The sun is almost set on David Beckham’s USA dream. The player announced yesterday that his intentions are to leave the league at the end of this season and take on a new challenge elsewhere. The 37-year-old former Manchester United, Real Madrid and England star has spent the past five years at LA Galaxy, transforming the focus on the league from a fresh upstart to a now global brand. Beckham’s influence on US soccer cannot be taken lightly, despite what the player thinks. He has never thought about the effect his own brand would have on the 5th sport of the United States, even down playing it when he arrived:
“I’m coming there not to be a superstar. I’m coming there to be part of the team, to work hard and to hopefully win things. With me, it’s about football. I’m coming there to make a difference. I’m coming there to play football … I’m not saying me coming over to the States is going to make soccer the biggest sport in America. That would be difficult to achieve. Baseball, basketball, American football, they’ve been around. But I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t think I could make a difference.”
But the news grabbed the headlines across the globe and with it, brought attention to the US soccer for the first time since Pele graced the same shores some 20 years previously. The league has blossomed since Beckham’s arrival and whilst he was not the core reason, he played a huge part on where it is now. It expanded across borders to Canada, firstly with the Toronto FC franchise and now more recently with teams in Montreal and Vancouver. Big names also arrived, following Beckham into the league – first a host of US internationalists like Claudio Reyna and Brian McBride returned home to finish off their careers then later foreigners like Freddie Ljungberg, Thierry Henry, Rafael Márquez and Robbie Keane made the transition to the USA as well. TV companies in the US, Canada and across Europe have started to take note and now show a majority of the league and cup games to an ever-growing audience. Brands have started to add commercial dollars to a sport once viewed as an after thought. Fans are growing in all 19 franchsies (teams) with crowds at home matches climbing at a steady pace, with further franchises planned. The league can be thankful it has had the benefit of the Beckham effect, even if they haven’t seen the best of Beckham himself.
The former England captain has never quite stunned the league with the skills and flair he showed at Manchester United and Real Madrid. Yes; there have been flashes of brilliance from his trademark free kicks, precision crosses and selection of goals, one scored direct from a corner none the less. But Beckham is older now, slightly slower and sometimes disinterested, or so it may seem to the press who cover his games. They argue that for the money he is being paid by LA, reportedly US$32.5 million in total over 5 years or $6.5 million per year, they expected more. A god perhaps that could turn games around with the drop of the shoulder and a perfectly weighted cross or shot. But Beckham is not Messi nor is he Cristiano Ronaldo. Nor has he ever been that. Beckham is a guy who worked for hours after hours perfecting his free kicks, working on his technique and staying as fit as he can so he could play football for as long as he could at the highest level. And he certainly did.
Many people dislike David Beckham, not because of the player he is, but the person they think he is. A celebrity football playing dad who is over paid and over hyped but Beckham has a right to look back on his career with pride. Not many people can boast a career that has spanned 20 years across some of the greatest clubs in the world – Manchester United, Real Madrid, AC Milan, LA Galaxy and Preston NE (the last one Beckham went on loan for 5 games in his early Manchester United days). Not many players have won 115 caps for their country, 59 as captain. Not many players have a global brand that has spawned computer games, movies, clothes, perfume, books, soccer schools and much more. The Beckham brand is now as instantly recognisable across the globe as Nike and Pepsi are.
As Beckham bids a fond farewell to the US and embarks on his next challenge, whether that be in Australia or China as the press are speculating right now or if Snopp Dogg gets his wish at Glasgow Celtic, he can look back fondly over his time spent in LA. He may not have played the best or won as many titles as he had hoped, but his legacy that he leaves behind is more than he could have imagined. He will leave the MLS in a stronger position than it was it 5 years ago, safe in the knowledge that the league will continue to grow and flourish even without David Beckham in it.