RGSOAS Advent Calendar #16: David Beckham’s Next Move

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It’s a column on what David Beckham should do next!

Beckham

David Beckham has left us all on a cliffhanger. Still the planet’s most famous footballer, he is currently without a club, as a string of suitors straighten their ties and smooth down cowlicks in nervous dalliance with the man with the star power they so crave.

Bookmakers have been busy offering odds on his next destination, with Queen’s Park Rangers, Monaco and Paris St Germain the affluent favourites. China’s Shanghai Shenhua and Australia’s Melbourne Heart represent two burgeoning outposts eager for the intangible sweetness of global brand recognition. Two of the more curious names cropping up are teams from the USA: New York Red Bulls and New York Cosmos. Surely only making up the numbers, nobody seems to believe the latter two to be plausible options, since Becks has said goodbye to the States after all. Right?

The David Beckham American boxset has already encompassed such dramatic story arcs as the hyped arrival, the Milan sojourns, the fans revolt, the injury, the MLS Cup wins, and the emotional farewell. But perhaps there is still time for one more sweeping narrative? Before the Hollywood ending, a Hollywood plot twist befitting football’s leading dramatis persona.

If he were to stay in the States and join another team – more to the point, another franchise – it could give Major League Soccer a further fillip. It seems obvious to say that the league would be keen to keep him at a time when global financial forces line up to entice him, but he could yet offer something different at the very denouement of his celebrated career. Why? Because of the lure of the storyline. The man from Hollywood knows a thing or two about drama by now, so he might consider doing something new by bringing something British to the party – some beef.

The back story is there: the frenzied delight of Beckham’s transfer to LA Galaxy quickly crumbling into injury-stilted frustration, before loan moves and England friendlies drew a very public castigation from team-mate Landon Donovan. An increasingly fractious relationship with the club’s supporters culminated in some embarrassing encounters with fans, until he set about regaining their faith when he snapped his Achilles, broke down in tears as he cursed his broken dream of a final World Cup, and convalesced with their sympathy. With nowhere else to go, he would make the Galaxy his sole focus, and eventually delivered two MLS Cup triumphs. But some fans still would not accept him, not truly, and see the two closing MLS Cup wins as proof of what could’ve been achieved sooner had Beckham not pursued his Italian career breaks.

So what if, taking into account this story of hollow promises and grudging redemption, Beckham decided to join a rival team?

Shortly after starting life in LA, I recall his embarrassment in a Sky Sports interview when he admitted that one of the Galaxy’s sponsors would lavish the fans with free chicken to celebrate home victories. Since then, his attempts at bowdlerising North America’s brand of soccer have been far-reaching. Seven new teams have joined an increasingly competitive league since his arrival, and the man himself has the option to own one in future. The expansion fee for joining the league has risen by 300%. Television revenue and attendances have also risen exponentially, as has the average player salary. The salary cap-circumventing Designated Player stipulation is more commonly known as ‘The Beckham Rule’. He even changed the colour of the Galaxy’s home kit.

Such alterations have made the game more recognisable to the game’s Euro-centric, and the MLS has become a more attractive proposition for the likes of Thierry Henry, Robbie Keane and Tim Cahill. Beckham may yet feel that one thing the game is still missing Stateside is the sort of tribalism and sporting animosity that he has witnessed in close quarters. A country so vast in size may never be able to recreate quite the same intensity of such relatively parochial feuds as Manchester United versus Manchester City, Real Madrid versus Barcelona, or AC Milan versus Inter. But if anyone or anything can manufacture such money-spinning conflict, it would be David Beckham, backed by the USA’s very own hype machine. The LA Riot Squad might well react to their boy joining a rival team with the sort of lucrative ire that, as per the diktat of Brand Beckham, would only be good for business.

If he were to go to Australia or China to see how the Beckham Effect can catalyse interest in another of the world’s more obscure leagues, it may well taint the legacy of his efforts in the States. If his agenda is purely to see how he can make money out of previously uncharted markets, then he may be remembered as little more than a footballing tribute to the Harlem Globetrotters, peddling his wares in exhibition matches motivated by commercial enterprise rather than sporting contest. If Beckham really wants to cement his American legacy, he could do worse than by really demonstrating commitment – not to LA Galaxy, but to Major League Soccer.

By reminding everyone that he did indeed go to the States to change the landscape of the game, he can furnish American soccer with the veneer of legitimacy it desired when he arrived. To enter LA a hero and leave as a villain – what could be more Hollywood than that?

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