Thursday, January 11, 2007

David Beckham coming to LA

In Madrid today, Real drew nil-nil with Real Betis in a dismal match in the Copa del Rey. Although Gago played better (a hopeful sign) there has been no obvious evidence that the biggest club in the word will be improving anytime soon. Things continue to look grim.

All of this is, of course, hardly news at all, as it has been dwarfed by other news from Madrid: that David Beckham has signed with the LA Galaxy. Since this website is dedicated to the American football fan, it is obvious this seismic turn of events deserves comment.

So what happened? Why did Beckham, the most famous football player in the world, sign with an MLS team? First and most obviously there is the money. Most media outlets are reporting that Beckham will be paid $250 million dollars over the next five year; it seems that is true, but it is not pure salary from the team. That money will include endorsement deals and other such sidelines. Still, that’s a lot of clams.

Beckham also is telling everyone that the decision was about building the sport of football here in the states. He correctly notes that soccer is the most often played sport by children here in the US, but by the time those kids have grown up, it is well behind the traditional American sports in popularity. Beckham will certainly give a boost to the MLS and to the game of soccer here in the states in general.

Aside from this, Beckham will have a number of other positives: he will become the face of both his franchise and league, and will have a guaranteed starting spot, something he did not have at Madrid. He will have many, many more commercial options available to make even more money. Presumably, as most cynics have noted, both he and his wife Victoria will love being in the constant spotlight and hanging around Hollywood low-lifes like Tom Cruise.

So why am I a little surprised by all of this? A few days ago, in an earlier column, I was still convinced there was a good chance Beckham would stay at my favorite club. Why?

Because as much as Beckham is a media whore, he is also a good guy and good footballer in every sense of the word. At one time, basically his last three years of so with Manchester and his first year or two with Real, Beckham was one of the best players in the world. He was also, as he is now, the most famous football player in the world. But through all of that he remained a good guy to have in the clubhouse, a guy who always trained hard and a guy who always cared out on the pitch. There are stories (see December’s FourFourTwo cover story on Madrid, for instance) that a lot of Madrid’s galacticos really didn’t train hard and didn’t care much what happened to the team. These were big names, genuine stars of the game. Beckham was never like that. He always played hard and always cared. He seemed to relish being part of massive clubs like Manchester and Madrid.

In a recent interview Beckham said that one of the things he least liked about Madrid was the lack of a team feeling; after training or a game, all the players would go their separate ways. Deep down, although Beckham always played hard for Madrid, I think he missed what it meant to play in England for a club like Manchester. Part of me seriously thought he would go back there, to another club, to catch again that feeling of being a star of English football. But I was wrong.

Obviously one of the most important factors in all of this was the fact that Beckham was not getting playing time for Madrid. Perhaps he was told flatly that this would not change in the future; I don’t know. One thing seems certain, however: if there was only a slim chance that he would ever play for England again after being dropped from the team this summer, slim just left town.

So what does this mean for American fans? Only good things, I believe. More publicity for the league; more big names from Europe coming over to play here; perhaps even a “big game” feeling when the Galaxy come to town. The MLS will be more visible on TV and in other medias. We’ll even get to see the most famous player in the world face our local sides once a year. It should be fun, although it will also probably be a little strange. I think Beckham belongs at a massive club; let’s see if he can turn the LA Galaxy into just that.

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