Why David Beckham Is A Fraud
This Sunday at the Home Depot Center in Carson, California, David Beckham and the Los Angeles Galaxy will take to the field to contest the 2011 Major League Soccer Cup Final against the Houston Dynamo. For commissioner Don Garber and for MLS this represents a potential crowning glory in what has been dubbed ‘The Beckham Experiment’, and for the man himself the chance to win his first piece of silverware in a galaxy shirt before riding off on a white horse back to Europe, his contract expired, and his contribution to American soccer declared a resounding success. For the average American sports fan Beckham’s departure means next to nothing, and for actual soccer fans the potential rewriting of history should Beckham and the Galaxy – who are Sunday’s heavy favorites – go on to lift the trophy would be the final insult in a long line since his arrival in 2006. As far as real fans are concerned, win or lose on Sunday, David Beckham is a fraud who has systematically made a mockery of MLS and his so-called commitment to it.
Brand Beckham and the enormous PR machine that drives it committed the cardinal sin in the American cultural landscape – they over promised and under delivered, and it started almost immediately. Following the legitimate coup of signing one of the sport’s biggest icons – for the princely sum of $32.5 over five years – the Beckham fever was infectious. Not since Pele had soccer in America garnered so much buzz, and finally American soccer had a bonafide global superstar (sorry, Landon Donovan) to market itself on the back of. Only, it was all a sham.
Beckham arrived hurt, having sustained a serious ankle injury during his final La Liga appearance for Spanish giants Real Madrid. Yet despite being full aware that Beckham would spend much of the 2006 season on the treatment table the MLS and Brand Beckham sold itself to tens of thousands of excited American sports fans as if the man would be playing every game and fans forked out for substantially jacked-up ticket prices based on that understanding.
But the product on the field was only supposed to be half of it. Beckham himself promised to revolutionize the sport in this country from the grass roots up in a tireless promotional campaign, which he would personally spearhead. Only, it never happened. Beckham did virtually no public appearances on behalf of MLS or the LA Galaxy, refusing every request for an interview with the likes of the Fox Soccer Channel and World Soccer Daily, instead choosing to go on the likes of Ellen and Good Morning America, not to promote MLS but Brand Beckham.
Now, if the disingenuousness extended to just one season plagued by injury then we would be more than happy to overlook it. Only, it has been systematic throughout Beckham’s time in the MLS. It’s fair to say that Beckham perhaps did not realize just what a world apart the MLS is from big time European soccer in terms of its quality and its infrastructure (the average salary from a freshman MLS player is ~$17,000 per-year and many of them work a part-time job on the side). Almost immediately following the panning of his wife’s NBC television special his interest noticeably began to wane.
What became quickly apparent is that the only thing that still motives David Beckham is breaking Peter Shilton’s all-time appearance record for the English national team. The relentless pursuit of this goal (as it stands he is currently eight appearances short) has seen Beckham miss game after game of regular season MLS games – games which he is paid $6.5 million per year to play in – to fly around the world for five and six minute cameos for his national team (which still count towards the total) in meaningless friendlies. It is for this reason that Beckham insisted on playing in Milan during the MLS off-season – absolute madness for a player of his age – during which time he ruptured his Achilles tendon causing him to miss most of the 2010 season.
But perhaps the biggest insults came earlier this year in a one-two combo that illustrated beyond a shadow of a doubt exactly what David Beckham thinks of playing for the LA Galaxy in the MLS – virtually nothing. First came the royal wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton that David Beckham missed the regular season game between the Galaxy and FC Dallas so that he could attend. Second, and far, far worse, was Beckham’s insistence that he miss yet another scheduled regular season game to play in former teammate Gary Neville’s testimonial match to celebrate his retirement from Manchester United.
This meaningless showcase, according to Beckham anyway, was more important that his obligation to the team that is paying him a small fortune for the privilege of playing the game that he supposedly loves so much. The one thing Beckham’s defenders – and they are legion, nowhere more so that in England where the man is a national hero – will always tell you that the thing that distinguishes David Beckham is his unrelenting commitment and his professionalism. Well, sorry, but we don’t see it. What we see is a man who cares more about his international legacy that the team for which he plays. What we see is his LA academy – a cornerstone of his efforts to promote soccer in America – closed in 2009. What we see is a man who has, in all honesty, perhaps set soccer back in this country by a decade with the diminishing returns of his bare-minimum-to-get-by attitude towards it. Thank you for nothing, David, and goodbye. The tragedy being, of course, you already left a long time ago.