Only Beckham the player can help U.S. soccer

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.

22 comments about "Only Beckham the player can help U.S. soccer".
  1. Rick Kurianowicz, January 19, 2012 at 7:05 p.m.

    Superman I could not agree more. Obviously Mr. Gardner does not like Beckham at all for one reason or another. Bottom line is Beckham the Man and the name brought credibility to MLS soccer. Players have come from Europe because he came here. His kids are in the American youth system playing. He has been a solid ambassador for US soccer.
    Injuries do make it very tough to play at your best which explains the early years here. When healthy he has more than proved his worth. The assist leader last year along with the pinpoint passes and free kicks, not too bad at all !. You had another Club willing to pay 1 million dollars a month and Beckham passed on that to stay in the US with his family and play for the Galaxy. Not sure what type of point you are trying to make.
    So because he had legitimate offers from major international clubs at outrageous dollars you don’t think he deserved the time to consider all his options? What world are you from buddy ?? Did he play the full season? Yes. Did he negatively impact the Galaxy while going through his evaluation process? NO ! Did he miss a game? NO… what’s your deal Paul Gardner???

  2. Millwall America, January 19, 2012 at 7:46 p.m.

    Wow. Aside from his pointless quest to make every team in the world play like Barcelona, I usually like PG's columns as he usually has some interesting things to say about the game. But this piece is so bitter and cynical I can only assume that in the past Beckham stole his girl or ran over his dog. Paul asks to see more of "the young boy from East London who rose to be captain of England" but then sneers at Beckham when he takes a break from Galaxy to play for England! He asks to see more of "Beckham the player" but won't acknowledge that David just turned down vast sums of money from PSG because at Galaxy he would *play*, while at PSG his job would be to sell shirts and sit the bench. Sorry Paul, but this column really isn't fair.

  3. Joe Balogh, January 19, 2012 at 8:10 p.m.

    paul, you sound absolutly psychotic in this article. What did he reject you from an autograph? grow up, he just made a huge decisions from PSG and even a loan to tottenham. If you stand for the kind of people supporting the MLS, he should leave, and you should be unemployed. Soccer America is stupid for paying you as i have never read an article from you where you dont rant in jealousy of of big name players. Piss off mate!Beckham is the reason the MLS is talked about at all. If he hadn't come here, matches would have been the sameas when half the stadium was empty. Aso the new teams joins is because of the growth and thats because Beckham decided to be the Biggest transfer ever to the MLS. You writing articles like this makes everyone think you know nothing about soccer, and i dont think you do.

  4. Derek Dunmire, January 19, 2012 at 9:51 p.m.

    YOU ARE SUCH A NEGATIVE PERSON. Why isn't it enough that we now have the caliber or even superstar status of the likes of Beckham and Henry. Beckham's introduction opened the doors to other superstars coming to the league....Ballack, Raul, Drogba, Ronaldinho, and maybe a return of Zidane. Granted these are older players, but they are the premier players in the world so what does it matter. Stop trying to ruin the MLS and American game by being so negative. Instead, try supporting the growth of soccer in the US that has occurred in the past 5-8 years. You're an older man, so why don't you finally grow up!!!

  5. Derek Dunmire, January 19, 2012 at 9:58 p.m.

    Also why don't you ever respond to our comments

  6. Mark Zimmerman, January 19, 2012 at 11:03 p.m.

    Gotta gargle after this bitter rant.

  7. jordao jordao, January 20, 2012 at 12:05 a.m.

    Ha ha ha, seems everyone here has my sentiments ... geez, Paul, guess you needed your dose of responses... to know someone was reading? 'Got Low Ratings?'
    Maybe you need an anti-UK (your momma, i.e. bite-the-hand-that-feeds-you, btw) rant article to get people to notice your pretty voice? Gawd, to hear North Americans do soccer commentaries on TV, it's hilarious! And I am one!
    I didn't even want to read the whole thing after the first paragraph.
    Once again, you have gotten your head so buried into your anal UK-bash, that you failed to notice you had gotten off the toilet and it was spurting everywhere.
    As Derek says, "Grow up", you old turd.
    Did you gurgitate this kind of stupidity when Pelé tried to lift US soccer in 1975? For that move, millions of Brasilians hated him.
    You think David WANTS to be here? You obviously have not lived anywhere else but in your own little cowardly shell. (i.e. respond to your critics.)
    I'm tired of you. I will be with Derek, Rick, Ric and all the others that didn't bother to post on this stupid column, that will likely sign off of this column... I'm getting as old as you, I think, need to think of my heart, you have one, don't you?
    Guess this crap is what keeps you employed.

  8. Roger Martin, January 20, 2012 at 1:03 a.m.

    Are you guys kidding me. You must all be part of the Beckham PR machine. Mr. Gardner didn't point out anything that wasn't true. When he first got here it was like he realized he had made a terrible mistake. He was never coming here to advance soccer in America. To do that you would have to stay here, maybe play here. Not run off to Italy at your first and second chances. If he was so interested in growing American soccer why would he extend his loan deal? He missed a game with Dallas to go to the Royal Wedding! Then another game to go to Gary Neville's testimonial. And he's the marquee player of our league? If the Galaxy where to have a testimonial for David Beckham next week do you think Sir Alex would let Ryan Giggs come to the game? Hell no! No Mr. Gardner got it right. Even with his last statement, referencing the Beckham the player. That's who I hope we will see the next two years. That's who I hoped would of showed up 5 years ago!

  9. Chris Lynch, January 20, 2012 at 2:49 a.m.

    I'm glad he plays here still. Sure, there are some American fans who are angry about the various problems created by Beckham's celebrity status. Things like going to Milan, only to get injured, and a few other things. But, I think it's been overall positive.

    Henry and Angel might have not come over had Beckham never signed for the Galaxy. I think he's helped put MLS on the world map.

    I do agree that this article is a little over the top in a negative way. What did he do? Score against your team?

    I hope his staying here helps grow the sport, even if the hype isn't as big as it was 5 years ago.

  10. Albert Harris, January 20, 2012 at 9:32 a.m.

    Let's see. 11 comments as I type this, 10 anti-Paul and pro-Becks and 1 the other way. About average whenever Paul takes on Mother Teresa,,excuse me, David Beckham. I do find that Chris makes a valid point in that Beckham being here does make it a more viable destination for players Henry and the like. In that sense, he has raised "awareness" of MLS. As far as credibility stands though, I have to agree with Paul. Waiting until your 5th year to play something resembling a full season hardly shows your commitment. I suspect this year will be more like the first 4 in that Backs will be "out and about" trying to make the UK Olympics squad and frustrating fans in other cities in the USA who might want to see him. My feeling on Beckham will probably always be that so far as MLS is concerned, he promised much more than he delivered. One man's opinion only of course.

  11. Brian Something, January 20, 2012 at 9:36 a.m.

    Disappointed Beckham is staying. The standard of the league has improved dramatically and yet all the media oxygen is on one full-time celebrity/part-time player. Any new media attention Beckham brings is not to the league, it’s to himself. As soon as he’s gone, the media’s gone. And this will be yet another year where he spends a good chunk of it in Europe (Olympics). I care about soccer, not about Beckham’s favorite brand of Kleenex or his tea with Wills & Kate. Look at ESPN’s pre-game show before last year’s MLS Cup. Watching it, you would’ve had no idea a team called Houston Dynamo had any involvement in the evening’s proceedings. I don’t hate Beckham. I hate how the soccer media has become one giant toadie for him. Glad Gardner’s the rare exception to not be dazzled by media hype and star power.

  12. Mj Lee, January 20, 2012 at 9:43 a.m.

    Paul Gardner, you are truly unwilling to open your eyes if you can't see how Beckham has raised MLS awareness. Before Becks, most Americans didn't even know we have a professional soccer league. And he is still one of the best players in MLS because NO ONE can free kick AND cross like he does. Could he play more, could he be more loyal to MLS? Sure. But ya know, he's soccer royalty, so the MLS has gotta take what it can get.

  13. Ben Lukas, January 20, 2012 at 10:24 a.m.

    "For unadulterated drivel you’ll have to look far and hard to find anything to beat the sheer hogwash" of the most recent Paul Gardner column.

  14. Kaoru Forbess, January 20, 2012 at 11:33 a.m.

    Mr Gardner, are you so completely cynical that you cannot comprehend that David Beckham's decision is based upon the reasons exactly as he describes them? He HAS contributed to the rising level of interest is soccer in America. His children ARE at an age where since of being settled in their environment is very important. He IS contributing to to the LA Galaxy's youth program and travels the country visiting other youth programs where access to players and role models at that level are non-existent. No telling who he has influenced--some athlete who otherwise would give up competitive sports because he is not 6'8"/210 and can dunk, or a power back or blazing reciever or can throw an oblong ball 70 yards on a tight rope. The list of Beckham's contributions go on and on. You just choose not to see them. Beckham's contribution on the field is his understanding of the game; his ability to put the ball on a dime; he sets the table for the rest of the team around him; he elevates the play of his teamates; he is the fuel for the engine. What more could you want? All good soccer teams have that one Beckham-type player or they are not good. You expose yourself as a totally cynical fool, totally incapable of seeing people for what they are, always perceiving and/or trying to creat some alterier motive in all that they do. I'll bet you even vote Democrat. You certainly have the jounalistic characteristics of the progressive left which dominates and passes for news reporting these days. Aparently, the idiology is filtering into the sports world as well.

  15. Carl Walther, January 20, 2012 at 11:50 a.m.

    I can't believe that so many Beckham groupies have bought into the very thing that Paul was discussing here. How many goals has Beckham scored, compared with the number of yellow cards he's gotten? These "fans" of his would have us believe that by simply walking onto the field US soccer is uplifted by Beckham's presence. What nonsense. His ego is bigger than all of L.A., and his sense of denial that he's 'over the hill' is just unbelievable. I was really hoping that he would go to France and have to deal with the mess they call soccer there.

  16. Gak Foodsource, January 20, 2012 at 4:49 p.m.

    I don't value notoriety as much as others, which is why I also don't value Beckham as much as others. I think the future of the league is in the soccer fans who watch EPL games on sunday and go to exhibition games in the summer, not the ones that go to a game one night because Becks is in town. Better development of players, and better coaching, will convert those fans. Signing over-the-hill players is not going to draw those fans in, and the past three years have not proven that signing over-the-hill players is going to help the league sign anything other than more over-the-hill players. We have the players here in the United States to create a very strong domestic league. We don't need Beckham. We need coaching and development. (unless Beckham can bring coaching and development, of course...)

  17. richard perez, January 20, 2012 at 8:39 p.m.

    I think you need more haterade...what a piece of S... article...your a total idiot

  18. beautiful game, January 20, 2012 at 9:40 p.m.

    Paul u are a bit overboard when it comes to Becks. One player means hardly anything unless there is chemistry on a squad; Becks has been a hustling playmaker most of his career and those 'talented' forwards who played with him, took advantage of his service; and that's how he fit in with the Galaxy, he made them better.

  19. Alex G. Sicre, January 22, 2012 at 1:32 p.m.

    Paul, been drinking that Koolaid again? "have a creme soda". You suck.

  20. Mark Edge, January 22, 2012 at 10:37 p.m.

    Is this what passes for soccer journalism in this country? Surely there must be more relevant subjects to discuss.

  21. Gak Foodsource, January 23, 2012 at 12:11 a.m.

    super, i disagree. Just because the guy I buy a magazine from now knows Beckham plays soccer in the US for this thing called MLS doesn't mean money if he doesnt go to games or buy a jersey. And why are you so concerned with money? we have plenty of it - US soccer had the means to find 250 million to hand Beckham upon arrival. We aren't hurting for money. We have fully funded, multi million dollar training facilities in California and Florida. Buying more Beckhams isn't going to improve the league as much as developing our own Beckhams would.

  22. Jack Niner, January 24, 2012 at 12:44 p.m.

    At what point do superstar athlete's become huckster's? The most recent being Brett Farve and his many retirements. I believe Beckham realized the sweet gig he's got in MLS allows him to maximize his last yrs earnings. I don't begrudge him one bit. I will forever see Beckham as he was in 2006/7 at Madrid - a fielder of great skill and vision who literally willed his team to the league title in spite of the tyrant Capello. Simply an amazing

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