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.