He was supposed to change MLS and soccer in America forever. David Beckham’s signing in January 2007 with the LA Galaxy was supposed to elevate his new club and by extension its league to heights never experienced before. Eighteen months later all parties (except AEG, the Galaxy’s owners who have made a killing off the Beckham name) must ponder whether it was really worthwhile.
David Beckham is a true footballer and a class act. Like most English footballers his work rate is exceptional and his understanding of true football is commendable. The truth is a footballer of Beckham’s stature deserves better than the LA Galaxy or what MLS has become thanks to his presence. It is ironic that on this day when we ponder the massive overhaul of Beckham’s team, that the two dominant forces in MLS remain the two sides that have lived within their means and have promoted continuity over flamboyance and mass marketing: Those two sides, Houston and New England should be held up as examples of what MLS was at one time and should return to once the league returns to its senses. The continued of presence of Designated Players and signings of overage foreigners has done little to sustain new support for the league. While it has stimulated some new interest, much of the interest has turned the television off when exposed to a bad product, which many MLS games not including Houston or New England remain. The one designated player who has helped transform his team for the better on the pitch, Cuauhtémoc Blanco I believe could have still been signed by MLS without the DP rule. How you ask? How did the MLS sign Luis Hernandez, then in the prime of his career in 2000? How about Carlos Hermosillo signing in 1998? Carlos Vaderrama and Roberto Donadoni in 1996? You do not really believe that MLS never had Designated Players before 2007 do you?
Blanco has been an important addition for MLS and for a Chicago Fire club that was previously under performing at the gate. But I believe Blanco could have and would have been signed by MLS without the DP rule. How sure am I of this? The second Blanco was thrown off the national team by former manager Ricardo LaVolpe, rumors in Mexico began circulating that he was coming to MLS. Unlike, Europe the examples of Hernandez and Hermosillo demonstrated that for top Mexican attacking players, MLS is always an option late in your career.
I have no comment on the firing of Alexi Lalas. While I have been very critical of Los Angeles personnel moves since the untimely death of Doug Hamilton over two years ago, I am less certain than ever Lalas was actually charged with building the squad. It seems Lalas, a man of near legendary status as a player for the US was used by the Galaxy’s owners to sell their product to the world. The responsibility for finding players was not important to the Galaxy, because after all they had David Beckham.
Regarding the resignation of Ruud Gullit, this is a black eye for MLS: for the first time since Carlos Quieroz in 1997 a big name international coach was attracted to the league, and despite having an obvious tactical edge on his competitors his employment to a team that is essentially a marketing outfit, not a proper football club made it impossible for him to do his job. No doubt the critics of MLS in Europe will come out of the woodwork with Gullit departure to heap scorn on the league. However, unlike many times in the past, this go round the scorn is roundly deserved.
Major League Soccer despite the continued success of Houston and New England has become more glitz than substance since David Beckham’s arrival. The league feeling a constant need to answer critics and over sell its product have made boastful claims about its competitiveness and the value of its franchises with no real substance to back up these claims. These are the unwanted corollaries of the “Beckham effect.”
David Beckham is a class act, a great footballer. He should once and for all talk to the Galaxy brass and ask if they are going to continue to use him as a way to sell shirts and make money or if they want him to settle down and help them win football matches. Beckham should also have a role in identifying players for the Galaxy. If the club does not want to do this, it is best both parties move on. Beckham can still find a club in Europe during this transfer window and MLS and the Galaxy can pick up the pieces of its broken reputation abroad and focus on the things that made the league successful for the eleven seasons before David Beckham came to America: fiscal discipline, player development and cultivating the American soccer media.