David Beckham has now finally declared publically what the football loving public in the United States has suspected for weeks. Beckham has announced rather openly that he would like to stay in Milan. From a pure business standpoint, any transfer fee Major League Soccer can secure for a soon to be 34 year old, one trick pony is of great benefit to the league, its teams and supporters.
Many of us will happily say good riddance to Beckham. But the introspection as to why Beckham failed in a league which is below the standard of the top several leagues in Europe must be pressed. What was it about MLS and specifically the LA Galaxy that caused Beckham to flop so miserably as a footballer in the United States?
1- Alexi Lalas’ mismanagement of the LA Galaxy
Whether it was the trade of Nate Jaqua, a useful target player that could have been a favorite of Beckham’s for Kelly Gray or the dealing of Ugo Ihemelu and Herculez Gomes for Joe Cannon or the bizarre decision to sign over the hill Carlos Pavon after one good game in the Gold Cup, every player related move Lalas made in 2007 after signing Beckham was a bad one. Lalas insisted that he wanted to surround Beckham with the best possible talent, but what he essentially did was gut the team of the players like Jaqua and H. Gomez that could have actually complimented Beckham’s skill set.
Then given the opportunity entering 2008 to right these wrongs, Lalas used a grandfathered DP slot to re-acquire Carlos Ruiz. The club also signed former Chelsea and Newcastle man Celestine Babyaro whose football career was basically over and that was proven after one half in a Galaxy kit. He was soon thereafter waived.
2- Lack of adaptability to MLS tactics
Major League Soccer has gotten further and further away from the long ball tactics preferred in the British Isles and by many American coaches reared in the Euro dominated academies of the 1980s and 1990s. While Beckham first played for a manager in Frank Yallop who employed at times a very British style, and then Ruud Gullit who had previously managed in the Premier League, he often times played against team employing a Latin style and did not adapt well.
3- Pressure to perform for the media
I know many of our readers and listeners don’t appreciate Landon Donovan the way I do. But since Donovan was Beckham’s Galaxy team mate and I don’t want to get into Michael Jordan, Maradona or Pele analogies which I don’t believe fit Beckham, let me make this comparison: Once Landon Donovan was anointed the golden boy of US Soccer, the great American hope, etc, etc, the pressure for him to perform miracles every time the national team stepped on the pitch was immense.
Every time Donovan fell short a bevy of football writers in the US and fans who post on Big Soccer and other places would talk about how Donovan was immature, or over rated, or unmotivated or all of the above.
Beckham faced a similar dilemma but more importantly from a hostile mainstream American sports media led by ignorant writers like Jay Marriotti of the south side based Chicago Sun Times and TJ Simers of the LA Times. These writers embodied the conservative/xenophobic sports journalist establishment who ultimately seem threatened by the possible success of football stateside.
Every time Beckham failed on the pitch, the sports writers piled on. Not that they’d ever want him to succeed in the first place or even recognize his greatness had it ever appeared in Los Angeles.
4- The success of Chivas USA
David Beckham never had to worry about Manchester City or Athletico Madrid upstaging him. But in Los Angeles, the Galaxy has not been the best MLS team in town in a while: a long while. The death of the great Doug Hamilton coupled with the hiring by Chivas USA of Bob Bradley turned the tables in southern California.
Ironically both stories have an Alexi Lalas twist: Hamilton was replaced by Lalas with the Galaxy and Bradley was available for Chivas to hire because he had been sacked by Lalas with the Metrostars.
During David Beckham’s time in Los Angeles, Chivas USA was consistently the superior team at the Home Depot Center. Even when the Galaxy won t he “superclassico” they’d be force to endure Chivas hosting playoff matches while the Galaxy prepared for their next tour of Oceania.
Given these factors perhaps Beckham was always doomed to failure. One will never know, but at this juncture it’s best for MLS, the Galaxy and Beckham to move on.