David Beckham is the ultimate football ambassador and the ultimate competitor. But the reliance of his country and his club on him has led the not fully fit superstar to a breaking point which was obvious in the dying minutes of the Galaxy’s 3-0 LA derby loss to Chivas USA last night. David Beckham’s globe trotting is not unusual in the world of football, even though the English media seems to be unfamiliar with international footballers traveling great distances to play for their nation. This past February, Mexico called up 11 European based players for a midweek friendly versus the United States in Phoenix. For Nery Castillo, perhaps Mexico’s best player (who was then based in Greece but now plays in the Ukraine) that meant crossing eight times zones much like Beckham had to cross to return to Los Angeles. The difference of course was that Castillo was fully fit and was able to contribute to his club’s matches both weekends sandwiched around his Mexico action. (Of course Castillo also had to fly back to Greece following Mexico’s 2-0 loss to the US to play for his club that weekend.) But David Beckham is far from fully fit.
What I have learned this week sadly is that David Beckham is seemingly being exploited by the LA Galaxy for marketing purposes beyond anything that is reasonable to ask of a footballer, and that England and its national coach Steve McClaren have absolutely no respect nor consideration for MLS, or perhaps for any club side outside of England.
Even though David Beckham had a great match in this past Saturday’s epic loss to the Red Bulls at Giants Stadium, Frank Yallop and the Galaxy brass badly erred in allowing him to play 90 plus minutes on artificial turf. I have no doubt that the speed and intensity of that match adversely affected Beckham’s ability to represent his country and ultimately paint MLS in a positive light at Wembley in midweek. But even more criminal was Steve McClaren whose own precarious job status allowed him to conveniently forget Wednesday’s match was a friendly and that Beckham was not fully fit. McClaren’s decision to play Beckham 90 minutes when he clearly protected other less than fully fit players who happen to play their club football in England was a smack in the face to Major League Soccer. The media outcry in London this week also once again demonstrated that the English seem to not realize that players from the USA, Mexico and other nations of the America’s as well as much of Asia and Africa fly great distances constantly to play for their nation.
But what was even worse than McClaren’s blunder at midweek was Alexi Lalas and Frank Yallop allowing a clearly jet lagged David Beckham and Landon Donovan (who flew back from the US match in Sweden, even further than London) to suit up for Thursday Night’s Honda Superclassico versus cross stadium rivals Chivas USA. This one is more on Lalas because he has been outspoken publically about declaring matches against Chivas more important than regular MLS matches and used terms resembling an over obsessed mad man when describing the SuperClassico and his hatred of Chivas. So the pressure was on both Beckham and Donovan to race back to LA to face Chivas. Perhaps in a bit of gamesmanship or perhaps simply because he was coaching his team the right way, US Manager Bob Bradley, who of course is a former Chivas USA boss did not take Donovan off the pitch of the US game at halftime even though rumor has it that the Galaxy had requested it. Whatever the case Donovan entered the Superclassico game in the 58th minute, when he should have replaced a clearly spent Beckham but he did not. In fact Beckham played his second full 90 minutes in as many days, eight time zones away from the other. By matches end, Beckham looked about to pass out and couldn’t even push forward to take a corner in the dying moments of the 3-0 humiliation for the Galaxy.