The Los Angeles Galaxy are among the worst run football clubs anywhere on the planet and among the worst run professional sports franchise in the United States. So it should come as no surprise to those of us that follow Major League Soccer that David Beckham’s arrival stateside has been fiasco. The Galaxy bought a player solely for marketing purposes and then tried to build a football club around a marketing tool and thus gutted the perfectly decent set up they previously had at the Home Depot Center. The generosity of the Galaxy management has allowed several other MLS teams to acquire quality footballers for a the equivalent in some cases of a 2 litre bottle of Coca Cola. This has made the 2007 Galaxy among the most uncompetitive squads in the 12 year history of MLS. At the very same time the little sister who pays rent to the Galaxy to share their stadium is currently sitting 27 points ahead of their landlords.
The treatment of David Beckham by the Galaxy has brought Major League Soccer as well as football in the United States in general into complete disrepute across the Atlantic. As Times columnist Martin Samuel noted last month, ” We did not expect his (Beckham’s) new employers to not have any respect for his health or general welfare.” This statement is very poignant. Beckham’s new club for better or for worse is being judged as an outfit set on exploiting the world’s most famous footballer for financial gain. Again whether this is true or not can be bitterly debated but what is true is that perception across the Atlantic where MLS needs to improve its reputation is that the team and league have taken a careless attitude towards protecting England’s precious commodity David Beckham. If MLS is perceived to have destroyed Beckham’s career through the football equivalent of medical malpractice (ie. putting a half fit player on a pitch on a steamy summer evening and forcing him to play 90 minutes) surely no more players of stature or for that matter those who care about their own bodies will gravitate to Major League Soccer from the British Isles. Perception is reality and judging by the British press, not only is MLS judged a substandard division when even compared to the lower rungs of the Football League in England, but now it is being judged by Samuel and others to have deliberately sabotaged a player’s well being for financial gain, thus reinforcing (again rightly or wrongly) the perception many Europeans have of American corporations and society to begin with. Now the fact that Real Madrid conducted much the same sort of charade with Beckham, exploiting him for marketing and public relations purposes seems to have been lost on many across the pond despite the very open criticism by none other than Galactico Roberto Carlos himself of Real’s handling of Beckham. After all Real Madrid is one of the most popular football clubs anywhere, and the LA Galaxy is well, the worst team in a bad league played over the summer months when Footballers of any stature are on holiday in the South of France. (again the perception of many in Europe)
If MLS wants to continue to be a player on the world market they must resolve this issue with a favorable conclusion for the player. Beckham has repeatedly stated that he wants the opportunity to play for England in Euro 2008. That opportunity no doubt will not be afforded to him if continues to appear in a suit on in the press box at the Home Depot Center laughing it up with his fellow Galaxy walking wounded while his adopted club gets shelled on the pitch. Beckham’s legendary professionalism and his international career will both go up in a blaze of fire if he persists in Los Angeles. Even though Beckham says the right things publicly, it is obvious the circus around his arrival, the poor state of his club and the overall quality of the league in general caught him completely by surprise. The Galaxy had six months between signing Beckham and his arrival to improve its club and to prepare a world class player for the challenge that awaited him in the states, but were too busy trying to schedule out of the way friendlies and sell more tickets in order to exploit Beckham’s arrival to the highest degree rather than working on the very things that could have made the long term marriage between the two parties successful over time.
Bad marriages should end before the bitterness that’s bound to set in overcomes any rational thought or behavior on either side. What is obvious whether you believe Major League Soccer is unfairly maligned in the British press (as I do) or feel MLS is no better than League Two or Serie C as many of our readers believe, the coexistence of both camps is impossible. For someone like David Beckham it is unfair for his career to be hijacked by the prejudices of some back home and the negligence his current club is showing in enhancing its on the field product so that Becks does not feel he needs to tackle an opponent on a bad ankle, simply because nobody else on his bottom of the league club gives a hoot. It is unfair to Beckham, unfair to England and unfair to his Galaxy teammates to keep this circus going. For Beckham, one last bite at the England apple will be the appropriate send off for his hard work and his great career. One more chance at glory, one more chance to make a long suffering nation scream with joy when Becks and his mates lifts the Euro 2008 trophy. Beckham will only get that opportunity if allowed to play for a Premier League club again this season.
This can only happen if the Galaxy transfer list Beckham and thank him publicly for the professionalism he has shown throughout this sorry ordeal and thank him for the spike in attendance and increased shirt sales he has brought across the nation. It is unquestionably football malpractice to hold someone on a club and knowingly hurt his career in the process. While Chelsea may be guilty of this with Michael Ballack, they are Chelsea and have a little more credibility built up through decades of footballing prowess than MLS or the Galaxy. Moreover, the Galaxy has problems of a great nature that cannot be fixed under the microscope the club currently finds itself under. For the sake of the club they should cut ties with Beckham and hope to get a decent return on their investment in the transfer market.
MLS has a clear blueprint for the future which need not involve Beckham or any other highly priced European player. Despite the skepticism of the Euro press towards all things football on American soil, MLS has done a nice job in the last year of seperating itself from leagues that are rated similarly by objective football analysts. The signing of Australian A-League MVP Fred (who I must point out has had far from the impact on MLS than he did on the A-League), Cuahatomec Blanco the reigning Mexican League MVP and perhaps the nation’s most popular player over the past decade and Guille Baros Schelotto the most accomplished footballer from a silverware standpoint in the history of Argentina’s domestic league signal the intent of MLS to play a major role in buying the best talent Latin America has to offer. As Paul Gardner often states in Soccer America (and I am paraphrasing here) “US Soccer must turn its eyes south instead of across the Atlantic to truly capture the hearts and minds of fans across the nation.” Young starlets such a Richardino and Juan Toja who have represented their nations in the U-20 World Cup also have gravitated to MLS this year giving the league an easy retort to those who call it a retirement home for washed up and overpaid footballers.
Major League Soccer made an audacious attempt to try and win casual sports fans in the US who all too often have been prejudiced against the beautiful game by soccer hating (and often baiting) sports editors and writers. The long ball attempt failed miserably to bring MLS into the American sporting mainstream and has damaged the league’s credibility in the international football arena. But such a long ball need not have been thrown when the league’s quality of play and other interna
tional signings have proven to any objective observer that the league is on solid footing and here to stay.