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Saturday, July 21, 2007

"If he is on for 10 minutes and we are winning the trophy, then we will let him play for free and will make a free kick for him to score." J. Mourinho

When one of the highest paid and fiercely competitive club coaches in the world, (~US $10 million per year) starts speaking in this manner, has the integrity of the game has been challenged? Or has Mr. Mourinho spent too much time in the hot sun of Southern California, and perhaps been lulled into the hyperbole machine known as "Brand Beckham?" My thoughts are that it is a clever psychological ploy by the master, Jose Mourinho, to use the media to deflect attention from his own team. And to place more pressure (as if they needed it) upon Alexi Lalas, Frank Yallop, and David Beckham to deliver the goods.

There has been too much shameless promotion by ESPN et al about one football match in late July that is absolutely meaningless. But because the venue is Hollywood, and the marquee attraction is David Beckham, life imitates art.

The player himself, in an interview on Thursday night, stated that he was doubtful to play. "I'll be here for five years." The most logical statement surrounding "The Swollen Ankle Dilemma" for ESPN, AEG, and the Los Angeles Galaxy.

Now, Jose Mourinho, "The Special One," chimes in with his opinion. I have my own. Why doesn't Beckham start the game, Chelsea will foul a Galaxy player outside the penalty box, and then we can get what we collectively paid for: A perfect bended Beckham free kick. Into an empty net. I really believe that Mourinho should call his team off of the pitch, and guarantee a goal by Beckham. Then Beckham can leave to a thunderous roar, and a guaranteed video clip for the ages. But those endings are supposed to happen in movies. Not in real life or professional sports.

Let's see. According to ESPN, there are 9 hours and 10 minutes before Beckham's first game in North America. On Thursday night, they showed a graphic at the bottom of the screen with a ridiculous countdown. Just like the Millennium Clock. Then the star attraction tells the audience that the clock might need to be extended a bit.

By the way, the game will also be televised, without as much hyperbole, on Telefutura. There will be no countdown, no interviews with famous Hollywood stars who have never seen a live soccer game before (perhaps a few who have), and most importantly, their cameras will not be focused entirely on Beckham sitting on the bench. Or the dozens of A list Hollywood stars in attendance to sell the idea that soccer is now a cool trend for the masses. The same way everything else is sold in this country by Hollywood, marketing mavens, and Wall Street. "The other guy is going to get it, we tell you that you need it, so you better buy before we run out of it."

This whole experience points to one key element: the shallowness of Western pop culture. I-Phones that people spend days in line to buy, and the latest Harry Potter book at 12 midnight. Mass media coverage of Paris Hilton's departure from jail at midnight. In this latest example, one very famous athlete is injured, has only trained a few days with his new team, but is scripted to make an earth-shattering cameo appearance against a team with an annual payroll of $200 million. To keep the ratings up during prime time on Saturday night. To save a sport that does not need saving. To placate advertisers who have marketed this one game as if it were the Second Coming. ESPN is to be lauded for their efforts to cover the world game of soccer; however, sometimes, less is more. It reminds me of a quote from many years ago. Directly after the Super Bowl, Tom Brookshire of CBS asked the perennial question to Duane Thomas of the Dallas Cowboys. "How does it feel to win the Super Bowl?" "If it is such a big deal, why do we play it every year." The silence was deafening.

I'll be watching both ESPN and Telefutura. But I wish Beckham all the best. He is a genuine guy who has taken on a mountain of unrealistic expectations. Notably, the Himalayan expectations of others. If they would merely get out of his way, and let this process develop naturally, there would be no need for Hollywood premieres that might be doomed to disappoint. Unless all of the stars align in the "Galaxy" tonight. No pun intended.

Mr. Mourinho, if you are serious about your statement, please don't give away anything. Beckham doesn't need any gifts. Nor do the American fans who know that "The color is blue, and football is the game." Whether at Stamford Bridge, or the Home Depot Center.

Reference

Mourinho Urges Caution Over Beckham Injury, ESPN Soccernet, 21 July 2007.

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