Milan’s Beckham Offer a Blessing for MLS

David Beckham’s time in Major League Soccer has been a failure. Plain and simple the circus that has surrounded the world’s most famous athlete has done little to enhance the sport in the United States. One cannot fully understand Beckham’s psychology or motivation without realizing that even the great footballers need a certain level of support around them. In the case of Beckham, he’s always been a supplementary piece to winning programs, not the key figure.

Almost two years ago when Major League Soccer Talk opened for business I predicted on an early show that Beckham would find life rough in MLS. The Galaxy in early 2007 were a side with quite possibly less talent than any other MLS team. Those truly objective about the club realized that Beckham would for the first time as a professional enter most matches with the inferior team. Having played previously with super-clubs Manchester United and Real Madrid, Beckham never knew what life as an underdog was.

At the time I received some nasty emails telling me I was crazy to think that Los Angeles would even with Beckham be a prohibitive underdog to the likes of DC United, New England and Houston. But in hindsight I wasn’t critical enough. To me the Beckham deal was always about marketing and not about the product on the field. The Los Angeles Galaxy had become after Doug Hamilton’s untimely passing the greatest demonstration of Hubris in global football. That’s quite an honor when you consider the big clubs in Europe and Argentina are full of nothing but Hubris.

MLS had developed nicely between 2002 and 2006. Early in the history of the league, over spending on players was necessary to establish a market and help develop formerly semi professional American footballers. MLS between 1996 and 2000 featured a surprisingly high standard of play and a great number of top foreign players like Carlos Valderamma, Roberto Donadoni and Marco Ethceverry. The league however was struggling financially.

Enter Don Garber and a new business plan. MLS contracted after the 2001 season and stopped spending money on high priced foreign talent. By 2006, attendance was up, the standard of play had rebounded to the levels found pre 2000 and this had been done with strong budgetary restraints and largely American or CONCACAF based players.

But in 2007, the Hubris of the LA Galaxy detoured MLS’ growth onto a wild roller coaster ride which could have a crash landing.  The Galaxy’s signing of David Beckham engaged the European Football press, always dubious of anything American. What followed was a litany of speculation as to who would be signed next in Major League Soccer, as well as a irrational amount of scrutiny on MLS’ quality of play and playoff system.

While the league seemed to relish its new found prominence, the product itself has suffered. The quality of play has not improved the last two seasons, TV viewership has dropped substantially from where they were in the late 90s, and David Beckham himself has been shown up by the likes of Terry Cooke, John Thorrington, Jovan Kirovski and Darren Huckerby, all either former low profile Man United team-mates or Englishmen.

MLS should accept whatever offer Milan is willing to give for Beckham. His presence has been a distraction to the Galaxy and MLS as a whole. His performances have not merited any of the accolades he’s received, and his current form with Milan indicates that he took MLS so lightly that he couldn’t be bothered to give a full effort.

The Beckham Rule itself is unnecessary. The league found a way previously to sign big name Mexican players and would have found a way to sign Blanco to Chicago even without the rule. The non-Blanco DP signings have all been dubious in one way or another.  To think a player the quality of Guille Barros Schelotto, decorated with numerous awards in Argentina, came to Columbus, WITHOUT using a DP slot should be evidence enough. The Beckham rule itself should be sunset, and Beckham himself should be jettisoned.

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