Since that January morning plenty has been written in the traditional media and the blogosphere about arguably the world's most famous, stress famous, athlete moving toward the end of his prime to the wasteland that is MLS. We've had about a million ex-NASLers and Britons saying Beckhs has made a mistake of 'Wild, Wild West' proportions. (Kevin Kline action star!)
We've had Galaxy GM (and guitar player) making ludicrous statements in the English press, almost on a daily basis. We've had media members that know nothing about soccer and grew up using the sport as a cheap punchline disregarding the signing with their typical myopic views.
We've heard from just about everyone except for Beckham himself, other than his affirmation of the move and his ad for Disney World as a (fey) dragon-fighting knight. His introduction to Los Angeles is Friday.
Before we delve into the meat of this post, there's one thing to keep in mind. When the Galaxy signed Beckham from Real Madrid -- NO BODY WANTED HIM. He had been dropped after the World Cup by England coach Steve McClaren and benched by Madrid coach Fabio Capello. The man they affectionately refer to in Merry Olde England as 'Golden Balls' was looking rather bronze. (No, not Victoria's perma-tan.)
Six months later, Beckham is considered the savior for England's Euro-2008 qualifying campaign. And Real Madrid sporting director Predrag Mijatović basically groveled in the bowels of the Bernabeau to find a way to cancel that Galaxy deal so he remain with the La Liga champions.
The big question remains -- will Beckham and his ex-Spice Girl wife capture the hearts and imagination of America like it did in Britain? All things considered the outright Beckham worship in England escapes me. Yes, Americans go ga-ga for celebs, but at the levels that 'Becks and Posh' were?
Suffice to say, nary an MLS player, outside maybe Internet-whipping boy Landon Donovan, could generate this sort of buzz. And with that buzz, we need to separate Beckham's into a few different categories. You almost have to separate Beckham the player, Beckham the man, Beckham the brand and Beckham the hype machine.
Yep, he's that special. So special that the trolls that normally wouldn't know MLS from MLS are taking notice, albeit derogatory notice. He's so special that the Galaxy threw away there logo and jersey design from the last decade for a new, Real-inspired duds (he gets a nice cut for all sold). He's so special that the normally Trotsky-esque league changed it's entire salary structure to accommodate him and his roughly $25 million (plus incentives) five-year deal.
Let's look at Beckham in a few different categories.
1. Beckham the player.
2. Beckham's impact on MLS off the field.
3. Beckham's impact on soccer in the media.
4. Beckham's impact on soccer in America.
Let's boogie. (Now might be the time to enjoy that aforementioned muffin.)
Beckham the player
This is the most cut-and-dried topic on the list. As evidenced by his inspired play down the stretch for Real Madrid, Beckham clearly has plenty left in the tank.
The right foot. That magical right clodhopper that has inspired movies, plays, musicals, shrines, cults, saved the world's children, etc. can still get the job done and is immediately 1,000,000 times better than just about anyone else in MLS.
Is Beckham one of the world's best players, currently? From a soup-to-nuts perspective, probably not. Yet he's a unique talent that can thrive given the right situation. For set pieces alone, he'll be useful. Then factor in his impact behind the scenes as a professional who's played for two of, if not the two biggest clubs in the worlds -- Manchester United and Real Madrid. You hope some of that rubs off on the younger players.
How much his play effects a team that sits in fifth (out of six) teams in the MLS Western Conference, is open to debate. How he connects with Donovan should be worth watching, too.
A bigger question, a question I've posed in the past -- how will the league protect Beckham? No doubt there must be a $11K per season player or two angling at a chance to make himself famous by a horror-two leg tackle on the $25-million-dollar-man. Think Jack McCall shooting Wild Bill Hickok in the back of the head on 'Deadwood.'
That said, if you think the NBA catered to Michael Jordan and it's stars, prepare to be disgusted. Beckham is going to get the red carpet treatment off the field, so he should get it on it. We'd collectively all better pray that MLS boss Don Garber doesn't try to pull the strings like David Stern and gerrymander it so the Galaxy get some extra breaks in their quest to make the playoffs.
Down the stretch of La Liga season Beckham earned a few dubious yellow cards, which he later appealed. Can't see that happening Stateside.
Overall, with the amount of truly 'world-class' players in MLS hovering around a dozen, the injection of a player like Becks is only a good thing.
People have doubted Beckham all his career. And for all that he lacks (speed), the guy has a knack for the dramatic and can rise to the occasion. Like most modern-day athletes, he thrives on people doubting him. Therefore, there's almost as much at stake for him to produce in MLS and not just take a sunny SoCal vacation than the league itself. Many people would like nothing more than him to fall flat on his face and that will push him every night in outposts like Columbus.
Will every game produce a moment like England v. Greece at Old Trafford? Unlikely, but as proven, you can't count out Beckham. Like all transcendent sportsmen, he can produce magic at any given moment.
If only we could hermetically seal Beckham in carbonite and keep him strictly to on-field duties then there would be no problems, no debates at all.
On-field, Beckham is a no brainer, a slam dunk.
Beckham's impact on MLS off the field
Quite simply, there isn't a player in the world that could have generated the buzz levels, the likes of which MLS has never seen, than Beckham.
No, he's not a Ronaldinho, Messi, etc.
Yet, he's a name. In fact for many years he was the name in international football. Forget that his best days are behind him this is the guy the league had to get if it were to even increase it's stature domestically and across the globe. Do you think the Galaxy are touring Asia, as they will shortly, without Beckham on the payroll? Even if its for the 'Bend it Like Beckham' film, most Americans have at least heard his name.
In an instant he legitimized the league.
It's a safe bet the amount of ink generated by Beckham's move to Los Angeles dwarfed what the foreign press had previously written about the league, however derisive.
Since Beckham's transfer a couple other lower profile internationals have taken the American plunge, such as Galaxy teammate Xavier, the Crew's Guillermo Barros Schelotto, Chicago's Cuauhtémoc Blanco, etc. Would these moves have happened pre-Beckham? Hard to say. It's safe to say that Beckham's move has decreased the stigma for some foreigners of playing in MLS, as in -- it's not a total wasteland.
For better or worse, Beckham has people talking MLS.
With any luck, the increase in attention will force MLS to consider some changes. Perhaps some of the things I outlined last year in my 'MLS Manifesto.'
Perhaps people will ask, why do eight of the league's 13 teams make the playoffs? Why unlike most of the world does the regular season count for anything? Why isn't there a hint of promotion/relegation? Why doesn't the league take a break during international competitions? Why do so many teams play with surfaces catering to gridiron football, lines and all? Etc.
For it's 12-year existence MLS has operated in the safety of having little, if any accountability to anyone outside its few rich sugar daddies. Finally, thanks to Beckham's arrival, the league will have to answer to some of it's backwater, insulated, American-isolationist ideas.
That's a great thing -- a high tide raises all ships.
Screaming 14-year-old girls preening for Beckham in a 1960s 'Ed Sullivan Show' redux ...well...
Beckham's impact on soccer in the media
Unlike Beckham and Posh, this is going to be ugly. U-G-L-Y. Sports Illustrated cover or not. (Hello slow sports week.)
Wait unlike Beckham comes to your town and your local columnist, a guy who doesn't know Kaka from the brown stuff in his toilet will trot out to the stadium (if he can find it), much on some press room vitals, moan about soccer to his press room chums and pen a column something like this.
"The great hope of American soccer, David Beckham, came to (INSERT YOUR TOWN HERE) last night. We've all been told for the last three decades that soccer is the sport of the future and how finally this Beckham character, he of the popstar wife, will change that. Sorry. Americans will never like a boring sport like soccer. Last night Beckham didn't bend it at all. He didn't even score. etc, etc."
Rinse. Lather. Repeat. Maybe give a half-handed credit to Jim Rome.
If I really wanted to, I could probably run a stupid, hackneyed soccer-bashing/Beckham column every day from here on out. Most of the mainstream media will treat Beckham's arrival with a mix of disdain, curiosity and typical arrogance and ignorance toward soccer. I'd even give out bonus points for writers that DON'T mention the words "Bend," "It," "Posh" or "Spice".
Meaningful, rational analysis will be left to the far too few journalists that 'get it.' You'd think that lo all these many years that we could see through the 'soccer sucks/soccer is boring' argument, yet that would mean writers and editors would have to stretch out of their comfort zone. So when you can merely file an the easy, 'soccer sucks and Beckham won't change that' column, add in the final score, hit send and keep munching on snacks, why bother with effort? Why be positive when it's so easy to be negative?
What are these American media types afraid of? Does Dick Young's 1970s, 'soccer is for communist' argument still hold water?
Part of me wonders, do sportswriters in China, bemoan the increased efforts of Major League Baseball trying to import baseball to the People's Republic?
You don't have to anoint soccer as great. Just treat it fairly, without potshots.
Meanwhile, there's the whole ESPN situation that is already making be sick. Why the network thinks that one player is going to spark interest in the entire league is debatable. You wonder if 'MLS Primetime Thursdays' would exist if not for the deluge of Beckham coming your way?
ESPN will teeter on very fine line for Beckham-burnout will an already less than receptive soccer-audience. Will they have a Pedro Gomez or Jim Gray assigned to Beckham like those two are joined at the hip with Barry Bonds and Kobe Bryant? (I nominate Ed Werder. 'Stache = comedy.)
And if the booth of Davey 'Doublechin' O'Brien, Tommy Smythe and Eric Wynalda was insufferable enough already. Wait until they insert Reggie Bush into the booth to hawk adiddas sneakers. (Let's hope O'Brien removes Beckham's member from his mouth before trying to talk.)
For Beckham's first match -- an exhibition with Chelsea -- they'll have isolation cameras on Beckham (ugh); a celebrity camera(double ugh), etc. Also there is a company mandate every fifth word must be 'Beckham'Can you say "Mute button"?
This sort of coverage might turn more people off that it attracts. It is against every fiber of ESPN's being to just present a sporting event without a million useless bells and whistles. Wasn't it a pleasure to watch the U-20 US game vs. Brasil last week on ESPN since the feed was dictated by FIFA and not Bristol?
It's a simple game! People can figure it out. There's constant action. It's not baseball. We don't need an avalanche of stats. Show the picture. Announce the names. Easy. Let the game breathe and speak for itself.
Nothing would be worse than pre-fabbed hype from the booth, especially if the game is shit. If Beckham is off his game, say so.
Another problem with the 'Worldwide Leader' is that none of their on air talent back in Bristol, Conn. has the foggiest idea about soccer. All we can hope for is they don't yell, 'Gooooooaaaaaaaaaaaaal'. (That's so 1990s.)
Considering outside the NHL, ESPN has about 50 talkers for every sport, the soccer-heads of Wynalda, Smythe and Allen Hopkins isn't enough. (If it weren't for his wee-Irish accent Smythe would be totally useless.) Bring on a Steven Goff from the Washington Post to talk on "PTI" or "Around the Horn", not the same schmuck go-to guys. Again, this goes back to treating the Xs-and-Os of a story, not the cheap heat.
Considering ESPN butchers every sport and makes watching a game on their network a trial in endurance, us soccer fans shouldn't complain too much.
As with everything, dealing with ESPN is a double-edged sword.
In the year 2007 American soccer fans can satisfy their appetite with the Internet, soccer-only cable channels, etc. Yet, far too many dimwitted mouth-breathers only know of the sporting world what the four-letter-word spoon feeds them. That's why it's infuriating that ESPN goes ga-ga over Beckham, yet barely mentions the United States National Team forays in the Gold Cup and Copa America.
Maybe that's part of the fun of enjoying soccer in America. You don't need to live under ESPN's media Iron Curtain. Hopefully Beckham doesn't change that.
Of course, aside from the normal sports media, Beckham and Posh Spice will find their ways into the 'People' magazines of the world due in no small part to their friendship with Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. The are part of the 'beautiful people' after all. Expect them to be a part of those supermarket glossys right away.
If this doesn't get the so-called 'soccer moms' to actually pay attention to the sport aside from driving little Connor to his game cutting up orange slices nothing will. Though they're more interested in Beckham's hair than the Galaxy's assumed 4-3-3 formation.
Not sure if that's a good thing.
It's a shame MLS almost has to prostitute itself to gain some kind of media spotlight. It's one thing to a cholesterol-stained sportswriter like Jay Mariotti to take swipes at Beckham and soccer in general. It's entirely something else when the Ryan Seacrest's of the world get in on the joke.
Selling your soul always comes with a price.
Too bad this is beyond Beckham's control. The media spotlight is stuck on him until he likely ends his time on earth. As for Posh -- yawn. I guess she's good looking and all, if you like 90-pound ex-popstars with hammered on fake tits.
And I think it's written somewhere. Somewhere in the back of the bible, maybe, that Victoria's upcoming NBC reality show might be the seventh sign of the apocalypse.
Beckham's impact on soccer in America
Let's face it, if Pele couldn't make America care about soccer, how can Beckham, right?
It doesn't matter.
It's not 1979 and MLS is not the NASL, which at one point had the US National Team as a team in the league. The infrastructure of stadiums and television deals and actual American players is in place. The MLS is solidly rooted in its firmly Stalin-esque stance that the league is a singular entity holding the player contracts, etc.
The MLS is here to stay, with or without Beckham.
Many misguided media members are already saying no one can make soccer popular in America, especially not a guy who -- in America -- is more famous for his hair and hair care products than his game. That's probably true.
Of course Beckham isn't going to make people care all that much about a midseason Wizards/Crew match, either. Nor is he going to replace the NFL as the preferred football. In short, it's not going to start a revolution.
But just think. Everywhere the Beckham tour goes should attract big crowds. Crowds, albeit of curiosity seekers, more than anything else.
Yet if in the crowd of say, 40,000 a thousand or so people come to the conclusion, "Hey, this MLS isn't as bas as I've heard. I actually had a good time. Maybe I'll come back next week." It might get some of those untold millions of kids that grow up paying god-forsaken AYSO soccer might consider to keep following soccer as they grow up like other sports.
Granted the majority of people that attend these games are the kind of people that think Michael Bay's 'Transformers' muck is better than 'Citizen Kane' might find the games, 'too boring' even with that impish English lad whipping free kicks around.
Acceptance and awareness are two different things.
So if just a few people's eyes are opened to the American version of the beautiful game (warts and all) then the mission will have been accomplished. You have to wonder though, will a guy like Beckham, a guy that talks in a soft, half-cockney and allows himself to be photographed like this, will resonate with America.
Despite the fact I've heard Cougar Mellancamp is a soccer fan, I doubt Chevy is making a new 'Our Country' advert with soccer featured because of Beckham any time soon. Well, maybe if he did it in Spanish for Univision.