David Beckham Begins China Tour: How Can Becks Help Chinese Football?

Vince Siu@vincetalksfootyFeatured ColumnistMarch 20, 2013

Beckham greets the press during his Beijing tour
Beckham greets the press during his Beijing tourLintao Zhang/Getty Images

The breaking news in David Beckham-world this Wednesday is that the Paris Saint-Germain star has arrived in Beijing for a four-day, money-spinning tour as the Chinese Super League's global ambassador.

Another week, another PR exercise for "Brand Beckham," which has seen the ex-England international travel all across the globe with different clubs throughout his entire career.

Just months after finalizing a high-profile move to Ligue 1's headline-grabbers PSG, where Beckham himself managed to steal even more of the limelight by announcing that he would be donating his earnings to charity, he has officially dipped his feet into the world's most promising, exciting and of course lucrative football market.

But Beckham will claim, as he has already, that his latest trip is more about just promotion and publicity; it is about football and developing local interest, and he will have a strong point.

After all, this is one of the few footballers on earth who need no introduction, having enjoyed a stellar career at the top level with Manchester United and Real Madrid.

This is the footballer who rode on the early waves of MLS promotion to draw even more attention to the American game during his stint with the LA Galaxy.

This is the passionate, patriotic Englishman who contributed his talents to AC Milan in no fewer than two loan spells to gain match fitness and force his way into the England squad for international tournaments.

And this is the 37-year-old midfielder who, in the twilight years of his career, has already made an admirable impact for PSG on the field: Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who is no regular eater of humble pie, recently went on record stating his admiration for Beckham the player.

So it is football, Beckham will claim, that has drawn him to his latest "project."

But his latest project just happens to be his most daunting and most difficult.

At a time where Chinese football seems to be at a crossroads, following years of corruption at the top level that have only recently culminated in some severe punishment, and in a significant need of a boost towards its dwindling local interest, who prefer the dizzying talents on show in the European game.

Paradoxically, the hiring of Beckham as its first global football ambassador puts the focus back onto the European game: Let's purely hypothesize about the media interest and fan attendance at Beckham's roadshows during his brief tour merely because of his presence, and not because of the games and programs he is promoting.

Let's purely hypothesize about the percentage of fans who would spend more time buying a No. 32 Beckham PSG jersey than they would even a ticket to see their local Chinese Super League team playing in an Asian Champions League tie.

Let's purely hypothesize about the number of people in China who can more accurately name all the clubs Beckham has played for and the trophies he has won, as well as the number of caps and goals he has had at international level, than even the number of teams China has in their top domestic league.

In an era where China is looking for rapid development in the team sport arena, turning to Beckham for increased domestic attention makes sense from a financial and promotional perspective, but not as much from a practical point of view.

Both the Chinese themselves and Beckham will be acutely aware of this.

And this is where the opportunity comes in.

It's not enough to merely have an international superstar come in and greet the press. It's not enough to have international superstars come in and spend a few months at a high-profile team. (And in the case of Nicolas Anelka and Didier Drogba, also leave the team in controversial circumstances.) It's not even enough to have an increased international presence in terms of players at Chinese teams.

Because all of this is unsustainable without a real reflective look at how footballing success is really groomed: at the bottom.

There are signs that China is paying more attention to the bottom. Last year, the Chinese Football Associated appointed Tom Byer, who achieved much success promoting grassroots football education with a series of innovative methods in Japan, as its Head Technical Advisor for the Chinese School Football Program and its Official Grassroots Ambassador.

For the future of the Chinese game, Byer's appointment, while not promoted nearly as loudly as Beckham's, could have repercussions as wide as the CFA's latest stunt.

And if Beckham really has set his sights on improving football in China, his most appealing option would have to be to actually set foot in China as a footballer, teammate and mentor.

Beckham was famous for settling into the LA Galaxy team as a captain and teammate and for his role in the dressing room as much as for his contributes on the field, and he could have the same impact on an ambitious CSL team that are not merely looking to take advantage of his considerable financial clout.

But if, after he finishes his half-year sojourn in Paris, he decides to venture into China and focus his attentions on academy work and drawing participation to soccer schools and after-school programs, then China could be talking about a real force for good, instead of a mere flashy headline, in terms of its footballing future.

As for Beckham himself?

Well, if he really does go this far to lay down the foundations towards a more engaged and passionate Chinese fanbase, he will have amassed considerable experience in the football development side of the game in two continents.

The English FA would be waiting for a golden return with open arms.


For extensive coverage on Liverpool and the Premier League, please check out my Bleacher Report writer’s profile. Follow me @theredarmchair.


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