The Orbit

The Orbit

Beckham takes the curve out of L.A.

On Monday, David Beckham picked a curious time to announce he was to leave the Los Angeles Galaxy of Major League Soccer. His team had qualified for the MLS final for the fourth time since he's been wearing their colors, but it was a surprise, considering his contract projected another year in California.

Becks will complete six years in Los Angeles and then pick another destiny. The midfielder agreed to a two-year contract extension after last season, but the second year was his option.

Soccer connoisseurs know Becks was a good -but not great – talent. A important role player on outstanding teams like Man United, Real Madrid and AC Milan. But if you  were new to the sport, you might have been overwhelmed by the wave of marketing and hype, including a movie.

In January 2007, Beckham's surprise signing with the Galaxy was hoped for launch rocket for the game in North America. His reported salary of $250 million was presented in a way that was exaggerated but newsworthy. Fans bought more than 300,000 Galaxy jerseys and the Galaxy garnerd international attention. Becks will probably exercise his option to own an expansion team in the league at a special rate.

"I hope to help the sport succeed here," he said.

When the book The Beckham Experiment was released in 2009, critical comments from Landon Donovan about how the Beckham team tried to hijack control of the Galaxy ramped up tensions. But the real symbol of American soccer has been Landon, not least because of his World Cup 2010 performance.

Beckham and his wife Victoria (of the pop group "Spice Girls") feel somewhat dated now… like last decade's celebrities: good-looking, polished, guarded, but stage-managed and somewhat stiff (Not that any of us can compete with the Kardashians or the Jersey Shore mob). But American Idol creator Simon Fuller and his 19 Entertainment choreographed and micromanaged their arrival in the MLS like a scripted show.

Beckham's good looks, sculpted physique and saccharine personality make his a good spokesman to hang your brand or clothes on.

"I've had an incredibly special time playing for the Galaxy," the Englishman declared.

What has happened with Beckham stateside? While MLS attendance is growing, TV ratings do not seem to match that progress.

The Galaxy is the team of Landon, Bruce Arena and Robbie Keane, carrying the load to the title. Like Jack Nicholson or Anthony Hopkins stealing a scene from Tom Cruise, the leading man. IMO, Beckham does not command his own ship. American Idol mastermind Fuller does, and before that in the command structure, the wife. David is a first-class and compliant passenger though. "I wanted to experience one last challenge," was his explanation of his decision to leave.

Beckham was always protected from putting the team on his back. Roy Keane, Teddy Sheringham or Eric Cantona at Man United; Zidane, Roberto Carlos or Luis Figo and Claude Makelele did the heavy lifting in Madrid.

Although there have been overtures from Australia to engage him, his family enjoys living in California, the reported reason he re-signed last year. Now 37, he's not ready for top-flight European competition, but Paris St. Germain likes brands. Maybe China's huge market, or that Russian charm (rubles) could sway him.

Australia is unlikely. A league without the heft needed and without the cash required, too far from his other interests and it would put him off the main superhighway of fame and football.

The Galaxy will be in the MLS final again on December 1 at The Home Depot Center. It may win again, which will make a grand exit for Becks. However, shall he choose a bigger paycheck or bigger adventure, we will watch him from afar and as a curio, (if Messi, Cristiano, Zlatan, Aguero or Falcao leave us time to see him at all).

If not, watch for him on fashion billboards, and then hobnobbing in the owner's suite.

A trip to the past can reveal the future: Pelé, considered by some the best player in history couldn't do that. Despite his contributions, and those of Franz Beckenbauer, Carlos Alberto, Johan Cruyff and others, the New York Cosmos and the old NASL imploded. Soccer will succeed because of the fantastic growth at the youth level, the existence of MLS and the fact anybody can watch the best games and players in the world every week.

In the 1970s, when Pelé was playing, you might catch one – maybe two – matches a week on public television and had to pay to watch the 1978 World Cup final on closed circuit.

Soccer will succeed in the U.S. with Beckham, not because of Beckham.

Keyvan Antonio Heydari Keyvan Antonio Heydari

Keyvan Antonio Heydari

A journalist/documentarian, Keyvan has covered soccer for 20+ years, traveling as contributor to The New York Times, France Football, NPR, Univision, Terra and more. Sport through a cultural prism.

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