, the Galaxy accomplished nothing. The team did manage to reach the MLS Cup final in 2009, losing to Real Salt Lake. In that game, Beckham distinguished himself with a cynically ugly first-half foul that put RSL’s key player, Javier Morales, out of the game
Finally, last year, Beckham played a pretty complete season with the Galaxy and the team won MLS Cup. Which more or less wiped out four years of pathetic performances. Beckham had “led” the Galaxy to its triumph.
And what sort of a triumph are we talking about? A defensive one, actually. A season in which the Galaxy topped the league as the most defensive team, conceding only 0.82 goals per game. It was also a season in which Beckham finished equal-top in the “most yellow cards” category. A season in which the Galaxy had no fewer than eleven 1-0 wins. Whatever the Galaxy team was, whether or not it was Beckham-inspired, it was not an exciting team to watch.
Four threadbare years . . . until we arrive at 2011. Then Bruce Arena tells us: “I felt that he [Beckham] was one of the best players in all of MLS last season and we could not have achieved the success that we did without him.” Eh? He’s talking about the most highly paid and the most extravagantly promoted player in MLS history and he only “feels” that Beckham was “one of the best” players in the league? Does that sound right?
But the Beckham camp is quite unabashed by the exaggerations and the misrepresentations that it spouts. For sheer gall, this -- from Beckham’s manager Simon Fuller -- is in a class of its own:
“When David and I discussed making the move from Real Madrid to the LA Galaxy back in 2007, our minds were firmly focused on the massive opportunity of helping to grow soccer in the United States.”
Right, Simon, and the contractual details, of course, were just a minor side issue. Elaborating on his theme of St. David as the dominant force in American soccer, Fuller then goes on to tell us that “we” -- he means himself and Beckham -- “have made great progress over the past five years in raising the profile of soccer domestically and the MLS on a worldwide stage ...”
Did I miss something here -- like David leaping up to wave a Galaxy scarf at the royal wedding? And all that effort he put into promoting England’s World Cup bid -- I suppose that was really undercover work for the USA’s bid? Of course, there was that now-forgotten attempt to raise the caliber of American players by setting up a money-making David Beckham Academy, but that soon went under.
What we have seen over the past five years is far too much of David Beckham the celebrity, accompanied by all the b/s that such status thrives on. That has sent the marketeers into orbit. What we have seen very little of is David Beckham the superstar soccer player, or even just Beckham the star. Something that the marketeers don’t really care about. But it’s getting awfully late in the day for Beckham, in a playing sense, to turn it on.
Simon Fuller, trying to sound patriotically pro-American, but coming over merely as crass, informs us that Beckham’s re-signing with the Galaxy “confirms our commitment to continuing our journey and making sure the world’s biggest sport, soccer, continues to grow in the world’s most passionate sports loving nation, the USA.”
Maybe. Maybe it’s not too late for Beckham to display some signs of a true interest in American soccer. That will not come from Beckham the celebrity. But Beckham does not make a totally convincing celebrity, he does not seem at ease in the synthetic glamour of showbiz.
Somewhere among that all that glitz the real Beckham survives. Beckham the player, still with the heart of the young boy from East London who fell in love with the sport and who rose to be captain of England. Only that David Beckham can give genuine help to American soccer.