Friday, July 13, 2007

Beckham arrives in America

So today the circus begins, as Victoria Beckham and Mr Spice, David Beckham and their three sons have landed in Los Angles to launch her acting, errr I mean David's footballing career for the Galaxy. There has been much written and discussed about what this will do for American soccer, for Beckham's image and for the fundamental essence of man kind. Okay maybe I am being a little too dramatic.....but here are some reasons for why this is will succeed and why this will fail:

Why Beckham coming to the Galaxy will be a success:

  • Beckham is the biggest ambassador for football, globally. According to Real Madrid his marketing image was worth close to 40m British Pounds a year while running around with the Galaticos. With soccer academies, Disney-esc movies "Bend it Like Beckham," his own line of gear within the Adidas family, B-movie model looks, the fact he is British (and therefore speaks some form of English), more hair styles that Paris Hilton DUIs and his amazing understanding of how to push his image to all corners of the world, Beckham is a global icon and the fact he can kick a soccer ball 40 yards and place it on a dime helps a bit. He understands the responsibility he has playing in the MLS and will do what is necessary to carry the torch for soccer. I must admit (something Brett point out) that Becks is the consummate professional. He plays hard and plays with emotion (he truly respects and understands the responsibility to wear the three lions). He accepts responsibilities for failure, how many captains took press conferences to announce he was stepping down as national team captain and how he was responsible for England crashing out of the World Cup. He also never threw mud after SAF ran him out of Manchester United. His professionalism, dynamism and his brand name, by itself, is strong enough to attract a few more of the casual fans to the MLS and will raise the MLS exposure as well.
  • Soccer has strong roots, finally, in the US. Unlike the NASL, soccer today has changed drastically since the days of Pele, Best, Cruyff, the Cosmos, the Sockers and the Aztecs. With the rise of youth soccer, the increase Latino immigrants, the increased visibility and success for both men and women's national teams, and the explosion of soccer on cable (GolTV, Fox Soccer, ESPN Deportes), soccer has become more main stream and more accepted by the sporting fan. The MLS already has a decent following and has survived over a decade, adding Beckham will give some star power but the league's very existence is not dependent on him. Both Brett and Sam, in prior email exchanges, point out that the "soccer haters" have started to look a little passe.
  • Beckham is not washed up and will bring a different element to the Galaxy. This is not Youri Djorkaeff or Lothar Matthaus coming when they really should have been retired. Beckham, while past his prime, remains a serviceable player. He brings one element that has become tantamount to the success of modern soccer teams - dead ball abilities. That by itself will improve the play of the Galaxy from day 1.
Why Beckham coming to the Galaxy will be a failure:
  • Overblown hype and expectations can only lead to failure: Beckham is on the cover of Sports Illustrated, every step he takes in LA is already being tracked, Alexi Lalas is flapping his jaws about how the MLS is on par with the Prem, and writers galore are talking about this taking the MLS to the next level. I even heard a talking head on ESPN 2 this morning state that Beckham is the "best finisher of all times." WHAT???? ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Beckham has a grand total of 94 goals for club and country over 482 games....for a 0.195 goals per game average. Maybe ESPN should dig into their achieves to watch a certain Gerd Muller from West Germany. Das Bomber averaged well over a goal per game for both club and country - 595 total goals in 511 games. He scored 68 goals in 62 games for his national team! Even my "favorite" Landon Donovan is a better finisher - 0.388 goals per game, 94 total goals in 242 games. With ridiculous statements and overblown expectations heaped on his shoulders, how can Beckham live up to these expectations? The BBC this morning had a great statement, and I paraphrase - when you elevate someone to the level of the Messiah before he has even stepped foot on the pitch there is only one way to go.
  • Being played out of position and a poor supporting cast will limit his effectiveness. The geniuses that are Galaxy management want to have Beckham play in the middle of the park rather than his preferred right sided midfielder. Hmmmmmm how smart is that.....Beckham has been slotted there on other teams with limited success, and that was when he was closer to his prime. His game hinges on his ability to whip crosses in from the right side and leverage his right foot on dead ball situations. However he is not a maestro with the ball at his feet dribbling and distributing the ball much like Riquelme, Figo, Kaka and Zidane, who are true #10s. The Galaxy need to realize that Beckham's soccer abilities have always been over matched by his public image. Becks was never the fastest, strongest, or most talented player on the pitch. But he was always surrounded by incredible talent (for Manchester United, Real Madrid and England) - Cantona, Scholes, Yorke, Andy Cole, Keane, Giggs, Owen, Shearer, Zidane, Van Nistelrooy, Raul, Robinho to name a few. He was perfect with such players around him. He was not given too many defensive responsibilities, allowing folks like Keane to do the dirty work, he was not asked to manage the center of the park, allowing players such as Scholes and Zidane do that, and he was not asked to be responsible to burden too much scoring, allowing Cantona, Owen, Shearer, Van Nistelrooy, Cole, Yorke etc to do that work. Who does he have in LA to fill in those responsibilities? Additionally, according to Alexi Lalas, the MLS is a small notch below the Prem so without the other parts Beckham may flounder on an isolated island with no one to latch on to his crosses or passes and no one protecting him from vicious tackles.
  • Speaking of vicious tackles, he will have a HUGE bullseye on his back. He is coming into the league with so much hype that it is unquestionable that every fullback looking to make a name for himself will go out of their way to "stop" Becks. On top of which he will be slotted in the middle of the park, when he plays his usual right midfield role he can always know that he has one side protected by the sideline. Beckham is carrying such a large "soccer flag" that every move he makes on the pitch will be noticed, analyzed and dissected. Meaning ever player that is scraping by in the MLS on minimum wage will want to show everyone that they can stop one of the world's "best."
So will it be a failure or success? I think it will be somewhere in between, how is that for a cop-out?? It will be a failure if the moronic pundits and idiotic Galaxy GM don't curb their over hyping of the move. As Beckham says, if folks expect the first time he steps on the field that the Galaxy wins 10 - 0 then he will be a failure....but again it is about expectations.

If expectations are "normal" than he will be a success. Beckham will elevate the exposure of the MLS, just by stepping on the pitch, he will also make the Galaxy a better team, assuming at some point he is used more on the right. However his impact must not be measured by goals scored...otherwise Angel would be deemed a better investment with Red Bull. Beckham has already impacted the world of US soccer by having it become front page news and ESPN et al have already recognized the value of carrying MLS games on their broadcasts. Sportscenter has already included more high lights of MLS. So Beckham's impact has already had an impact on the coverage, so I do not expect a huge long term jump in the attendance at MLS games nor viewership, short term yes, for Galaxy games.

We should not expect Beckham to elevate soccer to the levels of baseball or the NFL, however if we expect him to solidify the place soccer has in America than the move is a success. I do not believe that soccer has become the 4th major sport in the US, I think it is a second tier sport. First tier - NFL, Baseball and NASCAR (trust me, admitting that NASCAR is Tier 1 is painful). I would state that the NBA has slide to First Tier A, along with college football and basketball. The second tiers sports - MLS, NHL (the move to VS is indicative of that), Golf, Ultimate Fighting. Second tier are sports are similar to Hillary Clinton, they have some devoted followers that are large enough not to be considered the lunatic fringe but also have a large "anti-" camp that is just as strong.

I will be interested to see how this plays out. As Sam and Brett stated, it will make me watch a few MLS games...but once the European leagues start again I will be devoted again to watching TV5, FoxSoccer and GolTV.

Good luck Mr Spice, tape up those ankles tight, wear some good shin guards and make sure your wife has a good agent cause we all suspect that the move to LA was as much about her "acting" career as your being an ambassador for soccer. Oh, and please avoid becoming a scientologist nut job like your buddy Tom Cruise......

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