Thursday, January 29, 2009

Can we blame Becks?

(I know I said that I had this 18-page paper due this week, and yeah, I'm definitely not finished, but I feel compelled to get this thought off my chest. )

I suppose we asked too much for a world-class footballer like David Beckham to play in a country that calls his trade "soccer" for five whole years.

After all, no matter how much money you throw at an athlete, footballer or otherwise, whether it be the league minimum or mega millions, the the deciding factor in a player's loyalty toward his employer almost always boils down to a single concept: happiness.

And it was clear that after a year-and-a-half of MLS, Becks wasn't happy. He was chained to a horrible club that missed the playoffs during both of his years. He chased down much too heavy crosses before waning crowds on plastic pitches. To him, this wasn't the kind of football he had in mind two summers ago. Which is exactly why he embraced an offseason loan to AC Milan.

No doubt, he surely enjoyed the challenge of proseltyzing the beautiful game here in America. Here was this handsome lad, with a world-class pedigree coming to the States to grab MLS and push it into the same limelight cast onto baseball, football and basketball. It was a noble - not to mention profitable - cause, not unlike the one Pele took up thirty or so years before Becks' arrival.

For the first few months, the spotlights shined brightly. The stadiums were packed. Talk shows were abuzz with - gasp! - MLS. The nightly news had features on the league's crown jewel. It was an exciting time for American soccer fans. This was going to be grand.

But then, reality bit. Hard. Becks' wasn't always fit. His club badly underachieved. So another superstar was brought in to manage. And Ruud Gullitt was equally horrible.

Before long, the feverish crowds, like the ones seen in 2007 when New York hosted Los Angeles before a sea of 65,000 fans became nothing more than recent memories. The American media's flirtation with soccer cooled. And Becks was still stuck on a poor team in a nascent league that was far removed from the blinding lights of European football.

And just like that, Beckhamania had folded up its tent. Gone were the hordes or media types at each match. Only slight bulges of interest remained.

That's not to say that Americans didn't like Beckham. I think most people generally had an appreciation for him, whether they liked soccer or were simply smitten over him. But I think that all the hype surrounding his arrival was just that: hype.

One man alone cannot alter the way Americans watch their sports. It was foolish to think this. It was preposterous to think that within five years, MLS could alter the landscape where the Big Four of American sports could add a fifth member. It was a noble attempt, sure, but one of pure fantasy.

And on the personal level, this whole grand experiment of increasing soccer's popularity all fell on the shoulders of David Beckham. I can only imagine that after eighteen months of injuries, lengthy transcontinental flights, and the stratospheric expectations, Becks, always the competitor, missed what it felt like to play big-time football.

Today, he plays with some of world's best players. The masses in Milan adore both he and his sport. His coach and new teammates love having him around. The owner is itching to write a check for a transfer. And David Beckham is finally happy.

And quite frankly, who could blame him?


Jason D said...

Write your damn paper already...

Kidding. Of course you can't blame Beckham for wanting out of LA when A fricking C Milan comes calling, but you do have to question his commitment to the American cause. All that nonsense about building the game here was just lip service? Oh well, we'll just have to go on without him.

Check me out by the way:

BrianTheOC said...

Looks like somebody got PUBLISHED! Congratulations, J!

BTW, I never said I wasn't a procrastinator - paper's ALMOST done. I swear.