Friday, February 6, 2009

Yes There Are Many Causes of the Beckham Saga, But Sadly These Are None of Them

As always, we must first pay tribute to the gone-but-still-not-forgotten Fire Joe Morgan, to which we owe a huge debt of gratitude for the exercise that you are about to witness.

The basic idea is this: sometimes someone writes something so off the mark, it is wholly deserving of a point-by-point deconstruction. We admit that we are no geniuses when it comes to this here bloggery journalism, but when it comes to the marketplace of ideas, there are simply certain boundaries of common sense that shall not be crossed.

Although the story of Golden Balls’ inevitable move to AC Milan bores us to death, it has also created much fodder for both the MLS-loving folks (when they're not defending the league's watchability) and professional American sports journos (when they're not defending Matt Millen’s sportscaster acumen). That brings us to this article titled “Causes of the Beckham Saga” on MLS Talk, a site which claims to be a "leading web site covering the latest MLS and US soccer news."

Join me after the jump, won't you?

Now, let’s first note that our intrepid author Kartik Krishnaiyer also recently wrote an article arguing that the London blizzard somehow shows that MLS does things right by playing in the summer. I bring this up only to point out Kartik’s fundamental problem as a writer: starting out with an utterly flawed premise.

In the case of the London blizzard story, the premise is that a once-in-a-generation storm, which in the end only led to the postponement of a handful of games, somehow is relevant to whether MLS should follow the same domestic league schedule as 99% of the world. And then Kartik calls some of the English “xenophobic and insular,” I guess maybe because they think MLS is a crappy league, or something, I’m not quite sure to be honest. Some guy named Dave seems to come to the rescue in the comments and does a good job picking apart this particular argument, so I’m just giving you a heads up as to what you’re getting yourself into.... Armchair pseudo-journalism with a misguided pro-MLS bent. With typos.

Forewarned is forearmed. Let’s begin, shall we?

David Beckham has now finally declared publically what the football loving public in the United States has suspected for weeks. Beckham has announced rather openly that he would like to stay in Milan. From a pure business standpoint, any transfer fee Major League Soccer can secure for a soon to be 34 year old, one trick pony is of great benefit to the league, its teams and supporters.

Okay, first, it’s “publicly” not "publically." Unless maybe you meant to say “pubically.”

Second, the announcement wasn’t “rather openly,” it was outright “get me the hell out of here I made a huge mistake.”

Third, “one trick pony?” Really? Bitter much? Say what you want, but Beckham at 34 is still more talented than most in your precious MLS. For example, Beckham is currently thriving at AC Milan, just like he thrived at Real Madrid (once he got healthy and Capello decided to put him back in the squad). And no, I’m not going to explain how Kaka, Pato, Maldini. Ambrosini, christ even Ronaldinho have more talent than the MLS All-Stars. We could also note that, despite what some might say about Becks' deservedness to still being in the English national squad, at least he can hold his own at that high a level.

Fourth, and here is where we run into the basic flaw in this article, by claiming that MLS is making a good business decision, the author assumes: a) that MLS has any say in the move and b) that MLS really is better if he leaves. Why was MLS willing to pay Beckham so much money? Because he generates massive amounts of public attention that would never, ever, ever, ever come MLS’s way otherwise. That there was the MLS's business calculation. Beckham is first a global marketing machine, and second a football player. The assumption that Beckham somehow had more to gain by playing in MLS than vice versa is just totally flawed.

Beckham took a chance by coming to MLS, but MLS wasn't ready for him. Simply put, the quality just isn't there. Yet. (You see, I am still an optimist when it comes to the future of MLS. Just not the present.)

Many of us will happily say good riddance to Beckham. But the introspection as to why Beckham failed in a league which is below the standard of the top several leagues in Europe must be pressed. What was it about MLS and specifically the LA Galaxy that caused Beckham to flop so miserably as a footballer in the United States?

Pressing your introspection sounds kind of like a proctology exam.

At least Kartik is willing to admit that MLS is below the level of top European leagues. How about like 20 or 30 levels below? But, Beckham did not fail in MLS. MLS failed, or more accurately, the marriage between Beckham and MLS failed.

With AC Milan, by comparison, Beckham is playing at a club with some of the best talent in the world, he’s treated like a God by the Milanese supporters and wherever else he happens to go, and most importantly he is now playing at a high level as he tries to convince Capello to include him in the 2010 English World Cup squad. Oh, and in the process he's helping AC Milan regain their rightful place in the Champions League and challenge for the Serie A title, and if you tuned in to a recent AC Milan match you can see that he's making an impact on the pitch. As opposed to watching Beckham play in MLS, which was simply painful.

Bitch and moan all you want and call him a vapid traitor, but the difference in quality between MLS and Europe is what this move is all about. Beckham could either play for Milan, or he could play on a squad that features Eddie Lewis and Edson Buddle, plays against subpar competition with clumsy defenders who are as likely to execute a proper tackle as break your ankle, on FIELDTURF no less, in a league with a schedule that doesn't even sync up with English international matches.

Oh, and AC Milan will likely be able to pay Beckham quite handsomely, so forget about that silly 250 million dollar contract (not that any of that was anything more than licensing, which Milan can offer as well). Then, at the most you’re talking about Posh having to give up her dreams of an LA lifestyle. But frankly, she can always become a model in Milan anyway... Oh wait, the Beckhams already have contracts with Armani (which is based in Milan, along with the rest of the Italian fashion industry for all you non-fashionistas). So where’s the tradeoff?

But let’s see what Kartik has to say about why David Beckham didn't work out in MLS...

1- Alexi Lalas’ mismanagement of the LA Galaxy

[A list of Lalas' terrible moves snipped].

I agree that all these moves were crap and Lalas has no management ability. But the author is assuming that the Galaxy could have somehow put a team around Beckham that would’ve convinced him to stay. Last season, the MLS salary cap essentially hamstrung the Galaxy to Becks, Donovan and a pile of steaming dog doo.

But let’s just say for the sake of argument that the Galaxy’s management makes the most of this, puts together as good a team as possible under the cap restraints. And let’s even pretend that the Galaxy had managed to make the playoffs and even win the MLS Cup. I’m still saying that Beckham leaves for AC Milan. Because, as already stated, MLS simply does not have the same to offer him.

At most, Becks made a big mistake coming in the first place. Not because he failed in MLS, but because MLS is just a really awful place for a top-flight footballer to play. I’m pretty sure that Kartik would never agree with me in a million years, and yet he calls the English “xenophobic and insular” (I can see the irony of this, and I’m not even ENGLISH!).

2- Lack of adaptability to MLS tactics

Major League Soccer has gotten further and further away from the long ball tactics preferred in the British Isles and by many American coaches reared in the Euro dominated academies of the 1980s and 1990s. While Beckham first played for a manager in Frank Yallop who employed at times a very British style, and then Ruud Gullit who had previously managed in the Premier League, he often times played against team employing a Latin style and did not adapt well.

I literally have no idea what this means. What teams play long ball tactics in the "British Isles"? Bolton? Rangers? Llanelli??

Wait, and Beckham isn’t even playing in the British Isles, he’s playing in Italy. Have you ever seen AC Milan play??? They are the utter opposite of long ball tactics. When has Beckham ever played long ball tactics? Sure he is known to play deep crosses, but that’s not long ball tactics at all.

And what is a Latin style? Did Real Madrid play a Latin style? They are Spanish, afterall. Did Beckham struggle to adapt in Spain? My brain hurts.

3- Pressure to perform for the media

I know many of our readers and listeners don’t appreciate Landon Donovan the way I do. But since Donovan was Beckham’s Galaxy team mate and I don’t want to get into Michael Jordan, Maradona or Pele analogies which I don’t believe fit Beckham, let me make this comparison: Once Landon Donovan was anointed the golden boy of US Soccer, the great American hope, etc, etc, the pressure for him to perform miracles every time the national team stepped on the pitch was immense.

I think I get this point, the more talent you have the more pressure from the media to perform. But wasn’t the thing that made athletes like Michael Jordan and Pele so great is that they relished challenges and tried to meet those lofty expectations? Oh, and Maradona is a really terrible example to use because he imploded at the height of his career.

But back to the point, aren't great players unafraid to take big risks in the hopes of big rewards? Beckham fits that bill, and I’m sure every time he was criticized for failing to turn the Galaxy into a winning team, he didn't say to himself, "Oh boo hoo the pressure is getting to me!" No, he said to himself, “This move made sense at the time, but why am I stuck with this awful team in this awful, awful league?”

Every time Donovan fell short a bevy of football writers in the US and fans who post on Big Soccer and other places would talk about how Donovan was immature, or over rated, or unmotivated or all of the above.

Yes, and now that Lando has left MLS for Bayern, he’s getting approval. Why? Because he's finally left a lesser league for the challenge of a better league and he's fully embraced that challenge. You can't criticize Becks for essentially doing the same thing, unless of course you are unable to admit that MLS is a much lesser league in the first place.

Beckham faced a similar dilemma but more importantly from a hostile mainstream American sports media led by ignorant writers like Jay Marriotti of the south side based Chicago Sun Times and TJ Simers of the LA Times. These writers embodied the conservative/xenophobic sports journalist establishment who ultimately seem threatened by the possible success of football stateside.

I know not of this “Jay Marriotti of the south side based Chicago Sun Times,” as opposed to Jay Mariotti the fascist pig who recently quit the Sun Times.

Every time Beckham failed on the pitch, the sports writers piled on. Not that they’d ever want him to succeed in the first place or even recognize his greatness had it ever appeared in Los Angeles.

True, the American media doesn't really get or care about football, and it would've been great if Beckham had changed that. But this says nothing about football's rightful place as a proper sport in America. Again, this is simply about MLS's lack of quality and Beckham's inability to overcome that lack of quality.

4- The success of Chivas USA

David Beckham never had to worry about Manchester City or Athletico Madrid upstaging him. But in Los Angeles, the Galaxy has not been the best MLS team in town in a while: a long while. The death of the great Doug Hamilton coupled with the hiring by Chivas USA of Bob Bradley turned the tables in southern California.

C'mon Mr. I Hate Xenophones, it's Atletico Madrid, not "Athletico" Madrid.

Not only that, but Bob Bradley left Chivas for the U.S. National Team at least six months before Beckham played his first game for the Galaxy.


During David Beckham’s time in Los Angeles, Chivas USA was consistently the superior team at the Home Depot Center. Even when the Galaxy won t he “superclassico” they’d be force to endure Chivas hosting playoff matches while the Galaxy prepared for their next tour of Oceania.

Sigh. Do you really think Beckham has ever given more than three seconds of thought about Chivas? I don’t think even Beckham is that myopic (look it up). And if Becks did care about Chivas, wouldn't he want to stay in MLS and beat them? No, losing to Chivas was utterly and completely beside the point.

Given these factors perhaps Beckham was always doomed to failure. One will never know, but at this juncture it’s best for MLS, the Galaxy and Beckham to move on.

No "perhaps". I'm pretty sure that now we all know for certain that the marriage with MLS was always doomed to failure and that it’s best for all involved to move on. Kartik's supposed factors had nothing to do with the failure. In the meantime, I suppose that Kartik is too busy bravely flying the MLS flag to at least run a spellcheck.

In conclusion, here’s my own in-depth list of causes for Beckham leaving MLS:

1. MLS is not very good
2. AC Milan is much better
Ergo, any loss of income and embarrassment from not succeeding in America is far outweighed by the gain of playing meaningful football.

It just really isn’t any more complicated than that.

Meanwhile, in other news, MLS Talk is hiring.


ü75 said...

You should have used the Repeat Offenders tag, 'cuz Kartik was also the author of the original piece here.

It's safe to say that UF and Kartik have rather different views on things.

Nathaniel said...

Another point about Goldenballs failure in MLS:

We Americans are used to being able to watch a super-talented individual almost single-handedly lead a team to victory (see: Jordan, Michael; James, LeBron; Clemens, Roger; etc).

That just can't happen in football. So while bringing Becks on to the Galaxy is exciting, he's not going to produce wins with his crosses and corners (though they are important).

I really think that the MLS people thought that Beckham was going to come in and the Galaxy were going to go undefeated. Shortsighted.

phil said...

Just to add insult to inury, but Kartik could have done 5 seconds of research to discover that the Sun Times is actually located nearly dead in the middle of downtown Chicago. And the notion that it's coverage is slanted towards the South Side is ludicrous. And the Sun Times employs one of the biggest soccer fans in the city in Mike Mulligan, who's a huge fan of the MLS and EPL. In fact, on his radio show right now, is running down the betting lines and making picks for this week's EPL matches.

Jason D said...

I actually think it's unfair to characterize Kartik as an MLS apologist; quite often he plays the other side. I think his heart's in the right place for the most part, even if his inability to properly convey his thoughts in the English language makes me wonder just what would disqualify someone from a writing position with

Spectator said...

@ü75: I should have known!

@Jason: I agree with you. After I wrote this, I went back and read some of his other articles (trust me, it wasn't easy), and realized that I'd set him up as a bit of a strawman on the MLS apologist front. But I was way too exhausted to go back and make any modifications. Although, in the end, I still think he's blind to the real reasons this didn't work out.

Precious Roy said...

Phil, are you in Chicago? If so we should hook up someplace to watch the derby this Sunday (it is Sunday, isn't it?).

phil said...

I am in Chicago, PR. The match is Sunday, at 7:30 a.m., I believe.

Do you have a usual haunt? The Tottenham crowd is at The Globe, though it usually ends up gooners in the front pub, Spurs in the back one. Possibly too sectarian. How about Ginger's?

Precious Roy said...

Used to go to Ginger's almost every week, but then I realized the TV's suck and are poorly positioned at that, not to mention that it's drafty and that if United is so much as playing the East Anglia U13 special ed girls, the Red Devils' fans get the front room (where the only two decent flat-panels are).

I would suggest Fearon's—lots of TVs in a cozy space—but I know they are one of the few places that have the rugby 6 Nations starting this weekend, so it might be crowded. I can see Saturday how bad it is, and if it's too much we can do the Globe.

My one caveat. I've got a pub crawl Saturday (which you're welcome to join if you want) so depending on when I crap out, I might be dragging or late. Unless of course I"m passed out by 8 pm on Sat, in which case I'll be plenty rested.

Spectator said...

@PR: I miss your dispatches from Ginger's.

phil said...

I think The Grafton in Lincoln Square is also showing EPL matches now. I can ask if they'll have the derby on.

Agreed on the ManU fans at Ginger's, especially the fellow who bellows "Come on, Teevezzz" for the entire fucking match.

Let me know about Fearon's. I'm up for anywhere.

Precious Roy said...

Okay, you can hit me up at 'speedreader' using the google's Interwebnet mail service. And I can forward you the pub crawl info (if you want it) and swap numbers to make this easier (and not hijack the comments).

phil said...

you've got mail.

Ian said...

Get a room, will ya.

Although I can vouch for PR being an amiable gent to drink with before noon.

30f said...

Spectator -

Great post and the fact that the fruit was so low hanging does not lessen the quality of of your insight. As long as the MLS is covered/protected by a simpering 'corporate mouthpiece' style media that values cheerleading over reporting, the growth will be slow in coming.

I agree that the Bulgeham-in-MLS experiment was doomed to fail from the start, but I can't shake the feeling ...

Beckham never really tried for the Galaxy. I know, I know. 'He is lazy' is the oldest/tiredest arrow in the dim-bulb sports fan quiver. I understand that Becks crossing to Buddle had to lower his desire to succeed. I also grasp that he was injured part of the time he was here. All that is given and ...

Dude still didn't give the Galaxy what he was paid for. His on-field effort is obviously higher in Milan, which is understandable but not excusable. The dollars were real - his effort wasn't.

But more importantly Beckham's 'grow the game in the States' efforts were nonexistent. During his time in LA, Becks bugged out to Brazil to open/promote his soccer academy there. Because that is what Brazil needs, a way to educate their youth about a game played with a kicked ball. Why wasn't that academy in the US?

Beckham was brought in as much for his off the field appeal as the on-pitch performance, but that didn't work out either. And you can't blame Buddle for that.

Listen, MLS gets lots of the blame here as well. At the end of his stint in Madrid, Beckham had turned it around, Capello started to play him again and it was clear that his earlier 'retirement plan' in LA (that he had already signed up for) might be premature. MLS should have seen this coming, but prescience ain't exactly their specialty, is it?

Lingering Bursitis said...

I miss the notes from Ginger's too.

PR: when on earth are you ever coming to NYC? The Kinsale is a welcoming place indeed.