Does the name of David Beckham sound familiar to you? If you have ever had any exposure to sports then it should.
Actually scratch that. One really doesn’t need to have any exposure to sports to recognize Beckham’s name. He is just as iconic for the rest of the entertainment industry as he is for the sport of soccer.
We have all seen various documentaries and news about his life with Posh Spice—Victoria Beckham. Some are likely using fashion brands that carry his name. And if nothing else you at least heard of the ceremonies surrounding his arrival to Major League Soccer not so long ago.
But it has been a while since topics related purely to the game of soccer—even if Beckham was still involved—occupied the headlines of American sports web sites. And all of this taking place around the time of the Super Bowl, and amongst raising concerns that America’s other favorite sport—baseball—had turned into a chemical lab.
The last time the general audience heard much about the sport was in the summer of 2008 when the European Championship took place and was broadcasted by ESPN.
Since we are on the topic, it is worthwhile mentioning that this was the first time the Euro Cup was televised in the United States on channels accessible to the general public. In years past, even such major soccer tournaments used to be overlooked by the American media and respectively by viewers.
Reading the above paragraphs one might conclude that the interest of the American public toward the game of soccer has simply grown steadily in recent years. Maybe that is so or maybe it is not. Whatever the case it is still dazzling to see as many headlines in American media related to the sport as we have seen recently with Beckham’s on loan move to Italian side AC Milan.
The deal was questioned by many from the outset but it was signed under a strict agreement that Beckham would rejoin the Los Angeles Galaxy—the MLS team that owns his rights—after his three month stay with the Rossoneri was over.
The deal was requested by Beckham himself as he wanted to maintain his playing form throughout the break months of the MLS season. Beckham explained his decision with his desire to compete for a spot on the England national team. England national coach—Fabio Capello—made it clear that Beckham would not receive an invitation to subsequent friendly and World Cup qualifying games unless he found a team to play for during the MLS off-season months.
Once in Italy, Beckham realized how much he missed playing for one of the biggest clubs in soccer—in his career in Europe Beckham played for Manchester United and Real Madrid—and immediately started having second thoughts about returning to the MLS.
AC Milan, as most clubs would have it in their case, seeing how much gas was still left in Beckham’s tank, immediately initiated a statement saying that if Beckham and his permanent club—LA Galaxy—renegotiated his contract they would be willing to extend a transfer offer to the Galaxy and assume the rights of the player signing a new multi-year contract.
After the initial news broke off Beckham’s name was all over the news. The media created so many nuances of the story and so many possible outcomes that one could easily make up their own story and sell it to a web site as a legitimate possibility.
In the end Beckham seems headed back to LA to fulfill his contract with the Galaxy after all negotiations broke off this week.
As a Milan fan, I must admit I was excited about the possibility of seeing Beckham remain with the club past March. But that was the fan in me talking, and when I stepped back for a moment I realized how pathetic such transfer would have really been.
So let’s look at things from the perspective all parties involved.
(1) David Beckham—"I want to play for the England National team!"
David Beckham wanted to play soccer at a high level. His desire to play for the England national team was given as a reason for the loan deal with Milan. Major League Soccer recently entered its off-season months and Beckham’s only chance to compete for a spot on the Three Lions squad was to keep form with a team in Europe where domestic and European championship seasons were at their peak.
The choice of Italian side AC Milan was not coincidental. England’s national coach is from Italy and used to coach the club in the 90s. With the recent struggles of Milan in Serie A there was mutual interest from both sides, and Beckham foresaw the arising opportunity.
Some reasonable questions arise from what was said above, however, and I am certain that many fans were wondering the same things.
Did Beckham not know what the calendar of the MLS looked like before he joined the LA Galaxy? If he cared so much about the England national team why did he come to the MLS in the first place? Was he just looking for more media exposure? Was it Victoria’s influence, that made him relocate to Los Angeles after a successful career with two of the best clubs in the history of the sport?
Wasn’t this deal telling the MLS and local fans that the league, according to Beckham and Capello, was not yet on par with European leagues? If so why did the LA Galaxy allow this on loan deal to ever take place as this would be interpreted as a slap in the face of the team and the league? Why did the league stay silent throughout this?
Those and many other questions quickly crawled through people’s minds, and even the AC Milan fan in me was wondering about the same things.
Apparently money and fame can buy most things these days and Beckham proved this theory right.
(2) AC Milan—the club trying to steal the cheese
The Italian giants are not among the most storied teams in soccer for no reason. With Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi as an owner, and former Serie A president Adriano Galliani as a chairman, the club is well armed to complete lopsided trade negotiations and put pressure on teams and players.
Of course, the team would never engage in a quarrel with a player’s club—in the current situation that would be the LA Galaxy—but the rules of manipulation and the polished political and negotiation skills are not something foreign to such storied figures as Berlusconi and Galliani.
The team was probably very clear on the fact that Beckham was still a top player even before he joined the team. They knew his performance would spark the overall performance of the team. They knew he would bring major revenues from merchandise sales.
With all that knowledge and with having two outstanding leaders at the top how could anyone think that AC Milan was not going to attempt keeping Beckham for longer than three months?
Even I knew that!
Beckham would be too big of a cash cow to let go of, and somehow the LA Galaxy and the MLS did not realize it. Or maybe they pretended that they didn’t...
(3) Los Angeles Galaxy/Major League Soccer—“Who moved my cheese?”
Have you heard or read the “Who moved my cheese” story? You will be able to find a summary of it if you search the title on-line. It’s about adapting to change, which is exactly what Major League Soccer and the LA Galaxy seemed to be doing with the Beckham situation.
When the request from Beckham to be allowed to move on a loan deal to a European side arrived in the offices of the Galaxy the team had two options.
- Simply say no and shut the door in front of any big name player who would ever consider making a move to the MLS in the future. Big name players would probably have aspirations for playing on their national team as was the case with Beckham. And it is likely that such stars would ask for similar loan deals with major clubs from Europe so that they could stay on the radar of their national coaches. As much as the MLS has improved over the previous seasons it failed to impress England national coach Fabio Capello, and there is no reason to believe that any other national team coach would not do the same. Oh and by the way, by saying no, the team would also risk losing Beckham as a free agent later this year—information about a clause in his contract with the Galaxy allowing this leaked through the media in recent weeks.
- Accept the offer and risk entering the situation, which we have been in for the past few weeks.
Apparently the Galaxy, likely aided by the league, chose option No. 2. The team was willing to sacrifice its image and turn into the “bad guy” but not eliminate the possibility for the MLS to attract other great players like Beckham in the future by not letting them play at a high level during the MLS off-season.
And by not accepting any money the Galaxy also shows willingness to lose Beckham to free agency soon.
Now that’s what I call adapting to change. You sacrifice one team but not the opportunity for the league to keep growing and improving. In the “Who moved my cheese” fable the little people had to learn to use their instincts to adjust to what life was offering. The maze is a wonderful place but sooner or later comfort would be ruined, and being able to adapt to the environment becomes crucial.
Apparently the LA Galaxy and Major League Soccer have the right change management staff in place!
(4) Michel Platini, and the fans—"Whatever you do with the cheese, do not break the harmony of the environment!"
For those who do not know, Michel Platini is the president of UEFA—Union of European Football Associations. UEFA is considered by many as the most influential organization in soccer, even over FIFA—Fédération Internationale de Football Association (French for International Federation of Association Football).
Platini announced that he will initiate an investigation regarding the regulations surrounding loan movement of players.
“My problem in this specific case is not Beckham,” said the Frenchman. “I am simply questioning the regulations allowing a club to loan a player for three months in the season.”
“So does that mean that teams can afford to not pay big money for players throughout the entire season and loan them for only a period of time at the end of a season?,” added Platini. “What if clubs decided to loan players for just a couple of games, or one game—a final?”
And those are reasonable questions that people among the soccer administration circles are rightfully concerned about.
Reading the comments under the multiple headline articles related to Beckham’s move to Milan I found a lot of people backing Beckham’s desire to play at the best possible level. And I agree with the purely competitive aspect of what was being said. But once again we go back to the questions asked earlier.
Did Beckham not know what he was getting into when he came to the MLS? We would never know what exactly prompted Beckham to turn his back to European soccer when offers were not lacking. Maybe Victoria really has a strong influence over her husband. Maybe they both decided to bring their kids to the US and raise them here. Maybe having Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, and Will Smith’s family, as next door neighbors was a reason good enough.
Or maybe it was the weather...
We would never know, but Beckham certainly did not act as a gentleman toward his American club. I now wonder what reception he will get from Galaxy fans. The same is valid for Landon Donovan who turned in a very similar story himself by joining German side Bayern Munich and testing the waters for a longer stay with the Bavarian side.
Somehow we keep being reminded that ethics in sports are often misunderstood. The Beckham soap opera is simply another example of that, nothing new.
But at least it ascended soccer to the front pages of many of the leading sports sites. And that’s a positive in itself that soccer fans, Major League Soccer, and the LA Galaxy should be thankful for.
And unless we learn to look at the positives, and adjust to the environment, we would never be able to find our cheese.