Friday, January 12, 2007

Another Galaxy

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.


At 4:36 AM, Blogger Ken J said...

How many shirts is he going to have to sell to make the reported 128 million quid a viable investment ?

And....given the average rate of pay for MLS players, how many games before he gets clobbered by one of them ?

They all know he ain't that good - and resentment can do terrible things to a man...(evidenced by this comment offering)

And how many 'chat' shows will he embarrass himself on before he even gets to kick a ball ?

Lucky bastard

At 8:46 AM, Anonymous Barry said...

It just goes to show how low football is sinking. Image conquers ability.

At 2:02 PM, Anonymous Bob Miller said...

This has absolutely nothing to do with signing a single player to play for a single team. This is a $250M, well conceived, well orchestrated, heavily endorsed, league sponsored, five year advertising/marketing/retailing campaign to try to get the many thousands who play the game, watch world football, or whatever, in the USA (and Canada) supporting MLS. I think you really have to know from where the money originates and its intent, before you can pass insightful judgement on what outwardly appears to be an obscene and reckless venture.

At 2:19 PM, Blogger New York Addick said...

Maybe so, but it won't work because the product is so dire and with no history nor imbedded support base.

At 7:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with Bob, in the States money talks and people listen. Millions of upper middle class kids play soccer/football and no doubt this is a calculated move.

At 8:27 PM, Anonymous Bob Miller said...

I don't know about the product being so dire NYA, it seems to me that the MLS guys who slide over to the Premiership seem to do pretty well and those are just the Americans. It would be interesting to see a series of match-ups with Championship level English squads to get a truer measure of the situation. While the support base at present is not huge, there is one and it seems to me the purpose of this whole exercise is to grow it substanially. So far, it has dominated the main pages of every major newspaper in the world, so what is that worth? As well, if our David does not stand head and shoulders above everyone else on the pitch (entirely possible for this one dimensional player)then perhaps people will realize that what they have at their disposal is not all that bad. In any event, the league seems to feel that a $50M per year gamble is worth taking so we will just have to see.


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