Saturday 31 January ~
This is the sign fans in the United Sates have long been waiting for that soccer really has “arrived” in their country: just like their European counterparts, they are all heartily sick of hearing the name David Beckham. The Los Angeles Galaxy are still convinced that their ageing right-sided midfielder is coming back for at least another season. “I had a good, straightforward conversation with him before he left and he loves it in LA,” said Galaxy boss Tim Leiweke this week. Beckham “has no interest in going. We have a contract, we have a handshake, his kids go to school here, end of story. There is no story. He's going to return to the Galaxy.”
And his coach Bruce Arena echoed the club’s stance that Beckham will absolutely be returning to California at the end of his loan period in Milan on March 8 to prepare for the new season. They have a deal, see, and an English gentleman would never break his word, would he?
Unfortunately for the club, when it comes to their No 23 the Galaxy is usually the last to hear what’s going on, and all the other voices point to Beckham Inc’s departure. Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber has said the league is ready to talk with Milan about a transfer (all MLS contracts are centrally negotiated). Milan want him, and the player’s agent has landed in northern Italy for talks. Beckham has been purring about how “special” Milan is and how great it is to play at a big rich European club again instead of the “frustrating” Galaxy. His situation is similar to an internationally famous football player, say, running back to his internationally famous pop star wife after having a fling with his personal assistant. And with one charming smile, the man with the golden gonads asked for forgiveness and was welcomed again into the company of the rich and (arguably) beautiful elite, where he truly belonged.
If they are wise, MLS will just let him go. The league got its global publicity and extra shirt and ticket bucks out of signing him, but the severe salary and talent restrictions of building a team around a world-class player have proven impossible to overcome. Coach Ruud Gullit, clueless as to the machinations of forming a team without a fat cheque book, and general manager Alexi Lalas, the man who famously proclaimed that LA were a “superclub”, have long since gone. The anti-soccer journalists are crowing that yet again the game has failed to capture America’s imagination. The league that was steadily, cautiously growing took a giant step that it wasn’t ready for. But it’s not too late to turn back, yield some wisdom from the whole experience, and progress slowly and quietly, just as before. Even the most jaded fans and journalists will admit that it was probably worth a try.
“The American game is very young, I think it needs another ten years to reach an important level,” said Beckham this week. When he arrived 18 months ago on a five-year contract, he proclaimed that he was there precisely to help it reach that important level. “I’ve always looked for challenges in my career and something exciting in our life,” he pronounced the day that he was presented to the LA public. But he wasn’t up to either of his challenges – helping to turn college graduates and journeymen pros into a winning team, or dramatically conquering the global sport’s apparently last resistant frontier. In the latter case, despite the myriad handsome photographs and marketing campaigns, a nice free-kick and a goal from the halfway line were never going to be enough. Ian Plenderleith