Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Beckham, Celebrity and Soccer

Grant Wahl looks at David Beckham, the L.A. Galaxy and the mess that has become Mickey League Soccer.

There is not doubting that Beckham is one of the highest profile athletes on Earth. It is more a combination of his drive for celebrity that his celebrity may be larger than his prowess on the field.

There is no doubt that Beckham is in the twilight of his career as a player. But that twilight has taken on the tinge of absolute pitch blackness of late. Beckham's play is dismal and one has to wonder why:
From a soccer perspective, Beckham has had an up-and-down year. Before the All-Star Break he played well, creating chances for the Galaxy from his right midfield position and displaying the full-on effort he's known for. Since the All-Star Game, however, Beckham has struggled. He has failed to connect with Landon Donovan and the Galaxy's other scoring threats. He has failed to produce any magic with his renowned free kicks.

And, most surprising of all, his work-rate has declined. Maybe Beckham is gassed from all the travel for MLS games and England games and Olympics visits. Maybe he's just throwing up his hands at the Galaxy's poor personnel decisions and an MLS salary cap that forces him to play alongside some skill-poor teammates making less than $20,000 a year. Maybe it's a combination of all those things.
I kind of think it is all of these things.

Everything I have heard of Beckham's conduct in the locker room is that he has never allowed his celebrity to get in the way of his work rate on the training ground or playing field. But since the All-Star game, Beckham looks like a man who is more interested in being anywhere else.

Beckham's stated goal when he joined the Galaxy was to help build soccer as a professional sport in America. I would argue that in this regard he has failed. Soccer is a grassroots sport and Beckham has not done nearly enough to grow the sport at the grassroots level. He has not broadened the appeal of the game because he and his team do not play at the highest level of sport in this country, let alone on the world stage. Yes, he sells a lot of tickets and a lot of jerseys, but that does not make him a successful ambassador for the sport.

What amuses me more is not that his work rate has declined, for it surely has not. It is just that Beckham, like all humans has only so much time and effort to devote. When Beckham was playing at Manchester United and Real Madrid, he considerable work effort served him well in training and in playing. But upon coming to the United States, he has spent more than a fair share of his time tending to his imgage and that has cut into his time tending to his game and his team.

Were Beckham to put as much time into the Galaxy, mentoring these young, $20,000 per year players, helping improve the game of the team as a whole, I would wager that L.A. would not be looking up at the entire league, but rather would be looking down at a professional sport on the cusp of greatness in this country.

Alas, it is the missed opportunities that we rue the most. Will Beckham rue his missed opportunity to make soccer in America more palatable to the armchair fan? Who knows, but I do say it is a shame that he hasn't done better by his club, his sport and even his own name.

No comments: