The David Beckham Effect: Are the Galaxy Better Off Without Their Biggest Star?
The term "roller coaster" doesn't even begin to describe David Beckham's surreal tenure in MLS. It would probably take a few hours with a thesaurus to nail down an apt term.
Circus? Distraction? Mania? Hysteria? Surreal frenzy of ridiculous expectations? As fun as this is, let's stop before it goes too far and just agree that Beckham in Los Angeles has been weird.
Forget the constant transfer rumors. Forget the fact that Beckham's Rolls Royce lifestyle doesn't really fit in a league filled with vanilla Volkswagen Jettas. There's only one thing you need to focus on to understand how strange things have been during the last couple of years.
Despite Beckham's high price tag, despite his impressive pedigree and loaded resume, he hasn't made the L.A. Galaxy a better club.
Popular sportswriter Bill Simmons writes about a phenomenon called the Ewing Theory. The basic principle behind the Ewing Theory is that some superstars possess the rare ability to help their teams by not playing.
The 2001 Seattle Mariners raced to 116 wins a year after Alex Rodriguez left for Texas, the 1999 New York Knicks made it to the NBA Finals after the Theory's namesake tore his Achilles tendon early in the playoffs, and more recently, the Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup after Marian Hossa defected to the Detroit Red Wings.
Now, you can add David Beckham and the L.A. Galaxy to the list.
Since Beckham arrived in Hollywood in July of 2007, the Galaxy have done nothing but tread water at the bottom of the standings. They missed the playoffs for the second year in a row in 2007 as Beckham admirably tried to play through a niggling injury.
The 2008 season saw a fully fit Beckham still unable to help Los Angeles to the playoffs, as poor management and Abel Xavier conspired to sink the Galaxy's hopes. GM Alexi Lalas and head coach Ruud Gullit were sacked to make way for Bruce Arena, but there was no change in fortunes for L.A.
Despite some good performances from Beckham, L.A. endured a 12-match winless streak that saw them fall from the top of the table to the bottom. The Galaxy were playing worse than the sum total of their parts.
Following the 2008 debacle, AC Milan swooped in to pick up Beckham on loan. Everybody expected L.A. to suffer because for the first half of the season, Landon Donovan would be without the teammate that provided him with pinpoint passes and beautiful goal-scoring opportunities.
The only problem was that nobody could make L.A. stick to the script.
Beckham hasn't played a single match for L.A. in 2009, and they've been doing just fine without him. Sure, they haven't been winning terribly often, but more importantly, they haven't been losing.
Minus Becks, the Galaxy are sitting in fifth place in the Western Conference thanks to a record of 5-3-9. Turn just two of those nine draws into wins, and they'd be in second place. They also have a positive goal differential, something that hasn't been seen in L.A. for years.
This is a strange phenomenon, especially when you consider that Beckham has won at least one trophy in his other stops, excluding AC Milan. With Manchester United, six league titles, two FA Cups, and one Champions League title. At Real Madrid, a single league title and one Spanish Supercup.
Clearly, the man knows how to win. You don't hang around Sir Alex Ferguson for that long if you aren't a proven winner.
Why hasn't he been able to translate his prior success into MLS?
It's tough to say, really. There are a couple of reasonable theories. The most likely reason is that MLS tends to be more physical than finesse, and Beckham hasn't been able to adjust to that.
You can't teach an old dog new tricks, and he's had a hard time in a league where the passing and playmaking aren't up to snuff but the physical demands are through the roof.
I think if L.A. had paired Beckham with a good defensive midfielder who could shoulder some of the responsibility, he would have enjoyed more success. Think Ricardo Clark, Pablo Mastroeni, or Shalrie Joseph. Having one of those three in the same midfield would allow Beckham to just sit back and pass all day.
Theory No. 2 is not terribly flattering to Beckham, but in the light of recent revelations, it has to be mentioned. It's entirely possible that Beckham's ego and attitude have disrupted the Galaxy's chemistry when he's been in the lineup.
Donovan wasn't the only player who lodged a complaint about Beckham, and it's likely that more players than were named felt alienated by Beckham.
Perhaps Beckham will silence his critics when he returns to action tonight against New York. Perhaps he'll show a renewed sense of purpose and win back the respect of his teammates.
One thing is certain though: If L.A. begins to struggle when Beckham returns, it will be clear that he's a bad fit—and the newest victim of the Ewing Theory.
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