CARSON, Calif. – It was the kind of sunny California day perfect for the start of a brave new adventure and maybe, just maybe, David Beckham meant every word he said.
At the glitzy, open-air press conference to herald his arrival in the United States 16 months ago, Beckham spoke at length about his commitment to the Los Angeles Galaxy and his delight at charting new waters in Major League Soccer.
Even then, there was public doubt and skepticism, but as one of the world's most recognizable soccer players spread his arms and beamed his winning smile, you wanted to believe him – and to believe in him.
It has taken a while, yet now we know how much the Galaxy, MLS and raising the profile of North American soccer really means to Beckham.
The midfielder's imminent loan switch to AC Milan in the opening months of 2009 proves that Brand Beckham and England rank far ahead of the employer that facilitated his estimated five-year earnings of up to $250 million.
As addressed recently in this column, England and the chase for more cheap national team appearances has become an obsession for Beckham.
Every player has the right to represent his country if selected. However, the timing of the announcement of his move to Milan – before the MLS campaign has even ended – sends out the totally wrong message.
The Galaxy were eliminated from playoff contention last weekend, a defeat in Houston providing the final blow in an utterly humiliating season. What MLS's highest-profile yet most deeply sickened franchise needs is strong leadership and a combined effort to ensure that fortunes improve in 2009.
What does a base salary of $33 million over five years and countless extras buy you these days? Apparently not Beckham's undivided attention.
Beckham is showing the Galaxy and the league a chronic lack of respect. Every signal suggests that he wishes he had not come to America so soon, but that's tough. No one forced him. It was his hand that scrawled the signature on the huge contract that sent his career off on a tangent.
However, the blame is not Beckham's alone in this instance. If the Galaxy are not strong enough to stand up to him on the matter of a loan, then maybe he is within his rights to push the issue.
The Galaxy's problem is that owners AEG seem to prioritize the bottom line over the product on the field. That approach is their prerogative, but soccer wisdom dictates that it makes more sense to develop a quality team and allow the extra revenue to follow.
Beckham is placed in an inflated position of strength because the Galaxy cherish their cash cow so dearly that they are afraid to stand up to him. Hence, the waving him on his way to Italy when he should be sitting down with head coach Bruce Arena and asking what he can do to help build a tighter, hungrier and more competitive squad for next season.
It would be wonderful to hear Beckham's thoughts on the matter, but on Wednesday he shied away from any media questions, leaving the U.S. soccer public to guess about his mindset. The best indication on that front lies in Beckham's performances for the Galaxy in the second half of the season.
Gone is the hungry warrior desperate for success. Instead, the former Manchester United and Real Madrid star looks every bit a 33-year-old and, worse, one who is going through the motions.
The anger and gesticulations that inevitably follow every time he is tackled were once seen as a sign of commitment. Now, they fool nobody.
Whether it is right or not, seeing how Beckham fares in Milan will certainly be interesting. Financially, the deal makes perfect sense for the Serie A club. Yet Beckham faces a tough task in proving he is still capable of being competitive in the highly technical and talent-laden Italian league.
Undoubtedly, there will be rumor and speculation linking him with a permanent move, especially if he does show glimpses of impressive form in Italy. And if his heart is not in California, then maybe he should call time on his American experience, although it is hard to see how such an arrangement could be worked out.
What amount of money could Milan or another European club possibly offer the Galaxy that would compensate them for effectively signing away more than 50 percent of their net worth?
Yet the Galaxy have shown little propensity for making smart decisions in recent times. Why should they start now?
- David Beckham