No question exists that the quality of football is superior in a high level European league than in Major League Soccer. However, after watching Milan’s David Beckham, who after all is thirty four, perform at a remarkably high level for ninety minutes twice in four days, you have to applaud the value of MLS.
Beckham has been deployed as the right sided forward in Milan Manager Leonardo’s 4-3-3 set up. The connections he has developed with Ronaldinho, Marco Borriello and Massimo Ambrosini on the training pitch and in game action are beginning to resemble the best of Beckham from Manchester United lore. While Ambrosini will not be confused for Roy Keane and Ronaldinho is not Ryan Giggs, Beckham is showing the same quality and freshness in the attack he did at United.
Leonardo’s tactics have required Beckham to track back and defend more often than he is given credit for, and often times play in a more withdrawn role. However, he’s being kept out wide in a pure winger role, and with the large pitch sizes that characterize Italian football, working in Beckham’s favor; his game is exploding once again.
Beckham’s presence has helped elevate Milan’s performances. Nine goals in two matches against high caliber Serie A opposition speak loudly. With Milan’s Champions League knock out stage tie versus his old club, Manchester United looming on the horizon, the Italian giants look more formidable than any time since winning the Champions League in 2007.
Major League Soccer has given David Beckham a place to remain match fit while putting less tread on his thirty four year old tires than perhaps any top shelf league in Europe would have done. Beckham has also benefited from MLS thanks to the presence of Landon Donovan whose world class moments simulate Beckham’s England team mates and current Milan side. Working with Donovan has allowed Beckham to not lose the skill level he previously demonstrated in his career, while the relative slow pace/lesser technical skill of MLS compared to Europe has limited Beckham’s running and potential exposure to serious injury.
Had Beckham gone to an MLS team without a player of Donovan’s pedigree, it is possible we would have seen an erosion of his skill. But playing with Donovan, and under a manager with international experience like Bruce Arena, has kept the former England captain sharp as a razor.
Fabio Capello was never going to omit Beckham from his England squad if he could help it. Despite all the over analytical pieces in the British press saying, “select Aaron Lennon, or James Milner, instead, etc,” Beckham was always being picked if only for his leadership and experience.
Now Capello may have a reason to play Beckham in South Africa, ahead of the likes of Lennon, Milner, Shaun Wright-Phillips and others. Given Capello’s history with Beckham, don’t be surprised to see him take the pitch in the World Cup opener against the United States, late in the match as a dead ball/counter attacking specialist.