By Rob Hughes
HEIGHT="280" ALT="Click here…" BORDER="0"></a>
The Beckhams are coming. David Beckham confirmed Thursday that his next club would be Los Angeles Galaxy.
He will leave Real Madrid for the United States in July. At 32, his
career as a serious soccer player will be traded for the role he
himself perceives as leading North America out of some kind of
backwater in the global game.
The Londoner, born the son of a kitchen fitter and a hairdresser, is
thus cast as the Pied Piper bringing out America’s children to follow
him in his game.
Anschutz Entertainment Group, which owns the Galaxy, does not deny
media speculation that the sum it will pay Beckham over five years on
this mission will exceed $250 million.
"I’m not going there for the money," Beckham insisted Thursday
evening. "I need another challenge — as simple as that. This challenge
came up. Soccer is huge everywhere apart from America, and it can go
higher there than anyone there can believe. I want to take it to that
At close to a million bucks a week, the paymaster might expect
Beckham to lead the United States out of the soccer wilderness. Timothy
Leiweke, the company president and chief executive officer certainly
did not waste the opportunity to embroider the subject.
"David Beckham will have a greater impact on soccer in America than
any other athlete has ever had on a sport globally," Leiweke said in a
statement. "David is truly the only individual that can build the bridge between soccer in America and the rest of the world."
The hyperbole needs addressing.
Beckham is leaving Madrid, not as a superstar, but as a marketing
phenomenon. Off the pitch, he has grown into the most recognizable icon
in his sport largely on account of his appeal, his looks, his marriage
to a pop star, and his carefully packaged image as the boy from working
class who made it to a lifestyle that became Hollywood even before he
moves his family to L.A.
Bully for him, because, in all the circus that surrounds him, D.B.
has remained remarkably untouched as a perfectly likable, if sometimes
vacuous, man who, indeed, is playing his game.
America might indeed warm to him. Soccer even might raise its game
in the land of NFL, baseball, basketball and hockey. But the danger
will be that, the more aspirational the sport becomes, the more the
audiences might see through him.
He is not, and never was, Pelé.
The United States has been this way before, hiring world class
players, Pelé and Franz Beckenabuer the jewels among them, in the New
York Cosmos team of the 1970s and early 1980s. They were beyond their
prime, but the best of the best in what Beckham correctly identifies as
the global game never quite got into the hearts of Americans.
If Pelé and his pals could not make the game cross that threshold
between child’s play and mass adult entertainment — and if the
successful World Cup tournament in 1994 in the United States could not
either — what price Beckham’s doing so?
His sudden decision to vacate Madrid for the Galaxy was rushed,
rather like a shotgun marriage, when Real let slip on Wednesday that
his time as a first team player was almost over. Last August, England
had come to the same conclusion and Beckham, six matches short of 100
caps for his national team, was dropped.
To be fair, it is hard to perform at any age, in any profession,
once you feel you have lost the respect of your bosses. The arrival as
Real Madrid manager of a pragmatic Italian coach, Fabio Capello,
effectively ended the indulgence of him within the Spanish club.
Capello needs to reverse a decline, the worst in Real’s last 50
years, in the team’s thirst for silverware. Beckham had been on a
fabulously winning team at Manchester United, but in four years in
Spain his image rights proved more successful than his effect as a
In Major League Soccer, he might get away with his relative lack of
movement; he remains an earnest, industrious performer, and he still
has an ability to guide a ball long distances with laser- like
precision. But on the ball he is far from hypnotic; he lacks speed and
grace; he does not command comparison in any way to Ronaldinho, to the
younger men Real is now signing in his place, to countless truly world
class pros in the world game.
In that respect, the statement that soccer intrigues the rest of the
world more than it does the United States, Beckham and Anschutz are
almost right. They share the view that his presence, and let us be
honest his groomed PR, will permanently take American manhood past the
point of resistance to soccer.
Where they are wrong is to suggest that the United States — or as
Beckham put it Thursday, the whole of North America — is the last big
frontier unconquered by soccer fever.
Even FIFA, the governing body of the game worldwide, acknowledges
that India, with its billion population, has never yet been lured to
share the infatuation.
After Hollywood, perhaps Bollywood for the iconic Mr. Beckham?
Meanwhile, he is expected to see out his contract, and play out his
role as a backup player to the Madrid players eclipsing his waning star
in the Bernabeu Stadium. His backers, Gillette, Pepsi, Adidas and now
Anschutz, will help him easily past the career total of half a billion
His wife, Victoria, always wanted to conquer America’s stage and to
be a neighbor of their friends, Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. The
Beckhams might have been destined to go to America — they wed on the
fourth of July, 1999, having already christened their four month old
There are now three Beckham boys, and recent reports that Victoria
Beckham was seen house hunting on the Los Angeles millionaires’ row
appear to have been borne out.
"Regrets? No, I’ve never had no regrets in my career or my life," concluded Beckham on Thursday. "I look for the new challenge."