Thursday, January 11, 2007

Going Hollywood (or, from the MLA to the MLS)

Long before I got tongue-tied at the MLA and was featured in the Chronicle for beginner's mistakes, the most popular (i.e., visited) series of posts in la Jardiniere concerned English football and the 2006 World Cup. It is for those readers who've hung around since then (and who must be wondering what all the fuss is about "academic bloggers" and "academics who blog" -- what, is that like shirts and skins?), that I post the following -- to me, utterly unsurprising -- news: David Beckham -- Soccer Spice -- has signed with the L.A. Galaxy.

I don't watch a lot of TV these days, but with my significant other being not only English but also a former professional footballer, "GolTV" is on a lot in our house. The other day I walked through when the channel was running a Biography-type special on Becks -- at the point when he signed with Real Madrid, after a brutal locker room bust-up (for which Posh Spice was blamed, Yoko Ono style) with Alex Ferguson at Man U. I looked at the clock and saw time remained in the show -- but noted to whomever was in the room (perhaps to myself), "Well, nothing more to show. That's the peak. It all goes downhill from there."

Afforded precious little playing time on a star-studded Spanish side, and limping home from Germany this summer after a piss-poor performance as England captain (only to be asked "not to return" ouch to the national side), pretty boy Becks has seen better days.

I have a certain fondness for the skirted one. First, it took guts to apply himself, as he did, to proving his service to England after that boot of Diego Simeone at the 1998 World Cup (a match-turning red card that should have taught Rooney to keep his cool in the pretty, but malevolent, face of Ronaldo). In addition, as my son's "special needs" became more and more apparent, said spouse and I would black humor ourselves by musing, "well, maybe he's the next Beckham" (where Becks hath not the gift of gab, my son has a language disorder and is also exceptionally athletic).

On the matter of Beckham's MLS signing, I will repost here what I wrote about the league shortly after the U.S. team's dismal sending off from the World Cup. Responding to Robert Weintraub's post-mortem in Slate, I wrote:

Finally, a sound assessment of the state of affairs. Weintraub doesn't trace the problem back to AYSO, as I did, but gives a credible account of how MLS contributes to U.S. disappointments abroad. He points out that, if we are going to build a truly competitive national team, US players should not be pressured to support the MLS (by playing in it), but instead be encouraged to play in the European leagues, in which the competition is stiffer -- and faster, as I have pointed out (i.e., watching the MLS is like watching the European leagues play in slow motion). What he also could have pointed out is that European players look at the MLS as we do Florida: the place to wind out their (slower, less agile) golden years. If I had a dollar for every time I heard a European player say he looks forward to moving to America (with his riches) to "retire" in the MLS . . .

I was thinking of Becks here when I wrote that last line, and toyed with the idea of predicting outright that he would follow such a course. No matter. That the most image conscious football star of the modern era would end up in Hollywood has been long written in the stars.

Which doesn’t mean that such a move -- from the top of the English Premiership to the top of Serie A to . . . the bottom of the Western Conference of the MLS – isn’t bittersweet, and to European football fans, fairly galling. (I spent a dozen years in Chicago, from the year Jordan, that other number 23, returned and triumphed, to win the Bulls three more titles, through his second retirement and less than enchanting reappearance as . . . a Wizard. At least Chicago is finally rebounding, slowly but surely, after those long post-Krause travesty years. Thanks, Pax.)

But let's also look at the Beckham deal from the perspective of the MLS. The MLS will only pay $400K of Beckham's salary, the maximum for the league. A.E.G. (a major sports conglomerate based in L.A.) and Adidas ("impossible is nothing") are ponying up the rest of the dosh. Still, the numbers they're talking are staggering for a (cough cough) U.S. soccer player. Can the league really afford him, even with such backing?

I know many would say that the league cannot afford *not to have such a star signing. The most immediate comparison, of course, is to Pele and the New York Cosmos. But while Pele helped boost attendance at professional soccer games by 80% between 1975 and 1977 (source: ESPN), even the King couldn't save the North American Soccer League.

"Impossible is nothing?" For U.S. soccer? It remains to be seen.

It also remains to be seen whether Beckham's star will shine as bright in a city where just about everyone lives to see and be seen. The Ono myth a hard one to quell, of course Posh is being pegged for the choice of destination (kinda hard to see the Beckhams in Kansas City). Ever so "euro" in fashion and outlook, it will be interesting to see how the family takes to life in America -- and if and how America takes to them.

Were Beckham's star power to fade like his famous crosses, might the signing end up crippling the league?

Post post-script, Jan. 12. Weintraub has since written, and skeptically, on the signing as well.


Anonymous said...

I knew you would be all over this news! I wish I could get "put out to pasture" the same way!
Boy is he pretty!


sniff sniff . . . Leicester lass, that you? (gotta a big whole in me 'eart for you guys . . .)

ahem. . . ok, collecting myself.

Well, spouse has just been calling up (from downstairs) all the specs of the deal. Yowza. Big dosh.

Can the MLS really afford it, I wonder? Some may wonder whether the MLS -- sh--, I keep typing MLA -- er, Major League Soccer, can afford *not to have such a big name star. . . but we're talking 'uuuuge money here, in a sports market that has grown, but is still no cash cow, by any means.

Okay, I gotta post some more. . .