Will David Beckham save MLS?


By Alun Thomas


    In the 12-year history of Major League Soccer there has certainly not been a bigger story than that of the Los Angeles Galaxy's signing of England's David Beckham recently, the five year deal reportedly worth a staggering $250 million, which is second only to the once ludicrous Alex Rodriguez deal of 2000 of $252 million. For the MLS this is to them the coup of all soccer coups, capturing in their eyes the most recognizable player in the world and one that they hope will bring the league the mainstream success it has never enjoyed. More so is Beckham's paparazzi image, which exceeds his onfield skills these days, to the point he will outearn his teammates five hundred to one. Somewhere along the way the MLS became caught in a timewarp. Beckham as a player is fading fast.

   There is little doubt that through much of the 90s and early part of this decade that Beckham was perhaps the most famous player in the world, up there with the Zidane's, Figo's and Ronaldo's of his day. I began watching Beckham back in the 1994/95 years, where as a teenage prodigy with Manchester United of England he rose to national prominence, becoming a glamour player, one with breathtaking skill, blessed with some of the most deadly dead ball accuracy in the world, free kick and passing wise. With Man Utd he won every honor possible, league titles,  domestic cups and the coveted European Cup in 1999. Married to Spice Girl Victoria, he was an English icon his every move fawned upon. But he left Man Utd in 2003 for Spain's Real Madrid, where in his four years he has yet to win a trophy, these days usually used as a substitute and after news breaking of the latest deal it is unlikely he will ever play for the club again this season.

  After reaching 30 in most sports you tend to slow down and Beckham is no exception. At the 2006 World Cup he seemed short of fitness and after England were knocked out his national team days were immediately over. Yet the US media reliably informed us he was still the best player in the world. In whose mind? Compared to Ronaldinho of Brazil, Beckham is yesterday’s news in soccer circles. But as the US public has no idea of anything soccer related generally they know no better. When interviewed about his transfer to the Galaxy the interviewer asked Beckham if he had talked to his 'friend' Tom Cruise about to handle the media onslaught of tinseltown. Beckham confirmed he had. How disgusting is that? Beckham seemed cagey when asked about the enormous sum of money and his declining career in Spain. He knows the score.

  The MLS will be banking on Beckham to draw crowds and appeal more to the national sports media. In the day after the news was made public ticket sales in LA soared and the impact was felt immediately. But if there's one thing I've come to understand from having lived in various countries it's that no outside sport can ever take the place of the traditionally accepted sports. Try as it might soccer will never rival the NFL, MLB or the NBA, not even a fraction. I've seen sports try and fail, and in 12 years the MLS is still a minority interest, barely mentioned on major sports shows. Beckham might generate huge coverage initially, but after a few weeks it will fade and the hacks will be back to the bloated baseball schedule.

  Not even I watch the MLS. Here and there I'll catch a glimpse, but with only 13 teams competing it seems futile to play 36 games a season just to eliminate five teams from the competition. Even I'd rather watch a meaningless game of baseball between the Cubs at 24-58 against some other no hoper like Pittsburgh. Beckham might be worth watching just to see if he still has anything to offer. But the questions will be asked. Did he come here for the money? Did he need an easier challenge because of his dwindling skill? Will his team resent his contract compared to their peanut contracts of a million dollars? We will never know. And that's quite alright. I make my own movies.