Friday, January 12, 2007

Spend it like Beckham

David Beckham will leave Real Madrid and join Major League Soccer side LA Galaxy at the end of the season.

The 31-year-old former England captain will sign a five-year deal, reportedly worth £128m.

Not bad, eh? No longer wanted by England, no longer able to command a place in a top Spanish or English team, but still able to sign the most lucrative deal in football history and pick up $1 million a week. Possibly more, because apparently they’re also giving him a stake in the club. And his wife gets to hang about Hollywood looking for bit parts in second-rate movies.

I guess Americans are (briefly) now going to be hearing a lot of nonsense about the most famous sports player (everywhere else) in the world, so here’s the truth about him:

1) He’s no Pele. He was never a great footballer: he’s very good player with a unique speciality. Nonetheless he’ll stand out a mile in MLS.

2) His one-man effort against Greece, culminating in the 92nd minute free kick, to get England to the 2002 World Cup remains the single greatest individual performance by a footballer I have ever seen. Including Maradona for Argentina. But that was the peak of his career.

3) He won’t just be there to pick up the paycheck like those hasbeen stars in the 70s – he’ll be surprisingly aggressive on the pitch.

4) He’s a lovely man and is precisely as articulate as George W Bush.

5) LA Galaxy are about to sell a hell of a lot of merchandise in Japan.


Anonymous said...

Over the holidays I watched a pretty long and good documentary on the old North American Soccer League and the New York Cosmos. Talk about a real American triumph/tragedy. A filthy rich corporate magnate has a dream and throws millions upon millions at it, importing Pele, Frans what's-his-name, the Italian star nobody can stand and lots of others. Washington gets into the act and pressures Brazil diplomatically. Lots of sex and parties at Studio 54 and finally a TV contract. In a few short years they go from a few thousand around a garbage-filled field in the slums to sell-outs at Yankee Stadium--everybody is dying to see all the stars. But nobody is really teaching or learning anything about the game. Soon the fans get bored, the TV ratings plummett and sugar daddy faces a cash squeeze and shareholder revolt. The whole league, which was held together by the Cosmos pizzazz, collapses. Lock the doors and call in the trustees. Everybody involved blames everybody else involved. Nobody else seems to care much.

Moral: Don't throw out those wide ties.

Brit said...

I keep meaning to get hold of that film - it had a terrific write-up.

It will be interesting to see how it turns out for Beckham. If he can't conquer the USA, which is the final frontier for soccer, nobody can.

Pele, Franz Beckenbauer and George Best were the superstars of their time (and all more talented than Beckham) but even they didn't have anything like the 'brand' power that comes with Beckham.

One thing that will happen is that LA Galaxy will suddenly be able to command much more valuable international TV rights for their matches involving Beckham. Whether the additional interest and income will ultimately improve the overall quality of MLS remains to be seen.

Beckham said in an interview that his aim is to raise the profile and standards of US soccer. He already has a football academy over there. God knows why he'd want to - the last thing we need is the USA getting good at football.

Peter Burnet said...

Don't hold your breath. It doesn't matter much how many crazy fans attend games or how many young Americans are playing soccer. The name of the game is domestic TV contracts on major networks. Hockey is extremely popular in the northern States and has a limited, but passionate following elsewhere. The USA is a world hockey power. Disney made a memorable film about how they recovered national pride and purpose through hockey. But the NHL just can't land that elusive TV deal they have been seeking for years and keep nursing money-losing franchises. They won't stop seeking it, which is why they don't want any more Canadian teams and are always fooling around about franchises in unlikely places like Las Vegas.

You really have to have a sport in your personal and family bones to be a loyal TV fan of it. Despite how well established American hockey is, you frequently hear Americans complain they can't follow the puck on TV. (They put embarassing little blue electronic circles around it) Canadians really, truly don't have the slightest idea what their problem is. But then, not too many of us watch a lot of baseball outside the World Series.

Brit said...

I'm sure you're right. Indeed, I hope you're right. Not just because if America took football seriously it would probably end up winning every World Cup from here to eternity, but because America's quirky sporting isolationism is part of its charm.

(It's just a pity they feel the need to claim superiority for their odd pastimes by bashing everybody else's)

Peter Burnet said...

...says the Englishman.

Brit said...

Hey I've got nothing against baseball. It's absolutely the ideal alternative to cricket, for people whose intellects are, through no fault of their own, rather limited.

Likewise, American Football is perfect for sporty types who don't want to get hurt playing a game like rugby, which is too rough.

Basketball gives physical freaks a worthwhile occupation other than as circus acts.

And who can blame Canada for making the best of bad conditions with that amusing combination of ice dancing and all-in wrestling?

Hey Skipper said...

Until the outcome of a football match is no longer nearly a foregone conclusion at the first goal, football will continue to be a not even also-ran in the US.

M Ali said...

I made the comment to some hockey-loving Canadians that I don't see why the puck shouldn't be fluorescent orange and was nearly deafened by the howls of outrage. Ice hockey makes for great late-night viewing. I've got Ken Dryden's book on it on order. His essay on why goal-tenders are different is one of my favourite pieces on sports writing.

As for other American sports, steroidball isn't nearly as fun to watch or play as cricket and American football is as exciting as watching two sofas being rammed into each other. Pro wrestling is a marvellous blend of soap opera and athletics and probably ranks up there with jazz as a genuine cultural contribution.

Back to the topic at hand, I don't know how much of an effect he'll have. Fans tend to follow teams more than individuals. He'll sell a lot of merch but doubt the LA Galaxy will be any better off ten years from now.

Brit said...


That's a fair criticism to a degree, but only really applies to international football at the knock-out stages (which is pretty much the only football most Americans see), when teams with extremely good defences and deadly counter-attacking strikers play nervy, defensive football.

It certainly doesn't apply in English Premiership football, which is played at 100mph and is mostly all-out attack. I'll bet it doesn;t apply to MLS either.

Even at the last World Cup, where the knock-out games were mostly absolutely dire, the group league stages produced tons of goals and exciting games.

Brit said...

To illustrate that point: in the Premiership this weekend there were 10 games.

Not a single one of them finished 1-0 (which is presumably the scoreline that to you summarises the 'problem' with soccer, based on your watching of the World Cup.)

There was one game that finished 0-0 but otherwise all the games had 2 or more goals. The televised game yesterday, Tottenham Hotspur vs Newcastle United, finished 2-3, with Newcastle twice falling behind, and coming back to equalise then win.

International knockout football matches - ie. final stages the World Cup - are on average far less entertaining than day-to-day domestic games. This is because:

1) the teams have outstanding defensive players, but as attacking units they play together only rarely, so don't have the fluidity of club sides; but more importantly:

2) there is so much riding on it - ie. the eyes of the world are on you, and the entire nation (apart from the US) has invested its hopes in you. This isn't conducive to daredevil tactics. Fewer players are willing to be the one to make a mistake or take a risk. So when the first goal goes in, the leading side switches to 'defend at all costs' mode.

Hey Skipper said...

Slate has an opinion on this.

It seems pretty informed to someone who is completely uninformed.

Brit said...

That article is mostly accurate, I fear.

One glimmer of hope is the personality of Beckham. Yes, he's going for the money and yes, he's past his best as far as top-level football goes. But he's no coaster either - he will give maximum effort on the pitch. He's a team man and he inspires people.