A story about the world's most over-rated footballer choosing to sign up to Major League Soccer (MLS) side L.A. Galaxy would hardly be a story, if it wasn't for the extraordinary $250m he will be paid.
It shouldn't be too surprising that David Beckham came to this conclusion, even putting the money aside for a moment. Somehow, the thought of an average 329 days of sunshine, stunning multi-million properties set into the hills, and the cream of the world's celebrity parties probably made the move to L.A. a little more attractive than say a three-year deal at Middlesbrough or Blackburn. I'm not sure for example if there's an equivalent American phrase for "..a wet Tuesday night in Grimsby.." ("..a nippy Saturday afternoon in Kansas City?" - Ed.)
Back in September 2004 shortly after I began this blog, I suggested that Beckham wasn't actually especially good at football in the context of the hype. If you didn't agree with my sentiments back then, I am confident you would agree with them if I repeated them now, because a desperately poor World Cup proved surely that his impressive (but limited) talents never quite caught up with the self-promotion. The more I observe the managerial genius of Sir Alex Ferguson, the more it becomes apparent that he very accurately 'called the top' of Beckham-mania as a footballer at least. Similarly, as an England player, he made his debut in the immediate aftermath of our near-successful Euro 1996 campaign, and then went on to earn 94 caps during a period of immense promise and abject underachievement. Beckham is certainly a phenomenon, just not a footballing one per se.
However I find it hard to begrudge Beckham his fame and wealth because for the bulk of his career he has played as if he cared, and when interviewed, his painful diction suggests a surprising lack of hubris (his wife of course is another matter altogether). George Best famously said, "If I had been born ugly, you'd never have heard of Pele." However, whilst Best's good looks arguably contributed to his downfall, Beckham used his to boost his media image to such heady heights, that many occasional football watchers did genuinely believe he was indeed the 'greatest ever' when he was not even close (an opinion I look forward to sharing with any overly-excited Americans).
Unlike Best or Pele who also both tried to conquer America, Beckham's very style of play is perhaps not the type to have the purists queuing all night for tickets (unless a 50-yard pass turns you on). Those animated Asians meanwhile, to whom a determined Beckham-oriented merchandising push will have already begun, are probably more fickle than we perhaps give them credit for. Remember for example Japanese hearthrob Hidetoshi Nakata? He was last seen driving away from the Reebok Stadium a few months ago (and with no paparazzi in sight).
If I can obviously understand the rationale of Beckham's decision, even the most optimistic financial models will surely struggle to justify the outlay. Despite the fact that MLS attendances now average 15,000 or so, even with Beckham's enormous marketing presence, the sport lacks the history, geographical breadth and simple raw quality to even challenge baseball's pre-eminence as the main summer sport, let alone the ridiculous winter popularity of gridiron. I have only seen a single MLS game (scheduled immediately after England vs Columbia at Giants Stadium in 2005) and it made veteran ex-Bolton striker Youri Djorkaeff look like the aforementioned Pele, so dire was the standard of play.
Although the power of Sky to dictate English football is frustrating to anyone that treasures 3pm Saturday kick-offs, it is nothing compared to the power that the US TV networks hold over sport over here. The natural pauses (partly by design) during the big four American sports are ideal for a quick blast of commercials that justify the amounts paid for rights.
Aside from the fact that football lacks those natural pauses, surely the occasional fan to whom the MLS will now seek to appeal will know enough about the sport from regular English/Italian/Spanish coverage, to know that the product they are being sold here will be shoddy. Whatever your view on American sports, you can be fairly confident that in between the commercials, the quality of the play itself is about as high as it can possibly be (thanks of course to the money that attracts the world's best). Likewise, you could equally bemoan the media circus that follows Tiger Woods around the world, but when he stands over a golf ball, you know you are witnessing greatness. Conversely, signing just a single good (but deteriorating) player will hardly turn the MLS into La Liga.