It took until the very end, but at least David Beckham delivered on one of his promises. As he plotted the final path of his terminal exit from the Los Angeles Galaxy, Beckham gave the United States a glimpse of what the world game really is about.
By voluntarily dooming his own project to failure by preparing to leave Major League Soccer after just two miserable seasons, the England midfielder exposed his own glowing words and ambitious proclamations to be nothing more than a sham.
Underneath the beaming smile, the coiffed haircut and the designer threads lies a human being as prone to selfishness and bluster as any other soccer player.
David Beckham's stats with the Galaxy
Soccer is a cutthroat business where players wield the ultimate power and are not afraid to use it. Despite the family image, Beckham and his advisers possess a palpable streak of ruthlessness, and once he set his heart on AC Milan the three remaining years on his Galaxy contract meant less to him than the ink they were printed in.
It was easy to believe Beckham all those months ago, as he arrived to acclaim in the summer of 2007. Emerging through the murk of dogfighting, bribery, steroids and corruption, he appeared to be just what sports needed in a summer of sleaze.
He charmed Leno and Ellen, schmoozed with Kobe Bryant and even appeared in a Disneyland advertisement clad as Prince Charming.
And charming he was, too, winning over most of the media and public with wide-eyed talk of raising North American soccer to a new level. It seemed heartfelt, genuine and within reason, somewhat realistic.
Yet it didn't take long for his head to be turned. Even before the final game of his second MLS season, Beckham already had mentally severed ties with the Galaxy.
Already the behind-the-scenes maneuvering to take him to AC Milan was well under way. Once his loan spell in Italy began with a handful of impressive performances, California suddenly seemed an awfully long way away.
Beckham will join a team full of superstars and will leave behind one in turmoil, yet perhaps finally freed of the shackles that his existence imposed, plus a few thousand replica jerseys, to be cast as redundant as soon as matters regarding his full-time move to Milan are made permanent.
The Galaxy saga will be an incongruous blip on his career record. Manchester United, Real Madrid, AC Milan … the Los Angeles Galaxy.
In short, the biggest club in England, the biggest club in Spain, the biggest club in Italy and the 13th-best club in Major League Soccer.
– David Beckham, after he was introduced to the Galaxy on July 13, 2007.
Looking back, it seems likely Beckham started to regret his move to the States before he arrived. He had played chicken with Real over a new contract, using the Galaxy offer against them – and was left with no option other than to accept the U.S. deal when the Spanish club wouldn't bite.
By then his England career, which looked shot to pieces when he was dropped by Steve McClaren in late 2006, had been given a glimmer of hope, and it was crystal clear that playing in MLS would do little for his chances of regular international action.
While Beckham did not lack effort during his limited appearances in Season 1, toward the end of the 2008 campaign he appeared to be going through the motions, inappropriate for someone on such a gigantic salary.
Yet the Galaxy deserves no sympathy in the affair and must accept a heavy dose of blame for the way the Beckham experiment degenerated into a farce. The organization's inability to build a team capable of anything more than repeatedly pathetic performances, despite the biggest payroll in the league, exposed the true priorities of the ownership group.
The key lies in the name – the Anschutz Entertainment Group indeed does appear to lend itself more to red carpet than green turf.
As a money-making venture, the Galaxy must be viewed as a success, with a value far greater than any other MLS team, for now at least. But as a sports organization it is rotten, having cannibalized itself with the wrong decisions made for the wrong reasons.
The decision to close ranks on Wednesday and fail to offer comment on the Beckham situation, even after the 33-year-old had announced his desire to leave, was typical Galaxy.
Training was closed to the media, and no players were allowed to speak publicly. The acquisition of Todd Dunivant from Toronto FC was deemed to be the most newsworthy item on the team website.
Ignore the issue and it will go away? Barring a miracle, Beckham has gone away.
So what of the glorious legacy Beckham was supposed to leave behind? Well, there really isn't one. Attendance and television ratings, which enjoyed a level of increase, likely will revert to normal.
Worse, Beckham has embarrassed the league and made it seem small-time. Of course, compared to the English Premier League, Spain's La Liga or the Italian Serie A, MLS is small-time. But your $250 million man and supposed savior shouldn't be the one to make that point with his actions.
He goes after 30 games, five goals, 12 assists, a million autographs signed and an embarrassing and elongated departure.
When he drifts off without so much as a goodbye, it will, for MLS, be like he never was here. With hindsight, maybe it would have been better if he never had been.
- Major League Soccer
- AC Milan