Let’s face it: David Beckham is not Major League Soccer’s long-awaited messiah, although the upsurge in sales of Beckham jerseys must be making the owners of the L.A. Galaxy very happy. Yet the man with the fabled right foot has given neither the Galaxy nor MLS the much needed injection of talent and class it ardently desired when it first endeavored to bring Beckham across the pond. This is not so much due to a lack of skill on the part of the former English captain; it’s more thanks to the lack of comparable skill around him.
Whereas in basketball one Kobe or one Jordan can drastically affect a team’s performance and even improve his teammates, football (a.k.a. soccer) requires more than one great player on the field to take on the opposition. The recent dominance of Manchester United and Barcelona in their respective national leagues is as much a testament to the defensive skills of Rio Ferdinand and Carlos Puyol as much as it is to the offensive prowess of a Wayne Rooney or Leo Messi. And although Pippo Inzaghi has become the greatest all-time goal-scorer in international competitions, he could have never done so without an Andrea Pirlo or Kaka to feed him the ball.
The same is true for the Galaxy and for MLS at large. Beckham’s ripped and glistening body, no matter how much it gets plastered all over Union Square, can never lift MLS to a level of quality which can compete with that of Europe or South America. The talent gap between American soccer and global football is simply too great for Beckham to bridge by himself, and this has been manifested by the Galaxy’s recent failure to qualify for the MLS playoffs. Becks himself has implicitly but vigorously expressed his disappointment with America in the most emphatic way possible: by going to Italy to play for AC Milan on loan during the MLS offseason.
It’s easy to see how much better a legend plays when he’s surrounded by men of his class. In just the past few weeks, Beckham has made a contribution to AC Milan which coach Carlo Ancelotti called “indispensible”. Highlights include a splendid cross-field assist to 19-year-old Brazilian superstar Pato against Lazio, a curving free kick later in the same game which sailed tantalizingly just out of reach over the Lazio defenders before landing on the head of Massimo Ambrosini for a goal, and a thunderous direct free kick against Genoa which shamed the goalkeeper and put Milan in advantage. He has instantly endeared himself to the Rossoneri faithful, and their faith has not been disappointed.
According to the initial loan agreement between L.A. and Milan, Beckham is to return to the Galaxy on Mar. 8, the first day of the MLS preseason. Yet AC Milan has made no bones about wanting to keep him in Italy. MLS Commissioner Don Garber gave both clubs involved until Feb. 13 to make a deal. Milan’s offer of $15 million was rejected by the Galaxy on the 13th, but the affair isn’t over, because Garber’s deadline is not completely binding; in any case, the Italian club still has until Mar. 8 to steal Becks from America. AC Milan surmised that the Galaxy would bite at the chance of $15 million, but the Galaxy called the bluff, most likely to hold out for more money from a club that paid around $30 million each for Pato and Ronaldinho. Coach Ancelotti is still confident of negotiating a deal to keep Beckham, much to Galaxy coach Bruce Arena’s dismay. What’s more, the Spice Boy has emphatically stated that he hopes to finish the season in Milan.
The fields of American soccer are the graveyards of legends. International superstars Pele, Jurgen Klinsmann, Carlos Valderrama and Roberto Donadoni came to America at the end of their illustrious careers to burn out any remaining gas in the tank. Today Cuauhtémoc Blanco seems to be following the same path. To me, there is something heartbreaking about heroes of the sport stubbornly seeking a triumphant end to their careers on fields unworthy to be touched by their cleats. Beckham deserves a greater glory, and AC Milan is giving him a chance once again to play in one of the greatest teams in the world, in one of the toughest leagues in the world, and in the most competitive continent in the world. Surrounded by greats like Maldini, Pirlo, Seedorf, Kaka, Ronaldinho and Pato, he can become an integral part of a club with the most international titles (18) and can help win a 19th (2009 UEFA Cup) and 20th (European SuperCup) in the coming months. AC Milan is already en route to a spot in the UEFA Champions League (the world’s most prestigious club tournament) for next season, and it is hard to believe that the man so instrumental in Manchester United’s stunning 1999 defeat of Bayern Munich in the Champions League final would pass up another chance to lift that trophy after suffering in bowels of MLS mediocrity. David Beckham is a world class player and it would be nothing short of tragic if he ended his most distinguished career on the purgatorial fields of America.
Joey Belleza is a junior theology major and a rabid AC Milan supporter.