We have seen how the career of David Beckham blossomed from his debut at Manchester United at the age of 17 to his now tired club appearances for LA Galaxy. For all our misgivings about Beckham being a self-promoting fashion icon rather than professional footballer, one thing is clear, the man never gives up. During his time at Manchester United, Beckham won the Premier League title six times, the FA Cup twice, and the UEFA Champions League in 1999. In 2003, he left Old Trafford for Real Madrid and many critics deemed him a loser after four barren seasons. Yet he emerged from his Spanish stint in 2007 with a major trophy – La Liga championship title, before leaving for Major League Soccer.
Recently, his international career picked up… for no apparent reason. All thanks to England coach Fabio Capello, Beckham has been steadily accumulating England caps, without any eye-catching performances. He was fielded as a late substitute in each of England’s World Cup qualifiers this year, playing a total of 28 minutes for his four caps. The total tally for Golden Balls is 107 England caps and he will equal Bobby Moore’s all-time appearances by featuring against Germany next month. That would leave David Beckham 17 caps shy of Peter Shilton’s long-standing record of playing 125 times for his country between 1970 and 1999.
Shilton is clearly unhappy with the manner in which Beckham has closed in on his record. He said: “I didn’t think it was justifiable at all to bring him on with two minutes to go against Belarus. I couldn’t believe it. You had Shaun Wright-Phillips on the pitch as well and I couldn’t see what reason there could be.”Certainly, any self-respecting footballer will prefer to earn his cap by making significant contributions to the team rather than to receive hand-outs from the coach. But to be fair, a goalkeeper enjoys longevity and can last the entire match because there is less physical demand on the body.An outfield player will have to burst his lungs running up and down the pitch, fighting for possession, creating chances as well as enduring malicious tackles. In this respect, I will cut Beckham some slack and accept his role as a substitute, while breaking records along the way.I am fine with cameo appearances so long as the team’s fortune is not compromised by the 33-year old midfielder whose pace is long gone and can only deliver spectacular free-kicks once in a blue moon. If Beckham can put in even more commitment and hard work than his peers, I keep faith with Capello’s decision that Beckham’s England days are far from over.
Coming back to Beckham’s club career, I am surprised that there is still light at the end of the tunnel. His insipid performances with La Galaxy over two seasons is a disgrace. For the amount of money he wringed from the club while it suffers from a double whammy of falling gate receipts and poor economic conditions in America, I believe not many fans will shed tears over the sacking of David Beckham.Actually, if Beckham can’t survive in the Major League Soccer, the answer is obvious on his usefulness to clubs harboring title ambitions. Yet, AC Milan surprised all and sundry with their unsettling, if not scandalous, decision. The Italian club has confirmed that David Beckham will join them on a short-term loan deal during the MLS close season.Golden Balls now has a chance to feature in both Serie A and UEFA Cup matches for an illustrious club and hopefully justify to his detractors, his continued presence in the England team. The LA Times seems to be none too sad about this development when it reported last week that “the Beckham circus could fold its tents and the club could go back to being what it once was competitive in MLS”.This statement is fair except for the term “competitive” which is at odds with the entire setup at LA Galaxy. In the past four years, Galaxy have accumulated 41 wins, 55 defeats and 27 draws in the regular season. Only Real Salt Lake, a new MLS franchise, has fared worse.
Currently, LA Galaxy lie second from bottom of the Western Standings, with no chance of reaching the playoffs. This is a repeat scenario of Beckham’s first season in California. Galaxy’s record of eight wins, 13 defeats and eight draws represents a failed experiment in creating a “sexy championship team” with David Beckham on the roster.David Beckham’s contributions to LA Galaxy stands at a paltry five goals and 11 assists. These are hardly the sort of statistics that will interest AC Milan, a seven-time European champion. Yet, the Rossoneri were clearly rubbing their hands in glee, probably in anticipation of more fans and merchandise sales.Despite Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti’s declaration that the Rossonneri would like to make the proposed move permanent, the Galaxy captain insisted that he will be back in California for the start of the 2009 MLS season. He said: “I will be back. My commitment is to the Galaxy and that has not changed.”“It’s a two-month spell, maybe a little longer. Milan have got a great team, so I’m not expecting to go straight in the starting line-up. I will have to earn the right to get into that team. I’m in Serie A form. It’s about getting my fitness up.
“I came to the Galaxy to actually win trophies so I want to do that. I’m also very committed to my role as the MLS ambassador as well. It’s been slightly disappointing because we haven’t made the playoffs again.”Does AC Milan really need the 33-year-old England midfielder for footballing purposes? The squad is already overflowing with exceptional talents which include FIFA World Player of the Year Kaka, along with fellow Brazilian internationals Ronaldinho and Alexandre Pato.Experience is rich with veterans Clarence Seedorf and former sharpshooter, Andriy Shevchenko returning to his favorite hunting ground after a miserable time at Chelsea. And not to forget, an array of Italian World Cup winners: Andrea Pirlo, Gennaro Gattuso, Gianlucca Zambrotta, Maldini and Alessandro Nesta.In such a competitive club, it is difficult to imagine Beckham breaking into the first XI on a regular basis. Former Gunners, Mathieu Flamini, has only played four matches (3 domestic and I European), so it is a wonder if Beckham can even make it onto the bench, especially when he is already old, has never tasted Italian soccer and defense never been his forte.
Traditionally, big name players who were over the hill struggled to carve a name for themselves when they arrived at AC Milan. Ronaldo was overweight and out-of-form when he arrived at the San Siro from Real Madrid in Jan. 2007. The Brazilian scored a few goals but never regained his lethal form.His ruptured ligaments ruled him out for nine months and AC Milan privately confirmed that Ronaldo would never play for them again even if he made a full recovery. Ex-Italy forward Roberto Baggio was among other top players who failed to hit their earlier heights after signing for Milan.Financially though, it could be a mutually beneficial arrangement for both club and player. Initial reports reveal that AC Milan will only take Beckham on a ‘free’ loan, meaning that the Italians would not fork out money to LA Galaxy and would just pay part or none of his wages.Milan are cash tight at the moment following the purchase of Ronaldinho from Barcelona, so they will be glad to take Beckham for pennies on the dollar. Beckham, as one of the world’s most famous sportsmen, is a marketing machine which singlehandedly propelled Real Madrid to the richest club in the world with lucrative sales of replica shirts and other revenue generating opportunities.
Consider the mania which greeted the club the day after Ronaldinho joined in July. Milan fans snapped up over a quarter of all the season tickets sold up to that point and hits on the website were 10 times the average.As for David Beckham, the fashion-conscious superstar is already well-known in Italy and models underwear for famous Italian designer Giorgio Armani. Billboards of his half-naked body already span the country, so his effect on Milan fans will be nothing short of spectacular.However, one has to be careful of Beckham’s waning appeal amid the current economic crisis. Last season, Beckham drew a crowd of 66,237 to Giants Stadium in New Jersey to watch him play the New York Red Bulls but this season the attendance was 46,754.FC Dallas had a crowd of 22,331 when David Beckham came to Pizza Hut Park in May, up from 14,600 when Galaxy played there without him last June. But the attendances fell to 8,960 and 8,541 for each of Dallas’s next two home games, signs that Beckham’s impact is only ephemeral.
Galaxy’s owners, Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) has not committed to the deal but coach Arena has already highlighted his displeasure: “I don’t see where that benefits MLS or the Galaxy. Given the position the Galaxy is in, it would seem very odd to me if we were loaning out our top players at the start of the season. ”Despite a sticky start, AC Milan are getting into the groove and looking like Serie A title contenders. The Beckham circus could unfortunately disrupt the balance and upset a few key players. Maldini was reportedly happy with the signing though.On his team’s good run of form, Ancelotti attributed it to his defense, saying: “Favalli, Bonera, Maldini, as well as all the others, have improved individually as well as in a team sense. But the credit also goes to the strikers, who are able to move well on the pitch without ever leaving too much space behind.”Ancelotti said of Beckham: “I wouldn’t just loan him, I’d buy him. He’s still a valid player who can be useful to us, and we can be useful to him. He will not be a tourist.”
But he remained ambivalent about Beckham’s role in the team. “If Beckham wanted to train with us, it wouldn’t be a problem for me.” No mention of Beckham featuring for the team.It will be interesting to see if Ancelotti can find a slot for Beckham and bring out of the best in him. The intense competition with Ronaldinho and Kaka will spur Beckham to outperform himself, which will ultimately work to the benefit of England… that is, if it works out at all.