Beckham more of a novelty act than savior

Updated: 04 September 2007 18:19 IST

Lost in the hand wringing over David Beckham's latest injury was the news that at least one member of his famous family will be working this fall.

Los Angeles:

Lost in the hand wringing over David Beckham's latest injury was the news that at least one member of his famous family will be working this fall.

And working hard, too.

Victoria Beckham has an acting gig on "Ugly Betty," and a book due out in November titled "That Extra Half an Inch: Hair, Heels and Everything in Between." She's not done because, after that, Posh Spice will join the other Spice Girls for their reunion tour.

Her husband, meanwhile, will likely be taking the rest of the year off. Which isn't all that bad because that will free him up to spend time with the kids and visit with neighbors like Tom and Katie.

Unfortunately, it won't do much to save American soccer.

That, of course, was what Beckham was supposed to do when he was lured over the pond by promises of up to $250 million to play for the LA Galaxy. He was going to make it cool for the rich and famous to be seen at games, sell enough jerseys to outfit the city of Los Angeles, and turn Major League Soccer into must-see TV.

The hype was incredible, even in a city built on hype. Helicopters charted his progress on the freeway to his first practice, ESPN ran a three-hour pregame show for his debut, and the paparazzi deserted Paris Hilton to train their cameras on him.

Inevitably, though, both Beckham and his wife couldn't live up to the very expectations they created.

The first sign of trouble was when Beckham couldn't practice at his first workout with his new teammates because of an injured left ankle. The second came when almost no one with a functioning remote control watched the hour-long network television special chronicling his wife's move to the United States.

It didn't get much better from then on. Beckham toured the country with the Galaxy, watching most of the action from the bench, while playing just 310 minutes in six of 12 possible games. The highlight was a game at Giants Stadium that drew 66,237 fans, but even the least learned fans there must have realised that 5-4 games are usually not indicative of soccer at its highest level.

No wager

Now Beckham is injured again. He's out for at least six weeks, but no bookie in Las Vegas would take a wager that he'll be back to play in the final few games of the season for the Galaxy.

So what does this mean to the future of soccer in the United States?

Not a lot, really.

I wrote at the time the Beckhams first crossed the pond to make their American debut that no one man could resurrect soccer in the United States even if he could bend it like Beckham. Pele couldn't do it in the 1970s, and 30 years later Americans still haven't warmed up to the idea of soccer as a sport worth investing much time in.

That drew hundreds of angry e-mails from soccer fanatics - yes, surprisingly there is a rogue element of those out there - who complained that I was stuck in the past, didn't understand the beauty of the game, and didn't realize that the hugely expanding Hispanic population in this country will someday influence what we watch and what we don't watch.

They made some valid points, and some even did it without calling me nasty names.

What they didn't know is that I actually like soccer - up to a point. I coached my sons' teams when they were young, know the difference between a red card and a yellow, and can sometimes even figure out why they call offsides.

I've watched little girls squeal by the thousands in the Rose Bowl as the US won the Women's World Cup, and I've been in the stands at West Brom to watch the Baggies play before their unfortunate relegation from the Premier League.

I understand the appeal, and I understand why some people are so taken with the sport. I also understand why most in America aren't, but that's a story for another day.

Hype, what else?

My problem was mainly with the hype over the whole Beckham thing, hype that no one player could ever live up to. Beckham might lure the Cruises to every home game, but the job of selling soccer to Americans should have been undertaken with a bit more decorum.

We're not so stupid that we have to have it banged into our head that we ought to watch soccer because it's the in thing to do and, hey, we might even see a celebrity. We can figure out by ourselves what we like, understanding at the same time that we don't have to like it simply because ESPN is shoving it down our throats.

Yes, Beckham sold some tickets and generated a brief flurry of interest in a fringe league. But so far the player billed as the savior of the sport in this country has been little more than a novelty act.

The only good news is that it looks like his wife has found steady work.

Topics : Football
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