Wednesday marks 10 years since David Beckham confirmed he would leave Madrid and head to California to sign with the Los Angeles Galaxy. Then football’s most recognisable star, he arrived in Major League Soccer with the goal of improving the American game. Beckham promised to “make a difference” Stateside, but where did he fail and where did he succeed?
1) He raised the profile of MLS
Like it or not, MLS’s profile improved with Beckham in the league. At the time, the midfielder was a global superstar, a status that drew eyes to a league that had, until then, had a low profile internationally.
His arrival and positive rhetoric regarding the league has also heavily influenced other professionals in considering North America as a place to play their football. Whether it was Frank Lampard or Sebastian Giovinco, Beckham’s decision to go to the US amid interest from other high-ranking European teams gave the league a certain legitimacy. It constructed the notion that there was something to be built in the US, and that players could earn more than just a hefty salary, something Beckham touched on when he arrived.
“With me, it’s about football,” he said. “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.”
Whether he remained true to that is up for debate, what isn’t is that the league’s profile improved with his arrival.
2) He raised his own profile
It was a moment that left Robbie Keane a tad red-faced. The Republic of Ireland international was captioned as an ‘unidentified fan’ while posing for a snap alongside Galaxy team-mate Beckham, and Russell Brand at an LA Lakers game.
It was a moment that raised a smile among football fans, but the same awkwardness would never befall Beckham. Whether he was court-side, or on David Letterman’s talk show Beckham was unmistakable.
It’s a testament to his legacy – or maybe just his army of PR staff – that Beckham is still active on the US talk show circuit. It can be tough for an athlete to stay relevant after retirement, but Beckham’s blend of talent, good looks, and charm has made him a well-known figure in the United States with his move to MLS catapulting him into the consciousness of the US audience.
“There’s only one player in the last 20 years that is iconic in the way that David Beckham is,” Grant Wahl told CNN in 2013. “I think part of it is, he’s a tremendously good-looking guy who has embraced the positive and negative that comes with being a global celebrity. Women love the guy.”
Whether Beckham’s victory in promoting Beckham helped anyone other than his family is another question.
3) He delivered on the field, eventually
It’s fair to say Beckham was not an instant playing success in MLS. He reinvented himself as a central midfielder as his 30s wore on, and the former England international saw injury curtail his debut season, but he did eventually show his quality on the ball.
In terms of on-field performance, Beckham was only ever likely to be evaluated by the silverware he accrued while with the Galaxy. When he signed for the club in 2007 they had two MLS Cups, while DC United were the most successful team in the league with four. Fast forward to 2012 and the teams were tied, thanks to Beckham winning two of the three MLS Cup finals he contested.
Beckham’s success wasn’t confined to show-piece occasions though. He produced many memorable moments on the field, including trademark free-kicks and one goal from inside his own half. Still a fierce competitor even as his playing career wound down, his best season was arguably 2011 in which he recovered from a mid-season spine fracture to record 15 assists.
1) His proposed franchise remains in a state of limbo
It speaks volumes of David Beckham’s MLS franchise that it still does not have a name, despite being announced almost three years ago.
Beckham’s franchise bid was confirmed in February 2014 at a lavish ceremony, but his goal of MLS dominance has been hindered by an inability to secure a stadium in downtown Miami. An issue many sceptics highlighted at the time, there are also concerns about the general viability of a team in Miami. The city housed the Miami Fusion from 1997 until 2001 when financial problems forced the team to fold.
Seemingly undeterred, Beckham has maintained a positive outlook on things with a belief his persistence will produce rewards. Meanwhile, Don Garber – the league’s commissioner – has begun to lose patience, admitting in December that a conclusion was required soon.
“Everybody needs to understand, including David and his partners, that we’ve worked hard, and it’s time for us to reach a conclusion,” Garber told the Miami Herald.
Beckham’s ownership group had acquired land in Overtown, Miami, but bureaucratic delays mean there has been little tangible progress in 2016. Garber did state that he was “more confident than a year ago” about the team’s prospects, but if the franchise fails to materialize it will be a failure for the usually successful Beckham.
2) His loan spells were disrespectful to Galaxy fans
David Beckham may have left with general goodwill when his MLS career ended in 2012, but there was a time when he was much maligned among his own supporters.
“Go home fraud”, read one banner. “Hey Becks, Here Before You, Here after You, Here Despite You,” said another.
Beckham’s meek start to life in the league wasn’t helped by the fact he missed the start of the 2009 season so he could remain on loan at Italian giants Milan. Understandably met with criticism from Galaxy supporters upon his return, the midfielder cited a desire to prolong his England career as the reason behind the temporary stints in Serie A.
When he returned to Milan again in 2010 he suffered a torn achilles tendon, which left him out for six months of the season. Beckham was far from the only MLS star to engage in a post-season loan – the likes of Thierry Henry and Robbie Keane both returned to the Premier League – but they came back in time to start their seasons in the US.
Beckham’s commitment to the league was subsequently questioned, and team-mate Landon Donovan also criticized him publicly for his lack of commitment (although the US international later apologised). On the plus side, the aforementioned banners may now be worth something if not a unique piece of American soccer memorabilia.
3) It was more about his celebrity than football
When the Beckhams moved to Los Angeles they rubbed shoulders with a host of celebrities. In fact, during David’s first game with the Galaxy, (a 1-0 loss to Chelsea) a host of stars came out to watch, including Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Eva Longoria and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
It’s fair to say the Beckham’s embraced the celebrity culture. As David toured the chat shows, his wife Victoria landed her own reality show, Victoria Beckham: Coming to America. It lasted one episode.
In fairness to Beckham, the focus did seem to shift to his football towards the end of his time in Los Angeles, with the midfielder admitting in 2013 he had been hurt by criticism of his celebrity driven persona. “At the end of the day I’m a footballer who has played for some of the biggest clubs in the world, with some of the best players in the world, and under some of the biggest and best managers, and achieved almost everything in football,” he said. “I hope people will remember me as a hard-working footballer, someone who was passionate about the game and someone that gave everything that they have, because that’s how I feel.”