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Alexi Lalas

Causes of the Beckham Saga


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.

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  1. Alex

    February 6, 2009 at 2:46 pm

    Not a bad post. But you say

    That my friend is complete garbage. Beckham played for Real Madrid for a few years before he went to L.A. And he’s currently thriving in the Serie A. You cannot get anymore “latin” than Italy.

    And Ruud Guillit was a terrible coach in the Premiership. That is why Newcastle were nearly relegated under him. He was promptly fired and will never manage in English top flight again.

    English football is not all about the long ball. But having said that. THAT has absolutely nothing to do with Beckham in the MLS.

    The reason Beckham flopped was because the team was garbage. Football is a team game. And no matter how good you are. If the ten players performing around you are not performing then, what chance have you at winning something?

    Beckham is leaving because he is playing with world class players in Milan. Where he belongs. Not below average MLS players. The MLS is a young league. It is not even upto the standard of the English Second Division or the Italian Serie B.

  2. Scott

    February 5, 2009 at 6:48 pm

    I have to agree with Bella’s comments over the author’s (Kartik) interpretation.

    But firstly, to call Beckham a “one trick pony” only places your level of journalism along with those you deem to be naive. His vision, passing, ball control & leadership on the pitch remains world class, which is why he’s fitting in well with other players of his caliber at Milan.

    Looking at Beckham’s career, the only time he’s ever been encouraged to play any form of counter-attacking football, employing a long ball approach, has been for the national side. And he can’t be blamed for the management tastes of Glenn Hoddle & co. At least he was playing competitively.

    At best, MLS is comparable to the English Championship (formally known as First Division), so Beckham always had the pressure of trying to carry a team that wasn’t playing football at the standard he was used to (Premier League, La Liga, Champions League, International). With Milan, Beckham no longer has that weight on his shoulders. He can once again play alongside those who know how to read the game.

  3. greg

    February 5, 2009 at 4:09 pm

    I agree with most of the points made in the article, however Bella’s comments about the “long-ball” are more accurate.

    Beckham came as an ambassador to bring attention the MLS. I truly believe that even he thought that he could raise the standard of the game here by his experience, fame, and presence. However, it only took a short time to realize that this is not European football, and Americans not European supporters by any means. The bubble burst quickly, and it was sad for anyone who has followed his career and knows he is still capable of playing at a top level.

    He is flourishing in Milan. For someone with such a strong love for the game, this is all he can want.

  4. Joey Clams

    February 5, 2009 at 4:03 pm

    I realize that. But he left it to me to provide real clarity. Regardless, stuck- in- the- mud writers are probably tired of the high-minded harangues of the game’s most energetic proponents; citing their indifference or even hostility as an example of xenophobia just corners them and makes them defensive.

  5. Hal

    February 5, 2009 at 3:11 pm

    Joey Clams, I think when Kartik refers to “conservative” sportswriters, he doesn’t mean politically, but in relation to being open minded about the sport of soccer rather than dismissing it out of hand because it’s not one of the American traditional major sports.

  6. Bella

    February 5, 2009 at 12:03 pm

    Nice summary. Thank you. The only point I don’t agree with is another reader’s favorite — that Beckham can only play English style long ball. This is a myth as anyone who followed his time at Real Madrid (and now in Italy) can attest. It’s been more than five years since Beckham played for an English club. La Liga is famous for its short passing game and Beckham was surrounded by not only Spanish but Latin American players there. Of course he is one of the most accurate long passers in the game, but he he also excellent at possession and accurate short crossing and passing on the ground. In general he offers skilled and smart service for the attack.

    This does not make him the prolific goal scorer that, you are right, would have excited US audiences. But I always believed his game in MLS was hampered by the way he was used by his coaches — as a long ball, knock it over the defense, provider. Waiting out on the right he was too easy to isolate and when he did get the ball the long service is a “long-shot” even with the most skilled strikers at the other end.

    There are lots of things about MLS that it might have been hard for a European player to get used to (longer distance travel and time changes from matches to match, the entire season in intense heat, no adjustment to FIFA calendar so no rest from international duty…). Obviously many players do adjust. I agree Beckham didn’t, but I don’t think it’s the Latin style of play because he would have been more accustomed to that when he arrived than to English club style.

    Even if their fans are angry now I think it is so much better for the Galaxy to let Beckham go, and use his salary cap space as well as whatever part of his transfer revenue they get from MLS to build a solid team.

  7. Enrique

    February 5, 2009 at 12:00 pm

    Great post Kartik. Good luck to Beckham if he truly wants to play for his country. He was a marketing success and would have had a better defense if Lalas knew what he was doing.

  8. C Dykstra

    February 5, 2009 at 9:01 am

    Jay Marriotti (no longer of the Chicago Sun-Times) is one of a kind and probably not a name Beckham actually knows.

  9. C Dykstra

    February 5, 2009 at 9:00 am

    Good post, a lot of it really does come down to Beckham not knowing how to deal with playing for a losing side or play with limited teammates. Well, club side at least. The Hollywood career wasn’t quite what he expected (or what his wife probably wanted either). Will it be there for him one day? Maybe not after this transfer saga. Also I don’t think he expected to be conisdered for playing time in World Cup 2010. He’s played in England and Spain so Italy was always something missing. With 3 national team players in their midfield (Pirlo, Gattuso, Ambrosini) and a wealth of name attacking players (Kaka, Ronaldinho, Pato, Seedorf, Inzaghi, Schevshenko), I don’t think he expected to earn a role as a key player there. As a starter for Milan, he’ll be hard to deny a place in South Africa and the possibility of breaking the all-time English caps record. A true perfect storm that just forces such a decision.

    The questions now are whether he really has a 2010 out clause and will Milan want to justly compensate MLS for his loss (revenue-wise). It won’t be easy to take Beckham back for 1 last season if he has an out clause as the PR battle would be tough (now that everyone clearly knows he doesn’t want to return). It’s really not clear what the fee should be. The best compromise would be a loan to Milan through the summer of 2010 with a couple of option years added on to the end of his current deal for him to play out when he’s ready to commit to Hollywood. But I’m not so sure either side is excited about a future reunion and the likely scenario is that he’s gone for good.

  10. Joey Clams

    February 5, 2009 at 8:37 am

    Don’t blame the fact that some silly sportswriters take shots at the game on conservatives. Most of my liberal friends hate soccer. Most of my conservative friends enjoy it. One way or the other, it’s possible that some sports writers have tired of being shamed into embracing the sport. I can’t believe that I’m at the point of defending some of those guys. But careless application of terms like “xenophobic” invites backlash, hardens positions and perpetuates the notion that US soccer fans are superior, lecturing utopians. And does David Beckham not invite jest? Hey, I’m glad to come from a country where image-seeking metrosexuals are not deified.

  11. kaidez

    February 5, 2009 at 7:36 am

    GREAT post! And I seriously agree with point 2…Becks is a long ball player and not the scorer that everyone thought he was. Didn’t really think about the Chivas thing before.

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