Beckham in the US: Hollywood pass time

Steve Tongue
Sunday 14 January 2007 01:00 GMT

However much, or little, David Beckham achieves in Major League Soccer over the next five years, his career in the upper echelons of the sport will shortly be over. It is tempting to see his position as a footballing equivalent of Raymond Chandler's reflection on Hollywood some 60 years ago: "If my books had been any worse, I should not have been invited. If they had been any better, I should not have come."

Beckham's output, some reports suggest, was still of sufficient quality to have kept him in the top flight of European football, with both Milan clubs interested. But, like Chandler before him, he headed for Los Angeles. Farewell, my lovelies. Had his decision been made on purely sporting grounds, he might have either accepted the lure of Italyand been prepared to undergo a couple of years in the suffocating world of Serie A, or followed his former team-mate Michael Owen back home to a second-tier Premiership club. Alas, Bolton, Newcastle and Tottenham are not Real Madrid, and the Uefa Cup these days is a far cry from the Champions' League.

When the full story of the move comes to be written, perhaps in the updated version of Beckham's autobiography, it is likely to contain some remarkable similarities to the other monumental decision of his professional career: the leaving of Manchester United. David, still in some ways a sensitive and rather insecure soul, realises that although a new contract is on the table, United/Real are lukewarm about his future. Each time, the club make a mess of a public announcement (United somehow forgot to tell him they had accepted an offer from Barcelona), so he sits down with family and advisers and decides on the best new destination.

Last time, even Barcelona were not a consideration, for "there was only one club I wanted to join". This time, the decision is made with a view to the longer term. The actual football will be much more relaxed, ensuring he can continue for longer if required, the money is sensational, business prospects with a Beckham academy already set up in LA are excellent. It is, as his new countrymen would say, a no-brainer. He can even claim to be part of a crusade to help establish professional football in the United States, something that Pele, George Best and an otherwise successful World Cup failed to do between them.

The one downside after he moves will be an acceptance common to most 32-year-olds that his football will never again touch the heights. La Liga is one thing; the Western Conference quite another. And while England's head coach, Steve McClaren, would find the occasional scouting trip to Los Angeles even more enjoyable than Madrid, he is highly unlikely to bother.

How, then, will history judge Beckham's career? In a nutshell - B plus, very good rather than great. From becoming a United regular with huge potential at the age of 20, he produced a first iconic moment on the opening day of the 1996-97 season by scoring from his own half at Wimbledon. Three months later, sitting in a Tblisi hotel room with Gary Neville (and how glamorous is that?), he saw the Spice Girls on television and decided that what he really, really wanted was the one in the black catsuit. This ensured, to the displeasure of Sir Alex Ferguson and others, that he would become a full-blown celebrity outside football; as did his sending-off at the 1998 World Cup.

That was the first of five major tournaments where he would disappoint, which must count as the greatest minus of all, though that which did not kill him (the hangings from London lampposts were only of effigies) made him stronger and represented an admirable triumph of character. His peak came from 1999 to 2001, a period encompassing the Champions' League final, when he played in central midfield and took both perfectly placed corners to facilitate United's astounding comeback, and also the virtuoso performance at Old Trafford for England against Greece, whom he appeared to be playing on his own. In 1999 and 2001, he was voted runner-up to the World Player of the Year, something few would sniff at.

Now that Fabio Capello has halted his Real Madrid playing career so abruptly, Beckham's four-year period there will end, almost unthinkably, without a major trophy. Even so, observers who have watched him regularly have been far more complimentary than those confined to watching an occasional game on Sky Sports and his increasingly ineffective international performances. Sadly, the last image of Beckham in an England shirt has him sitting sobbing in the dug-out in Gelsenkirchen. Now he will be crying all the way to the Bank of Hollywood.


"If the last 24 hours is any indication of the positive impact David is going to have on our organisation and our sport, I cannot wait" - Alexi Lalas, LA Galaxy general manager on Becks' Californian dream move

No Italian job : Milan would have been new home

David Beckham would have joined Milan had he chosen to remain in Europe, according to the Italian club's vice-president, Adriano Galliani. The Milan coach, Carlo Ancelotti, would have spent his summer mulling the former England captain's role. "Had Beckham stayed in Europe, he would have joined Milan," Galliani told Gazzetta dello Sport. Milan reportedly offered the 31-year-old a three-year contract worth a mere £3.5 million a season, plus 100 per cent of his image rights. Cheapskates.

Hi, I'm from Bolton: Edgeworth lad plays for Galaxy tenants

David Beckham will not be the only English player in Los Angeles this summer. John Cunliffe, a 22-year-old forward from Edgeworth, Bolton, was a first-round pick in the Major League Soccer SuperDraft by CD Chivas USA, the LA Galaxy's tenants at the Home Depot Center in Carson, California. Cunliffe, who had starred for Division Two college Fort Lewis in Colorado after being spotted playing for a youth team called Atletico Preston, was the only player from outside the Division One colleges in America to be invited to the pre-draft try-outs in Florida, known as the MLS Combine. Will hanging round with Becks further Cunliffe's interest in psychology?

Real star man: Nicol nicks crown as top Brit in MLS

Becks will find it difficult to claim the throne as most influential Brit in the MLS. Someone far lower- key has a prior claim on that crown. Steve Nicol, the Scot who enjoyed a fruitful playing career at right-back for Liverpool, joined Boston Bulldogs of the A-League in 1999. He became head coach of New England Revolution in 2002, was named MLS coach of the year that season and has guided the club to three MLS Cup finals.

LA Consequential: Becks bigger than Pele but he needs help

Bigger than Pele? David Beckham has been called a few things, but that surely is an absurd claim. Not for Shep Messing. Who? In the late Seventies, Messing was the New York Cosmos goalkeeper who enjoyed watching from behind as the great Brazilian transformed the fortunes of the NASL, which another world master, Johan Cruyff, also illuminated. Messing believes Beckham can make a bigger impact on the game in the US than his old team-mate, but another former Cosmos star, the former Italy striker Giorgio Chinaglia, thinks it will take more than just Beckham to make Major League Soccer a big player in US sport. "What Beckham is going to do will have greater impact than Pele," Messing said. "Pele was a meteor, but this will have a bigger impact." Chinaglia, however, believes more big names are needed to help Beckham transform soccer into an American ratings-grabber. "David Beckham is not a player like a Ronaldinho or a Zidane. Beckham alone cannot bring much to MLS, but I hope he's the first of many big players," he said.


333 The number of league games David Beckham played for Manchester United, Preston and Real.

30 The number of games in the MLS regular season, followed by play-offs.

2 The number of times LA Galaxy have won the MLS Cup - DC United have won it four times.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in