David Beckham’s Biggest Challenge Yet: Making Landon Donovan Like HimBy: Daryl | July 2nd, 2009
All is not well between David Beckham and American soccer right now. After his longer than planned holiday in Milan, Goldenballs is due to return to MLS and resume playing for LA Galaxy in two weeks time – July 16th vs NYRB away. But he’s already been warned by US Soccer President Sunil Gulati to expect a less than friendly welcome back:
“I’m sure there will be some negative reaction from some fans,” Gulati told Bloomberg. “That’s inevitable, but in the end he’s a good player, a soccer icon and I think he’ll help his team and the league. But are there going to be some people that are upset? Sure.”
A few boos from opposition fans? I’m guessing Beckham can handle that. He’s definitely done so before. But if Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl is to be believed, then Becks needs to win over his own teammates too.
In an excerpt from his upcoming book “The Beckham Experiment” (release July 14th, definitely not a coincidence) Grant Wahl paints Beckham as a man who failed to connect with his less illustrious teammates, commandeered the captain’s armband and wielded too much influence behind the scenes (it’s explicitly suggested that Beckham’s management handpicked Ruud Gullit as Frank Yallop’s replacement).
Wahl is one of the best (maybe the best of all?) American soccer writers out there, and so the tabloidy tone of the excerpt took me by surprise. And there’s definitely something a little unsavoury about publicizing the book through revealing some previously private Galaxy gossip (and yes, I realize I’m being sucked in by writing this post).
But Wahl’s reporting does appear to be more than just rumour and conjecture. It seems to be based in proper journalism, with direct quotes from named players. Most notably this quote from Landon Donovan, apparently speaking to Wahl in August 2008. Brace yourselves:
“All that we care about at a minimum is that he [David Beckham] committed himself to us,” Donovan said. “As time has gone on, that has not proven to be the case in many ways – on the field, off the field.
“Does the fact that he earns that much money come into it? Yeah. If someone’s paying you more than anybody in the league, more than double anybody in the league, the least we expect is that you show up to every game, whether you’re suspended or not.
“Show up and train hard. Show up and play hard. Maybe he’s not a leader, maybe he’s not a captain. Fair enough. But at a minimum you should bust your ass every day. That hasn’t happened. And I don’t think that’s too much for us to expect. Especially when he’s brought all this on us.
“I can’t even say he’s a good team-mate any more. He’s not shown that. I can’t think of another guy where I’d say he wasn’t a good team-mate, he didn’t give everything through all this, he didn’t still care.
“But with Beckham, I’d say no, he wasn’t committed. Let’s say he does stay here three more years. I’m not going to spend the next three years of my life doing it this way … I don’t want to have soccer be this way. I’ve got to confront it somehow. If that’s the way he’s going to be, fine, then hold him accountable. Bench him. Just say, ‘We’re not going to play you, we don’t think you’re committed’.”
Who knew Landycakes had so much fire in his little belly? And he’s right of course. Doesn’t matter how famous Beckham is or how many extra seats he sells. If he’s not committed, he shouldn’t be playing.
And he’s dangerously close to having his spell in MLS be an unmitigated disaster. Word is that Beckham’s contract allows him to leave at the end of the 2009 MLS season and go play somewhere else if he so desires. But if he waves goodbye to MLS without accomplishing so much as a playoff appearance with LA Galaxy, then there’s no way even the best PR agent could spin Beckham’s American adventure as being any sort of success.
But I’ll say this in defence of David Beckham: He has a long history of fighting back and coming out on top. When abuse was piled on him after his stupid sending off helped end England’s 1998 World Cup campaign, Becks bounced back by winning the treble with Man Utd in 1998/99. When Fabio Capello decided he didn’t need Becks at Real Madrid, Becks fought his way back into the team and earned a La Liga winners medal. When Steve McClaren ended Becks’ international career, GoldenBalls still somehow found his way back into an England shirt and now has 112 caps to his name.
So if Beckham really wants to succeed at LA Galaxy, then only a fool would bet against him doing it. But that’s a big if…