Friday, January 12, 2007

Becks

Here's another thing about Britons: they are more conformist than we are in the United States. They're not all crazy lockstep or anything, but one does find that in many cases there is almost always an unquestioned prevailing viewpoint.

I'm not talking about political thinking necessarily -- every nation has its insufferable share of people who are doggedly liberal or conservative despite any evidence. I am referring more to the way people here will view various elements of pop culture.

For example, the David Beckham deal. The line of thinking on this is that Beckham is a washed-up footballer who has effectively given up on the game and is content to milk his fame for all it's worth in a soccer backwater.

Add to this the fact that he's English and I'm not winning any new mates by admitting that I actually like Beckham (he influenced my choice of shaving razor). And I think his move to Los Angeles could turn out to be a stroke of brilliance.

If you were to walk up to average Americans and ask them to name a professional soccer player, I suspect the top three answers would be something along the lines of:
- "Soccer is boring. If you'll excuse me, I'm going to go back to watching NASCAR and golf on television."
- "Oh, you know, that one red-headed guy."
- "David Beckham"

I was still in the United States during World Cup 2006 and when I went to the pub to watch the matches, all the England shirts had Beckham's name on them. In my experience working for the Global Media Conspiracy, Beckham was the only player ever mentioned by U.S. media outlets. With the exception of those shown during MLS matches, Beckham was the only professional soccer player to appear in adverts on U.S. television. NBC, ABC, and CBS all ran the story of his signing with the Galaxy. Sports Illustrated carried as its top story this morning and ESPN had the story prominently displayed on its front page. If anyone is going to draw attention to the game in the U.S., it's going to be him.

Beckham has style and Americans respond to that -- sometimes more than actual skill. Jermaine Wiggins and Wally Szczerbiak could tell you that. And that one red-headed guy, Alexi Lalas, general manager for the Galaxy, understands it, too.

There are a lot of Americans who will never like soccer and a lot who will never take a full interest (I haven't decided whether I fall into this second category*). But, Beckham will bring exposure that will help fuel the slow progression of the game in the United States. I have already predicted that USA will win the World Cup in my lifetime. If that happens sooner than later, Beckham will be able to sit back and say: "See, I made that happen." It's certainly a greater legacy than he would ever achieve playing in Europe or a chronically underperforming England side.

It's clear that this is something Beckham is hoping for -- he has said almost as much. And I think he is sincere in wanting to promote the game, having set up the Beckham Academy a year and a half ago.

Beckham also has, you know, talent. He's still in his prime playing years and he's a better player than England fans will admit. So, it's not like he's Ric Flair. People drawn by Beckham's star power will see a player of top quality.

Hopefully that quality will rub off on some of his fellow players (I'm looking at you, Landon Donovan, you fucking slacker) and, by extension raise the level of U.S. play. But he's not exactly stepping into the "Mickey Mouse League" that I've seen described on a lot of UK discussion boards. Like Brazil, England and several other sides, USA underperformed in the most recent World Cup but it did have flashes of brilliance. Their battle against Italy was intense.

Americans don't tend to respond well to the idea that they should do something just because everyone else does (you know, like care about the environment), so Beckham faces a pretty massive task in popularizing the game. He's not helped by the fact that the Galaxy have the gayest name in all of professional sport**.

But I would like to see him succeed. I would also like to see his wife eat something, but that's less likely. Ideally this would result in a team that could legitimately compete against a top European team. Lalas has said his goal is to create an "MLS super-club." The top UEFA teams regularly travel to the United States in the summers to put on exhibition matches -- I'm sure someone somewhere is already salivating at the idea of putting one of these teams up against the Galaxy.

*It is, at least, in my top three: rugby, American football, soccer.

**MLS was started in the heyday of late-90s political correctness, and the names of the older clubs reflect the desperate attempt to avoid upsetting anyone: the Galaxy, the Wizards, the Rapids. In addition to gay team names, the MLS also carries the distinction of having the gayest logo in professional sports, a team with the most half-assed sell-out name ever and a inclination toward pointless gimmicks.

10 comments:

Chris Cope said...

My favourite take on this is that the "Big David Beckham Scientology Conversion Countdown" has begun.

Chris said...

Congrats on rising to #1 on the Chris Cope Google search with this one.
You're the guy that wrote the LifeFiles article about "Chris Cope"s right?
Good news. The Kiwi you mentioned in your article is in London now. Look him up at chriscope.net.

heatherfeather said...

landon donovan is from my hometown.

and i probably could have dug up the name sebastien squillaci because, for the love of pete, how could i not remember a name like squillaci?

Chris Cope said...

I would think that Sleepy Boy Landon would come in around top in people being asked to name an American player, despite the fact that he doesn't have a rap video on YouTube like Clint Dempsey.

lindsay said...

My god, that is a gay logo!
I think I love it.

Huw said...

I think there is a similar but slightly alternative line of thinking that Beckham has chosen not to prove he is not a washed-up footballer by playing in Italy - the real acid test for any attacking footballer (Henry, Rush and Bergkamp couldn't hack it) - and has instead effectively given up on the game and is content to milk his fame for all its worth in a soccer backwater.

The Mickey Mouse League label of the MLS is hard to shake, tainted as it is by people's tendency to ignore the mid-70s glory years of the NASL, and instead remember its 'retirement home' reputation, the silly rule & league format tinkering and its eventual financial collapse. Indeed, I have to say I worry about the financial astuteness of a club with attendance levels similar to a decent 2nd tier English club which offers someone a £6m annual wage, and a similar slice of their general annual profits.

I think Beckham's motives are reasonably genuine, although its a bit much hearing him portraying himself to be some sort of philanthropist. But whilst the shameless Victoria can now dine with Tom and Katie whenever she pleases and the children of America will be saved, it would be nice to have seen him go somewhere where he could prove those who doubt his ability wrong, as I agree he is still a talented player, and probably amongst England's top 3 midfielders.

Robert Humphries said...

Nice plug for Wally Szczerbiak, Chris. He played for my alma mater Miami (not in Florida).

He is, of course, most notable for having two "z"s in his name. Now that's style.

Neal said...

I fall under the category of somebody who will never like soccer, mainly because it lacks the sticks and blades of hockey.

Ynot said...

Nothing wrong with a gay logo but...Mah Gad! That is seriously gay and not in a good way!!!

thephoenixnyc said...

I am a footie fanatic. I was born and raised in NY but started playing young and became an Arsenal supporter when I was a kid b/c my uncle lived in London.

It is amazing how 6 months ago Becks was the England captain and now he is considered shit by almost all in the UK.

As for his impact on the MLS, I think he will have an impact but it will have to be followed up on in a number of ways.

One problem the MLS will always face is that even if more Americans learn to love the game Americans like watching the best of the best play at anything.

Until Brian McBride and the rest of the Americans playing in Europe decide to stay home that is an unlikely prospect.