Saturday, July 21, 2007

Beckham Is About Money, Not an Investment

Sports of The Times
July 22, 2007

Carson, Calif.

It took one injured ankle to demonstrate what a healthy economy we have here in North America. Great batches of money were already in the till from all those sold tickets and all those sold Beckham 23 jerseys before the great one ever took one whack at a soccer ball.

Master David Beckham was hoping to make one cameo hobble onto the field last night, if only to justify all those television cameras trucked in for the occasion of his debut with the Los Angeles Galaxy against the English power Chelsea.

Beckham’s inconvenient sprained ankle — sustained in his final glorious moments with Real Madrid — seemed to indicate what a dicey business it is to sign any athlete, since they have a tendency to get hurt.

In a way, though, it didn’t matter. People from Southern California to Toronto had already bought Beckham gear, lured by the whiff of some presumed glamour beyond talent, the same way Americans seem besotted by Paris Hilton, perhaps, or Donald Trump. We don’t know exactly what they produce, but it sounds exciting.

In Beckham’s case, he has come to the New World to demonstrate certain ball-thumping skills. He never was a Pelé, a Maradona, a Baggio, a Zidane, a Ronaldinho (you can fill in the blanks, probably for a good chunk of this space), but he has been a very good player, rejuvenated this past spring at 32.

Spending at least $32.5 million over five years on Beckham is not that much of an economic gamble, given the discretionary cash that people have already spent on him, but is his singular talent enough to transform Major League Soccer or, more specifically, the downtrodden Los Angeles Galaxy?

In its first 11 seasons, the league imported a few aging stars who didn’t have the sizzle of Beckham and his wife, Victoria, a k a Posh Spice, but who did have the credentials of world-level, Champions League performers in Europe, just like Beckham.

I am referring to the experimentation with Roberto Donadoni in the early days of the MetroStars, a team so bad that its name was mercifully changed to the Red Bulls under new ownership. Donadoni never turned out to be much of a gate attraction in the swamplands of New Jersey, but he was an Italian World Cup regular who theoretically could have been worth a goal here or there.

The selfless Donadoni used to receive the ball in the middle of what passed for the MetroStars’ offense. He would look left and hesitate at the wretched options on that side. Then he would look right and deliberate what calamity might occur if he swung the ball over in that direction. By that time, the moment had passed. Donadoni went back to Italy and is now the coach of the national team; there is, presumably, a moral to that story.

The same thing happened with glorious elders like Lothar Matthäus of Germany and Youri Djorkaeff of France, a couple of World Cup winners who came to the MetroStars and transformed nothing. Jürgen Klinsmann was the wise one. He lives in California, relatively anonymously, and he resisted the temptation to finish his playing career here, ultimately guiding Germany to a third-place finish in last year’s World Cup.

The New World is a nice place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to try being a savior.

Beckham doesn’t pass himself off as a savior, for that matter. If you want to ascribe to the Lady MacBeth theory, there is the possibility that the move to America was driven by Victoria Beckham’s ambition for her career and for them as a power couple. But let’s stick to footie, shall we?

The fact is, individual saviors don’t work in soccer. A bad basketball team can bring in a gunner and keep people vaguely entertained all winter, but there are precious few gunners in soccer.

Beckham may actually connect with a rocket or two from a free kick, when the ball is dead and everybody is watching the bloke with the golden hair and the Jordanian number on his jersey.

Beckham was also a brilliant passer with a live ball, when he had folks named Yorke and Giggs and van Nistelrooy up front for Manchester United. He could put the ball near the net, and they would meet up with it like seltzer meeting chocolate syrup.

Ah, soccer alchemy. The old Cosmos had it because they had achieved critical mass with elders at virtually every position — Pelé, Carlos Alberto, Franz Beckenbauer, Giorgio Chinaglia, Wim Rijsbergen. Those days are not coming back any time soon. M.L.S. was tottering along nicely with a low-budget plan, but it needed something different. Maybe the ticket money and the jersey money will bring in a striker who knows what to do with a Beckham parabola, if and when the ankle heals, that is.



Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home


Web Site Hit Counters
High Speed Internet Services