Beckham bashers have got it wrong

March 22, 2011

SOCCER-MLS/

By Simon Evans in Miami

Television coverage of MLS’s opening game began with an attack on David Beckham from two television pundits and critics have continued to question whether the Englishman cares about the league or his club, LA Galaxy, Simon Evans says the Beckham bashing is off target.

The debate over David Beckham’s commitment to L.A Galaxy and Major League Soccer should have ended on November 22, 2009. On that rainy, cold day in Seattle, Beckham took a series of pain-killing injections, wrapped up his injured ankle in bandage and went out to face Real Salt Lake on the unforgiving artificial turf at Qwest Field.

It was hardly a vintage performance from the former Manchester United and England midfielder but he grafted for 90 minutes and then a further 30 minutes of extra-time in an ultimately failed attempt to win the MLS Cup for his team. Then, limping off the field, he walked into the Salt Lake locker-room to congratulate hiss opponents on their title before heading into his own changing room where he complied with American standards and stood to take questions from the waiting media. Invited by this reporter to pass comment on playing a championship game on a plastic pitch with a damaged ankle, Beckham showed his usual diplomacy by evading the temptation to criticise a playing surface which is designed for American football and not the global game.

That MLS Cup game had come at the end of a year in which Beckham had to deal with the fallout from a book which discussed the difficulties he and L.A Galaxy had in developing a working relationship. In Grant Wahl’s behind-the-scenes book, ”The Beckham Experiment” he was criticised for not picking up the check for the entire team’s dinner and a series of other offences in a fascinating account which, as one former MLS player put it to me, could have been subtitled “Why Landon Donovan Doesn’t Like Being Overshadowed by David Beckham”. The former Real Madrid title winner was offended that Donovan had questioned his professionalism and the rift between the two took some work and time to heal. But that night in Seattle, even American soccer’s favourite son was fulsome in his praise for his English team-mate. “This guy has been hurt or sick for probably the last six or seven games but he gets on with it and he plays. That’s helped our team a lot,” said Donovan.

The question marks over whether Beckham was truly giving his all for the Galaxy and the MLS came back again a few months later though, when, desperate to get a place in the World Cup with England, Beckham went on loan to AC Milan and suffered a serious Achilles injury which wrecked any hopes of a trip to the World Cup and also ruled him out of most of the forthcoming MLS season. Some Galaxy fans, understandably wondered why their player was even on the field for another club. It was a fair question and one which could also have been put to the Galaxy’s ownership – they could after all have blocked any deal after all. But the critics had a point — Beckham’s intentions certainly had nothing to do with the Galaxy and everything to do with his personal ambitions.

The motivation for Beckham returning to Italy was largely due to Fabio Capello’s ill-informed judgment that MLS games were not good enough preparation for a World Cup – a view that Donovan’s excellent displays in South Africa later proved to be nonsense. It was noticeable though that while there was strong criticism of Beckham’s loan to Serie A, there was a very different approach to Donovan taking a similar, albeit shorter, sabbatical with Everton in England’ Premier League. Indeed, the Californian’s time on Merseyside was accompanied by promotional campaigns on U.S television urging MLS fans to tune into their English programming. Little criticism has been heard of Donovan’s subsequent frequent statements of affection for Everton and their fans which hint at a desire to return to Goodison Park.

Beckham returned from injury in time for the Galaxy’s play-off push last season but it was clear to anyone watching that he was still short of full fitness. Nonetheless, the midfielder put the minutes in on the field and although L.A failed to reach MLS Cup, Beckham’s efforts and his professionalism were again praised after the Conference final defeat to Dallas, when Beckham played through a groin injury.

“If we have all of our players with his kind of character and commitment, we would continue to do well,” said Galaxy coach Bruce Arena. “My hat’s off to him. He played through a lot of pain those last few weeks, more than you guys know, but he’s a competitor and he wants to keep going,” said Donovan.

Beckham badly needed to get back in shape and form for the new MLS season, the final of his five years with Galaxy, but the North American league is unusual in having a long off-season, from mid-November to mid-March, right when almost all of the soccer world is in intense mid-season. With no training or games on the calendar, Beckham went back to his hometown of London to work out with Tottenham Hotspur and get himself back in shape and he hoped get some games in the Premier League.

Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp conceded that Beckham was in no condition to instantly walk into the Premier League team but was willing to open the door to the midfielder playing a few games before returning to the Galaxy and it was also clear that the player would have loved to get a loan deal. Beckham’s camp insisted throughout the reports of negotiations over a possible loan that the player would, in any case, be back at the Galaxy in time for the new MLS season. The loan deal never materialised but Beckham, clearly feeling he was getting close to full fitness in London, asked and received permission to have two more weeks training in London before teaming up with the Galaxy, two week into their pre-season campaign.

Throughout January and the first of half of February, Beckham was out on the training field in Essex while almost all MLS players were on time off. I say, almost all, because Thierry Henry, another expensive MLS import who had struggled for fitness last season, was also in London training with a Premier League club, but you will have (rightly) heard little criticism of Henry’s time back with Arsenal. Henry did however report back to train on day one of the Red Bulls pre-season prep and it is that fortnight absence that has prompted the fury from MLS pundits.

It was a remarkable opening to the new season last week when ESPN pundits Alexi Lalas and Taylor Twellman, let rip on air, questioning Beckham’s decisions and joining in with the tone of some bloggers and message board commenters who have attacked the Englishman. Rookie pundit Twellman’s populist tirade about Beckham “buying shepherds pie” for Tottenham players instead of training with the Galaxy (it was actually ‘pie and mash’ to be culinarily correct), ignored the fact that Beckham could have spent the off-season swanning around Hollywood or sitting on the beach somewhere. A 35-year-old multi-millionaire who has won domestic and European honours with his clubs and made 115 appearances for England, Beckham could have taken it easy and come back to stroll through the final year of his contract, curling a few free-kicks in, signing autographs and appearing on television shows.

The fact that he spent his time, battling to get fit and has come back to MLS and put in two hard-working displays in the league, shows exactly why the Beckham bashers have got it wrong. There are many things that Beckham can be mocked for – his interest in fashion is not to everyone’s taste, his regular hairstyle changes irritate some, the celebrity obsessed have issues with his wife Victoria and, if we are sticking to football business, it is fair to question whether he should have been playing for Milan and chasing further England caps, after making the decision to move his career to MLS.

But Beckham’s determination to get fit for this season, to give his all for his team and to make sure MLS’s “Beckham Experiment” is considered a success, is surely beyond question. The fact is, there will be few players in the North American league who would have worked as hard as Beckham during the off-season.

There are some nicely tanned faces in MLS this March – Beckham didn’t get one in Chigwell.

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14 comments

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What a load of c**p.

Posted by LSanchez | Report as abusive

[...] Reuters Blogs (blog) [...]

Beckham bashers have got it wrong | Reuters Soccer Blog | Analysis ……

Here at World Spinner we are debating the same thing……

[...] Galaxy supporters groups are beginning to turn on David Beckham. This guy argues the Beckham bashers have got it all wrong. [...]

“The main thing for me is to improve the soccer, to improve the standard, and to be part of history really because I think soccer can be a lot bigger in the U.S.,” – David Beckham on Good Morning America 2007

Well, Dave, for $1 million a week, we’re still waiting for the standard to be raised. Nothing in that quote about bounding off to Italy or England. Somehow personal interest is what’s going to improve MLS?

MLS is better than it was before you arrived, but not because of you. It’s raised it’s level in spite of you…..

Posted by stonesean | Report as abusive

Jesus, get off your knees. This defense is ignoring lots of facts, mainly that the man has missed loads of games due to injury. The last of which occurred when on loan. The idea that he was only able to gain fitness at Tottenham is laughable, as that is the point of preseason. Instead of spending time with his teammates, he was off being glamour boy as always. What Beckham needed to do this offseason wasn’t go play elsewhere, it was to realize he has overworked his aging body to the point of injury several times, but rather rest up and be ready to play a full season for once.

Posted by fieldsMap | Report as abusive

Taylor ‘Twitter’ Twellman, a man who can’t even focus on the action for ninety whole minutes without fiddling with his iphone, showed his ignorance with the ‘shepherds pie’ comment. If this were any other ethnicity it would be deemed borderline racist and, as an Englishman watching in NYC, I immediately screamed at the television in disgust.
Lalas I have zero respect for as he has constantly shown himself up during ‘punditry’. Any single visiting guest during ESPN’s coverage of the World Cup last year managed to highlight how feckless he really is. Clearly, he’s had a bee in his bonnet about Beckham for a long time….it’s professional jealousy. The day he’s no longer allowed to misinform the viewing public on soccer will be a huge leap forward for soccer in America.

Really glad someone highlighted this ridiculous way to begin the new MLS season….great blog.

http://theballisrounderthantheworld.word press.com/

Posted by richardshort1 | Report as abusive

Coming into this year, he’s played 55 matches over 4 seasons. Take out 2008, the only year that he didn’t go out on loan and show up crocked to LA, that number goes down to 30. Easy to see why most people think he’s not committed enough of himself to MLS and the Galaxy.

Next time, get the facts before you spout off nonsense.

Posted by Will_Hunting | Report as abusive

A very large load, indeed.

He didn’t even see fit to train with his own team. Twellman was right…. that almost hurts to say.

Posted by SloBob3 | Report as abusive

well done ‘LSanchez’ do you think you’re capable of elaborating…….
this is a great article & i hope those 2 jealous commentator knobs get to read it & deliver an apology that beckham deserves. he always puts his performance first & prob didnt pick up the check because he didnt want his team to think he was a big shot rich wanker throwing cash around!! when will people leave this great athlete alone???

Posted by unbiased723 | Report as abusive

Who wrote this? I don’t trust “pieces” where the author doesn’t even have enough confidence to credit themselves.

In addition, Beckham in no way is match fit. He’s out of shape and unable to keep up for 45 minutes, much less a full 90. It appears that his whole time in England was spent sucking up to Harry Redknapp since he is so desperate to prove he should be on the English National team. Beckham is old and needs to realize he is no longer in his 20s. He needs to use the off season to have his body heal and be of use to the team that pays his salary.

Posted by Youhavenoidea | Report as abusive

Thanks for all comments. Apologies as owing to a glitch the author’s name (Simon Evans) didn’t appear. He will respond to your comments in due course.
It’s hard to ignore Beckham’s winning record and talent plus his ability to market himself and the sport he adores worldwide. The MLS can only grow in stature as a result of his being there. Thierry Henry moved there but has failed to capture the public’s imagination in the same way.

Posted by Tom Pilcher | Report as abusive

for a relatively modest player, how he has marketed himself is amazing really.

Posted by MarkMeadows | Report as abusive

Thanks for the comments.

It’s certainly true that Beckham has missed a lot of games through injury – but it is also true that he has played in plenty of games where he has been in pain. The two facts aren’t contradictory.

The anger towards Beckham at the moment is focused on the fact that he chose to train with Tottenham during the MLS off-season and returned late to Galaxy’s pre-season.

But look at where Beckham was in January? If he didn’t care about being fit and giving his all for LA – then why was he training in London at a time when most MLS players were on vacation?

If the Galaxy didn’t think it was a good idea for DB to train in London – why did they authorize it?

What the player did in January doesn’t fit into the anti-Beckham narrative because it shows he was trying to get himself in shape. He rested in November and early December after the MLS season finished. He judged that he needed to train and – like it or not – there was no training scheduled at L.A Galaxy or anywhere in MLS in early January.

I think I acknowledged in the article that the criticism of his loans to Milan was understandable – at the time I myself wondered why Galaxy let him go to Milan for anytime beyond March.

But this blog was answering the current charges against Beckham which are about what he did during this off-season. I think *this time* the criticism is unfair. The guy was training while other MLS players were on the beach!

I was also pretty surprised that ESPN’s pundits decided that one of the most high-profile games of the season for MLS – the live, nationally televised opener, was a chance to stick the boot into Beckham.

But obviously sticking the boot into Beckham is pretty popular in US soccer circles at the moment.

Simon

Posted by Simon Evans | Report as abusive

Simon,

Your assumption that Beckham was training with Tottenham in order to get ready for MLS is terribly naive. His sole goal was to get match fit in order to be selected for England.

Posted by Will_Hunting | Report as abusive

Well, that’s your assumption Will. Surely the only way he can get anywhere close to an England cap (which is probably very out of reach now) is if he is fit and playing well for L.A?

So that’s a win-win for everyone isn’t it? What’s the problem?

He isn’t on international duty this weekend and Bruce Arena just named him captain for Saturday’s game v RSL.

Hardly what a coach would do if he thought a player wasn’t committed or trying is it?

Posted by Simon Evans | Report as abusive

[...] with their sporadically interested midfielder. When Reuters writer Simon Evans attempted to defend Beckham’s offseason sojourn, he drew a painful smackdown from BigSoccer wit and Galaxy supporter Dan Loney, who says of [...]

Future into this year, he’s played 55 matches over 4 seasons. Necessitate out 2008, the only period that he didn’t go out on give and direct up crocked to LA, that figure goes downward to 30. Promiscuous to see why most grouping reckon he’s not sworn enough of himself to MLS and the Beetleweed.

Close period, get the facts before you spout off nonmeaningful.

http://www.soccerfreeze.com/fun88

Posted by sornsak | Report as abusive