TORONTO – The David Beckham road show reached Canada, and its central figure gave a commanding performance.
In a packed press conference at the Air Canada Centre, Beckham displayed all the charm and affability that has won him an army of fans around the globe, posing patiently for the cameras, not ducking any thorny issues and even offering a "bless you" to a reporter who could not hold in an untimely sneeze.
The only thing he could not conjure was an end to the interminable soap opera that centers around his injured left ankle and now will rumble on for at least one more episode.
When he was in Europe, the publicity that engulfed Beckham and his pop star wife Victoria often was described as a circus. His U.S. adventure has so far resembled a circus where the ringmaster talks about his act but does not perform it. For the Los Angeles Galaxy, Major League Soccer and the midfielder himself, it is no laughing matter.
Large sections of the American public do not need much encouragement to write off Beckham's arrival as a publicity stunt that offers more style than substance, and his continued absence from the field of play only will fuel more suspicion and a little resentment.
It is unfortunate because neither Beckham nor his new employers could have done much to get him into a Galaxy jersey any quicker. Their predicament simply is an inherent risk in undertaking a marketing strategy that revolves around one man.
Beckham insists that the extra healing time he is taking soon will be forgotten and that he not only is determined to see out his five-year contract but also may stay longer. He is targeting the Galaxy's visit to DC United on Thursday as his chance to make his official MLS debut, having admitted it would take a dramatic recovery for him to have any chance to even make the bench against Toronto FC on Sunday.
"The ankle is still swollen," he said. "I am having deep tissue massage every day and running straight, which is fine, but that doesn't help you in a game. It still hurts when I turn.
"You need to be right – there is no point in me coming back and playing in a game when people are going to be expecting me to play at a high level like I can and not perform. I am here for five years, and maybe longer, so (that) is where people maybe need to be a bit patient."
After spending all of his career before moving to California at two giant European clubs, Manchester United and Real Madrid, and much of it as captain of England's national team, Beckham has been no stranger to criticism. He has been able to shrug it off with ease.
However, the fact that he has been unable to defend himself and silence doubters by doing what he does best clearly irks him. It certainly angers Galaxy president Alexi Lalas, who turned on the fans and commentators who have criticized Beckham during his layoff.
"It is unfair," Lalas said. "And it is hypocritical. Soccer is a growing sport so people like to take easy shots at us."
When United manager Sir Alex Ferguson turned on him late in his stint at Old Trafford, Beckham made sure he would retain the fondness of the Manchester supporters with a string of fully committed and inspirational performances. Interestingly, he was regarded in Madrid as more of a workhorse – a role he was happy to occupy at a club filled with Galacticos – despite his international profile.
When the notoriously hard-to-please Madrid faithful reserved judgement early in his four-year spell in Spain, Beckham won them over with his work ethic and passion.
"That is what I want to do here," Beckham said. "It is always frustrating for any sportsman when they get an injury, and I have been pretty lucky in my career; there have only been a few bones I have broken.
"This is an injury that still needs time. It is usually a six- or seven-week layoff, and it is about seven-and-a-half weeks now. It is coming along slowly, and it is hard when you can't do what you love doing. I am working hard with the physios and the masseurs to get it right."
Perhaps it is just as well Beckham is not ready for action, as his Galaxy colleague Landon Donovan delivered a damning verdict on the artificial turf at Toronto's BMO Field.
Said Donovan: "It sucks."