CARSON, Calif. – The spark the Los Angeles Galaxy are seeking to ignite a season they hope will erase the painful memories of 2007 may have been provided by an unexpected source: Fabio Capello.
Capello, the new England head coach, delivered a telephone message of bad news to David Beckham last week when he informed the midfielder he would not win his 100th international cap against Switzerland. While the Galaxy fully support Beckham's national team commitments and enjoy the kudos that comes with having one of their players featured on the international stage, there are several reasons why Capello's decision could actually help L.A.
The obvious one is that Beckham gets to spend extra time bonding with his teammates – beginning with the start of preseason training at the Home Depot Center on Monday – instead of a week later. Sure, it is only a week, but the simple fact of having Beckham as an integral part of this preparatory process could be crucial. Twelve months ago, his impending arrival overshadowed the team's training.
"Leading into the season, it is going to be a lot more relaxed than when I came in last season," Beckham said Monday. "I came in halfway through and it was pretty tough. This year, it is a lot calmer and it is great for me to be here right from the start."
The biggest gift Capello has given the Galaxy is not extra time with Beckham but rather an added edge to his mentality. All through his career, Beckham has used setbacks as inspiration to trigger his finest form, and even on the first day of preseason training, there was a steely aura of determination about him.
Capello's reasoning may have been sound; he claimed that he could not select his former Real Madrid player due to his lack of recent match practice. Despite Beckham's month spent training with English Premiership side Arsenal, it is hard to dispute that logic.
Or maybe Capello has taken the mind games a step further. He knows better than anyone the sort of effort a fired-up Beckham can produce. The last time he saw that look in his eyes, the result was the La Liga title.
Whether Capello is being clever by trying to extract some productive anger from the 32-year-old or not, the result can only be good for the Galaxy. Whereas some players respond to adversity by allowing their shoulders to drop, Beckham absorbs the frustration and channels it to his own benefit.
Like when he was vilified by a nation after being sent off during the 1998 World Cup and bounced back by helping Manchester United win the Premiership, FA Cup and the Champions League 11 months later. Or when he was given a shove toward international retirement by Steve McClaren following the 2006 World Cup but forced his way back into the England lineup with some sensational performances.
Or, most poignantly, when Capello vowed never to play Beckham again for Real after his impending move to Major League Soccer was announced, yet had to back down and eventually had Becks to thank for the only championship of his reign in Spain.
"In a way I totally understand why I have not been included," Beckham said. "You have got players who have played 10 or 15 games in the Premiership the last two months and I haven't played since December. I understand that, but I am back working hard and training. The (England) coaches have made it clear they will be coming over to some of the games and watching my preparation for the season and we will just have to wait and see.
"I have always said he (Capello) is a great manager and he is the right manager for the job. He is experienced and the players will respect him. I wish them good luck and I wish him good luck for his first game."
Beckham might understand why he was not named to Capello's debut roster, but that doesn't mean he agrees with it. He will certainly be on a mission to return to the England fold. Only Peter Shilton, Bobby Moore, Sir Bobby Charlton and Billy Wright have made it to the 100-cap milestone and there is a clamor in England to allow him to reach three figures.
The best way to achieve that will be by helping the Galaxy become winners under new coach Ruud Gullit. Some offseason negotiations have changed the squad, with defender Chris Albright and goalkeeper Joe Cannon having moved on and forward Carlos Ruiz and left-back Celestine Babayaro (subject to visa approval) coming on board.
For those who think Beckham is more showbiz than substance would have altered that judgment had they listened to him Monday. Not once in his media session did he talk about anything other than purely soccer matters. His desire to succeed with the Galaxy is strong.
"This a new season and a new start," he said. "We have a new manager and some new players, so it is exciting. We have got to prove we can play and that we can win things.
"The goal is to win something. We can't be in the position we were last season where we had a good run but we were chasing. That is not good for players or for the team. We have to get it right from the first game and carry it on all the way through the season."
- Fabio Capello