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Thursday, July 19, 2007

"Marketing gimmicks hardly support their claim to be a serious sporting operation." Matt Dickinson, Times of London

Matt Dickinson has the job that most of us who write about the sport would envy. He is the chief football correspondent for the Times of London. Like many of his fellow British writers, Mr. Dickinson has been camped in Los Angeles. Following Chelsea's pre-season training, but mostly, the developments surrounding David Beckham.

On Tuesday night, the Galaxy played an international friendly against Tigres of Mexico. The Mexican side won, 0 x 3. I saw the game on Telefutura, and one could say that they not only beat the Galaxy, but embarrassed them.

David Beckham did not play. Actually, he was sitting next to Alexi Lalas with a large amount of ice wrapped around his swollen left ankle. He suffered this injury in his last weeks at Madrid, and it was re-aggravated during England's game against Estonia in early June. The long flight from Europe to Los Angeles created more problems for the already tender area.

Today, Beckham will fly to Colorado for an appearance during the Sierra Mist MLS All-Star game. The MLS is the only professional soccer league in the world that holds such a game. No doubt to brand themselves as mainstream. Since the NFL, NBA, and MLB hold such events. But what is interesting to note is that the MLS, for all of its marketing acumen, is risking Beckham to make a frankly unnecessary appearance. He can't play. He could give an interview from Los Angeles that could be beamed to Colorado and anywhere else. If flying long distances aggravated the ankle injury, will 3000 miles in one day ameliorate the situation?

A big crowd is expected for his debut this Saturday against Chelsea. Especially on ESPN and Telefutura. Both networks will televise the game live at 1730 local time. But what I don't understand is why the MLS, AEG, and the Galaxy are risking Beckham in this manner? The public expects to see the $250 million man. Swollen ankle not withstanding, and whether that is fair or not. This reminds me of the debut of Freddy Adu in 2004. All hype, and no substance. Young Adu came on as a second-half substitute. Much to the consternation of those in attendance, along with a nationally-televised broadcast.

One would think, logically, that Beckham's first nationally televised game would meet three conditions: 1) He is game fit, 2) He has had sufficient time to acclimate to his new teammates, and 3) Not debut against one of the best teams in the world (in this case, Chelsea FC of London). But the MLS doesn't see that logic. It wants to spread the Gospel of David, and not look at the long-term consequences. We know that Jose Mourinho, the $10 million dollar a year coach for Chelsea, will not not embarrass the Yanks. But do we as fans, along with millions of others who have a mere curiosity about Beckham, want to see him play when he is not ready? Since childhood, we have been taught that you don't have a second chance to make a good first impression. For American soccer, and David Beckham, I hope that he makes the type of appearance that leaves a lasting impression.

Here are some of today's comments by Mr. Dickinson from the Times:

"Barely a month after lifting the Spanish title with esteemed Real Madrid teammates such as Raúl and Ruud van Nistelrooy, Beckham had to endure the sight of his new colleagues being embarrassed in a 3-0 home defeat by Tigres, the Mexican club. Miserable and unacceptable were the words used by Alexei Lalas, the Galaxy general manager, who must have been squirming in his seat next to his club’s new star signing.

Beckham spent the match asking polite biographical details about his new colleagues. One question � “how on earth do you expect me to improve that lot?” � would have sufficed.

The crowd at the Home Depot Centre was sparse and it was fair to ask where his employers’ priorities lie after the Galaxy changed from white home kit to blue away kit during the half-time interval. Marketing gimmicks hardly support their claim to be a serious sporting operation.

But it was the quality of the football that must have alarmed Beckham, with Landon Donovan, the US forward, and Kelly Gray, who was rejected by Fulham a couple of years ago, two exceptions against Tigres. Ty Harden earns £15,000 a year to defend for the Galaxy and that wage looked generous. Chris Klein was sent off and Beckham, wisely, disappeared into the stands for more treatment 20 minutes from the end...

“Everybody in Los Angeles and around the world wants to see him make his debut,” Lalas said. But the world’s attention is the last thing that either the Galaxy or Beckham need, unless improvement is immediate and dramatic." (1)


(1) Galaxy's lack of star quality leaves Beckham in a daze. Times of London, 19 July 2007.

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