Beckham’s American odyssey ends with success

Back in 2007, having just won the Spanish League with Real Madrid to end his four year stint with the Spanish giants, David Beckham headed to America to play for LA Galaxy at the age of 32. His original move across the Atlantic to play football, in what was an obscure sport in an obscure league whilst still having the potential to continue in Europe for a significant while longer, was heavily criticised, the cynics questioned his motives in that he was simply seeking one last mammoth pay-day as time threatened to betray his ageing bones and that his motivation to play creditable football had been sacrificed for the opportunity to pitch Brand Beckham in the golden streets of celebrity-driven Los Angeles, in the vicinity of Hollywood.

However, fast forward four years and as he debates on whether to call time on his stay in the MLS, it seems to have reached the fitting end, the usual fairy-tale ending that typifies the Beckham career, having led them to the MLS cup against Houston Dynamo. He finally has something to show for his much-maligned move out to America apart from the many financially driven promises that were offered up as excuses for his move. The Beckham portrayal of an un-wilting hero that is so often conjured up by the British press had done it again, Beckham had claimed that one of the motives for his $32.5 million move was to be “successful with the Galaxy, tonight I’ve done exactly that”, indeed he had, in a moment that in true Beckham fashion acted as a defiant salute to the sceptics that have dogged his career since the bitterest of celebrity-induced partings with Manchester United. As his header reached Robbie Keane who in turn teed up Landon Donavon to finally add substance to a dominant display over the Dynamo, Beckham was once again re-acquainted with redemption.

The other provided motive for Beckham’s decision to move out to LA of course was to raise the profile of Major League Soccer and it can be argued that he had achieved that from the very moment the news was announced back in January of 2007, that the astronomical marketing potential of planet Beckham achieved a boost in attention of huge proportions. Beckham had become so much not a football player as a huge global brand and to the Galaxy, as Alexei Lalas, the man who helped lure Beckham to the Galaxy in his role as coach, said “the club are known throughout the world, so for the brand, it has been a worthwhile venture”.

The three players involved in the goal that defied Houston are indication enough of the promising lure that MLS now contains; the footballing behemoth of Beckham, ex-Liverpool and Spurs striker Robbie Keane who has just secured one last day in the sun of the European Championships with Ireland and Landon Donavon, who has been subject of sustained interest from Europe in recent years following his successful spell with Everton, yet decided to stay with Galaxy in the belief that he was already on to an attractive proposition. Not to mention the arrivals of Thierry Henry and Barcelona’s ex-Mexican defender Rafael Marquez at New York Red Bulls and the stay of Fredrick Ljungberg with Seattle and then Chicago or German midfielder Thorsten Frings’ move to Toronto, the move of Beckham has broken the common perception that the MLS is a league seriously short of standard once repellent of the big names. This has come in partnership with the “Beckham rule” that any club can now buy three “designated players” at full price with only a fraction of their wages counting against the $2.76 million salary cap, allowing for the likes of Henry and Frings to be purchased without challenge and this will surely breed an influx of more high-profile imports as owners try to emulate the success of Galaxy who became the first team to win the championship with a “designated player”.

To thrust football, or “soccer” in native tongue, in the same limelight as US sports such as Basketball and Baseball and was always going to be beyond Beckham considering the likes of Pele and Johan Cruyff had failed before him, yet with the passing of Beckham it has become a little more than a simple repository for scrap-heaped limbs of the likes of Lothar Matthaus and that it was, to a largely ignorant view, a league for brawn rather than brain, being a haven for athleticism rather than skill and poise. The media over in America seemingly followed a similar view of disinterest, mostly ignoring the rest of the league as they focused on the Galaxy and FC Dallas in an massively unbalanced duopoly, but this has been largely eradicated as from the first year post Beckham, NBC will pay $10 million a year to screen 45 MLS matches, joining already in-place deals with ESPN and Spanish company Univision.

With Beckham, the MLS has entered the new age of mouth-watering television deals and sponsorship and the watershed transfer has launched a bandwagon now moving at ominous speed as many parties want in on a slice of the action. Since 2007, the year of Beckham’s arrival, the MLS has seen the emergence of 6 clubs with Montreal ready to make it seven with their debut next season, all against a back-drop of various communities seeking to become franchise number 20 in the league set-up. Eight stadiums have either been built or renovated with a ninth being prepared in Houston while eight years have been added to the League’s $200 million sponsorship deal with Adidas. Attendances have risen sharply too, the league averaged above 17,000 this season in what was a new record while there was a sell-out 30,281 fans at Galaxy’s Home Depot Centre to watch Beckham and co. triumph on Sunday in a match beamed to a world-wide audience by ESPN. There is now a demand for the league, an assault on commercialism that was not envisaged by Major League Soccer even with the enlistment of brand Beckham. According to Don Garber, who has guided  the MLS from its infancy into the stages of maturity, Beckham has given birth to “MLS 2,0” going onto say that “new TV deals, the Adidas contract — all these things work together. I think [Beckham’s arrival] is clearly one of the seminal moments in the history of the league. It helped establish credibility, broaden awareness and take us to the next stage in our development.”

While the MLS counts the profit and huge rise in reputation that Beckham has brought with him and as he prepares to announce that his work in America has certainly been done, Sunday was surely once again about Beckham the footballer as he ended a campaign in which he was named MLS comeback player of the year and earned a place in the MLS best XI for the first time on an emotional high. His time in LA has been blighted by injuries, questions of his commitment as he embarked on numerous trans-Atlantic flights to ensure he could represent England and AC Milan in the winter as his dedication to professionalism never seemed to wane, but in 90 minutes on Sunday, he answered all those questions in true Beckham fashion, with defiant success when the odds may have suggested otherwise in the past. Galaxy coach Bruce Arena immediately rained the plaudits down on Beckham saying David’s a champion. Has an unbelievable desire to win”, now as he goes to prepare for one final swansong at the Olympics in 2012, it is the MLS that has won with him.

Adam Gray @MonkeyLunch21

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