When David Beckham’s Inter Miami take to the field at the Banc of California stadium on Sunday night, six arduous years of crippling uncertainty will melt away.
The former England captain never thought it would be like this, yet the Miami political landscape is far trickier to beat than a well positioned defensive wall with a curling free-kick, something the 44-year-old did so wonderfully during his stellar playing days.
Running battles with commissioners plainly unimpressed by the Londoner’s glittering resume and status as a global sporting icon will, finally, take a backseat as Inter Miami begin their inaugural MLS campaign at Los Angeles FC, last season’s trailblazers who looked nailed on to win the championship before falling just short.
Beckham confirmed his intentions to become an owner in 2014. So, potential new stadium sites can wait as can a bizarre patent dispute with Internazionale over the marketing use of ‘Inter’.
Powered by LAFC’s star turn Carlos Vela – the ex-Arsenal striker scored 34 goals last season and was named MVP – former US national coach Bob Bradley has formed an attacking powerhouse of a side who will aim to devour opponents hastily blended together by someone only installed at the end of 2019.
And so, therein lies a fresh set of problems for Beckham who will be praying for a strong start to keep the momentum of excitement building.
Everything about Inter Miami is new: the supposedly temporary stadium (the plan is to eventually move to a $1bn business park site near Miami airport although doubts remain) and training complex which is almost built in Fort Lauderdale; the squad and the manager, Diego Alonso, who arrives with a strong reputation after impressive spells in Mexico with Pachuca and Monterrey, yet is untried in the United States where many new factors – including dealing with long trips like the 2,000-mile journey from South Florida to the west coast – come into play.
He is the only coach to have won the Concacaf Champions League twice with two different teams and enjoyed healthily impressive victories over MLS mainstays in the process.
Alonso, who also lifted the Liga MX Clausura title with Pachuca in 2016, has pedigree, although it remains entirely conceivable that come the opening of the totally revamped Lockhart Stadium on 14 March where LA Galaxy, Beckham’s former team, are the visitors, the team could be facing up to a chastening two-match start on the road.
The rise to success of Atlanta United – where sporting director Paul McDonough previously worked and who won the title in just their second season – has been mentioned frequently in the build-up. Yet it’s important to note that coach Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino was appointed in September 2016, a good six months before the serious action started.
How Alonso, who was a back-up choice after moves for the likes of Patrick Vieira, Carlo Ancelotti and River Plate’s Marcelo Gallardo failed, would love such a timeframe.
His appointment was announced on 30 December, just 62 days before his first competitive match. “We didn’t cry for more or less time,” the Uruguayan told the Guardian. But, deep down, he knows the odds of bursting out of the gate are slim.
Will Trapp, the United States international midfielder, admitted: “It’s a tall order in the sense of being the first game for an expansion team. But that’s the challenge you want as a competitor.”
Alonso, a former striker who had spells with Valencia and Atlético Madrid, appears to be a spiky individual, prone to passionately rampaging away in the technical area. That’s just what Beckham wants and needs, someone with serious fight to help shape the identity of what the former Manchester United midfielder hopes will become “one of most feared teams in MLS”.
With Alonso’s penchant for demanding his teams win possession back quickly and press high up the field with intensity, attacking football should be on the cards.
Much, however, will rely on the integration of Mexican international Rodolfo Pizarro, signed from Alonso’s former team Monterrey for $12m two weeks ago. A ball-playing midfielder who can orchestrate proceedings, the 26-year-old needs to click immediately. Matias Pellegrini, currently Miami’s other designated player, is just 19 and although highly vaunted, remains an unknown quantity at present.
The big-name signing which will have the kind of wow factor Beckham produced following his signing from Real Madrid in 2007 is badly needed, yet will have to wait for the summer.
Alonso, crucially, isn’t a rigid coach: there is pragmatism in his approach with many observers during his spell in Mexico impressed with an astute ability to make alterations if needed. “It’s not going to be perfect but we trust the players and the style, “ he said. “I have created champions everywhere I have worked and that strategy has been with me.”
Building an entire franchise from scratch is an alien concept virtually everywhere else on planet soccer and comes with myriad difficulties, both on and off the pitch. “It’s unique and different from my other roles,” said Alonso, who worked with Pizarro as recently as last September before being sacked by Monterrey. “I am going to take it for what it is.”
“I feel a buoyancy in the group of excitement and anticipation,” added Trapp who was enthused about meeting Beckham earlier in the week at the club’s training facility. “It’s an anxiety which is brought up by the fact we know it’s going to be a tough game but an exciting one in a wonderful atmosphere.
“We are making history and that is fun.”
His well-heeled new English friend sitting nervously in the stands would wholeheartedly agree.