No MVP for DB… but Beckham has put MLS on the map in a way America fails to grasp (so ignore the phoney facts and figures)
00:01 GMT, 29 November 2012
MLS Best XI 2012
Jimmy Nielsen (Sporting Kansas City) –
Victor Bernardez (San Jose Earthquakes)
Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City)
Aurelien Collin (Sporting Kansas City)
Osvaldo Alonso (Seattle Sounders FC)
Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy)
Chris Pontius (D.C. United)
Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
Thierry Henry (New York Red Bulls)
Robbie Keane (LA Galaxy)
Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)
When Major League Soccer (MLS) announced their 'best XI' this week, there was one name notably absent: David Beckham.
This list is not merely an arbitrary line-up scribbled down in a bar on the back of a beer mat. In a sporting culture obsessed with numbers and statistics, it is supposed to 'recognise the League’s top 11 players at each position on the field'.
It is an honour to be included and Beckham was not, yet again. The former England captain has only made the cut once in his six seasons in the USA.
Beckham has never been shortlisted for the MLS’ Most Valuable Player, either. He has never even been LA Galaxy’s footballer of the year. Being an ‘MVP’ might sound like some sort of four-wheel drive to British ears, but awards and titles such as this really do matter in the States; try as they might to bring a quantitative appraisal to the whimsical, wonderful world of sport.
Take a bow: David Beckham is set to play his final game for LA Galaxy in the MLS Cup final on Sunday
But, judging by the numbers – 20 goals in 117 matches in five-and-a-half years and one MLS Cup, with the prospect of another on Saturday – Beckham’s figures do not add up to success. That the former Manchester United and Real Madrid star is not thought to be even one of the best four midfielders in US soccer suggests they are hardly in mourning that this weekend’s clash against Houston Dynamos will be his last match for LA Galaxy.
Off the field measures suggest muted improvement, but nothing like the ‘history-making’ Beckham pledged when he joined the Galaxy in 2007. Average attendances have risen from 15,500 per match to 18,800. There are now 19 franchises in the MLS, compared to just 13 in Beckham’s first season.
Living the American Dream: Beckham arrived in Los Angeles in a blaze of publicity in July 2007
Television viewing figures remain fairly stagnant, with just over one million people tuning in to watch Beckham win his first MLS Cup with the Galaxy last November. That is a miniscule figure in a country of that size. It’s no wonder the taxi driver taking me to the game did not even know how to get to the stadium.
The millions of dollars of cash, the razzmatazz, all those journeys back and forth across the Atlantic: were they really worth it Or has Mrs Beckham, with her highly successful fashion line, been a more productive British export than her husband
‘Beckham was paid 21million to change the face of soccer in Los Angeles and barely hung around long enough to change his socks,’ wrote Bill Plaschke in the Los Angeles Times after Beckham’s first MLS triumph last year. ‘He helped bring this town a soccer title, but he was supposed to help bring it an entire soccer movement, and he never even tried.’
Love-hate relationship: Galaxy supporters make their feelings known in
July 2009 (above) after Beckham's first loan deal with AC Milan. Beckham also
exchanged angry words with fans during a match. But the former England captain proved his loyalty and went on to help the Galaxy win the MLS Cup last December (below)
But just take a look at some of the other names on the ‘best XI’ this year. Thierry Henry, Robbie Keane, Landon Donovan. Would these ‘designated players’, whose wages do not count towards their clubs’ salary caps, have joined the MLS – or stayed – without Beckham It’s hard to imagine.
Beckham’s influence, I would argue, cannot be boiled down to the cold facts and figures American sport so reveres. There is no magic Moneyball formula here. He has brought much-needed focus and attention to the MLS; not always with his performances on the pitch, but by moving to the States when he did and, crucially, seeing out his five-year contract – and then extending it.
Beckham went to America as a Spanish league champion at the age of 32. He was not in the prime of his career but he was certainly not a battered old has-been. The general consensus was he was leaving top-class European football too early; something Beckham, perhaps, quickly realised, too, resulting in two loan moves to AC Milan when he understood former England boss Fabio Capello would not entertain trekking to Los Angeles to see him play.
Star attraction: Beckham helped Galaxy to rake in money from new sponsorship deals
But Beckham went to American – and he
stayed. He even persuaded Donovan to start singing his praises after
the pair’s very public falling out. He saw out his contract and he
extended it by another 12 months, with the option of a further year. If
this was ever going to work, there had to be a long-term commitment from
Beckham, and he delivered.
Garber, the MLS commissioner, said: ‘He said he was not coming here to
retire. He was coming here to be part of a team and work hard and win
some championships and very importantly, he was coming here to grow the
sport of soccer in America, to make MLS more popular here and abroad.
‘I don’t think anybody would doubt he hasn’t over-delivered by every one of those measures. There’s arguably not a soccer fan on this planet that doesn’t know the L.A. Galaxy and Major League Soccer, and David played a significant role in helping us make that happen.’
Cheer up: Beckham at the LA Lakers game against Indiana Pacers at Staples Center on Tuesday
Beckham has not revolutionised
American soccer, but he has certainly helped it to grow. MLS academies –
like the one Beckham’s oldest son, Brooklyn, has attended – are now
attempting to find and develop homegrown players. It costs in excess of
$100m to set up an MLS franchise now, compared to around $10m six years
ago. The Galaxy play with a brand name emblazoned across their shirts
these days. This is all part of the Beckham effect.
Klein, Beckham’s former team-mate at LA Galaxy and now the club’s vice
president, said: ‘If you look at David and his time here, his influence
has spanned everything that our league touches: from commercially what
our league looks like, to ticket sales, to soccer-specific stadiums, to
designated players being more interested in our league.
‘I don’t know that it can all be
attributed to him, but I don’t think you can deny that he’s had an
influence over this. When he came, we didn’t have MLS academies, and now
everyone has them and they’re thriving.’
The most famous man in the world… and President Obama: The Galaxy squad at the White House in May
Beckham’s concrete legacy will be if
clubs really can start developing more players themselves and attract
foreign designated players in their 20s, rather than those edging
towards the ends of their careers; family men seduced by the lifestyle
and the pay cheques of the American Dream.
But his short-term impact is much
simpler than that. Beckham put the MLS on the map. We started taking
notice of it in 2007 and we are still talking about it now.
hasn’t changed American soccer history, but he’s played an important
part in it. He went and he stayed. Who cares if the numbers do not add
up Football is about so much more than facts and figures, anyway.