So, was David Beckham worth it?
Did Major League Soccer and the Los Angeles Galaxy get their $32.5 million worth when they signed the global icon away from Real Madrid in January 2007? Upon his arrival, he appeared on a Sports Illustrated cover, standing on a red carpet, with the words: David Beckham, Will He Change the Fate of American Soccer?
Did he? Did he have a $32.5 million impact on MLS and soccer in this country?
Beckham will be playing his final game for the Galaxy in the MLS Cup against the Houston Dynamo on Saturday at Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. (4:30 p.m., ESPN) He leaves the league stronger than he found it, and he no doubt made a significant contribution to that growth.
Becks was not the best player in the league, although his bending free kicks and pinpoint passes are still world-class and worthy of high praise. He started only 50 games his first four seasons with L.A. because of ankle and Achilles’ injuries and two loan spells to AC Milan.
Still, his international name recognition and sex appeal, and his genuine commitment to raise the profile of American soccer, left an indelible mark on the league. Five new franchises have joined MLS since his arrival — Seattle (which averages 40,000-plus fans per game), Portland, Montreal, Philadelphia and Vancouver. Thirteen of 19 teams are playing in soccer-specific stadiums.
And, the Designated Player Rule (also known as the David Beckham Rule), allowed the league to lure other internationally known players such as Thierry Henry, Alessandro Nesta, Robbie Keane and Tim Cahill. Yes, like Beckham, they all came here on the tail ends of their careers. Still, they are big names choosing to make a soccer living on U.S. soil, and that, alone, gives MLS more legitimacy.
Beckham said at his introductory news conference:
“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.”
He did make a difference. A big difference. A difference that surely was worth the $32.5 million investment. Beckham said he leaves feeling satisfied that he delivered on his promise. He also is expected to become an owner or part-owner of an MLS franchise, possibly the Galaxy.
“When I first came here, I think people also expected me to score 10 goals every game,” Beckham said. “That was never going to happen. Whatever team that I’ve played with in my career, and whatever place, wherever I’ve been, there’s always been expectations. Whether I’ve reached those expectations in people’s eyes, that’s for other people to decide what my impact was.
“But what I have seen form myself firsthand, I’ve seen the new franchises that have come into this league. I’ve seen the attendances grow in this league to the point of where they’re all competing … with baseball and basketball. I’ve seen the quality of players that have come into this league. And now, we’ve seen huge TV deals that have been signed.
“We’ve also seen the interest and the fact that this league is taken very seriously in Europe and in different parts of the world now. So, yes, I’ve seen that firsthand, and I’m very proud to have been part of that.”
So, what now for the superstar? The Australian league would love him. So would the Chinese league. His fan base in Asia is gigantic. But he might choose to head back to Europe and finish where he started.
“I still feel that I have something left in me as a player,” Beckham said. “I still feel like I have one more challenge in me as a player. Even at 37 years old, I still can play at a high level. Where that will be yet, I haven’t decided.
“Right now, my focus is on the final. Once that’s out of the way, we have an [exhibition] tour to deal with, and then it’s Christmas, which we always spend in London, so I’ll be there and I’ll make the decision then. There are options, and I’m very lucky at my age to have options. People have talked about my retirement, and I actually don’t feel I’m ready to retire yet.”
Beckham also said he feels optimistic in the future of American soccer.
“The foundations are now there for this sport to continue to grow,” Beckham said. “I’ve seen it grow in the last six years, and we all want it to continue to grow. My commitment as an owner, people will be well aware of that in the new year, and hopefully where that will be. And like I said, my commitment as an ambassador for this sport and this country won’t change.”
Yes, Becks was worth every penny.• U.S.-China women in Boca Raton: Tickets for the U.S. women’s match against China on Dec. 15 in Boca Raton are on sale. The match will be played at FAU Stadium and is the 10th and final game of the U.S. WNT Fan Tribute Tour. Tickets are available through ussoccer.com, by phone at 1-800-745-3000, via Ticketmaster and at the FAU ticket office on campus.