Was David Beckham’s MLS Career a Success?
David Beckham will spend the majority of the next 15 months with AC Milan under a deal reached over the weekend between the Italian Serie A side and Major League Soccer’s Los Angeles Galaxy.Beckham, who was scheduled to return to the Galaxy on March 9 after a winter-long loan spell with Milan, will remain in Milan until the end of the Serie A season and report to the Galaxy on July 1. He will play the remainder of the MLS season, which officially ends Nov. 22, at which point he’ll have the option to buy out his Galaxy contract and sign in Europe.
Beckham reportedly agreed to pay part of the transfer fee himself to get the deal done. He has been pressing for an extended stay in Milan in large part to solidify his place on the English national team for the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
The deal signals the beginning of the end to Beckham’s MLS career, which will likely be over after the 2009 season. Beckham, one of sport’s most recognizable stars, was hailed as a savior for the MLS and American soccer when he signed a five-year deal worth a reported $250 million in salary and endorsements in January 2007.
“David Beckham will have a greater impact on soccer in America than any athlete has ever had on a sport globally," said Timothy J. Leiweke, a member of the Galaxy’s ownership, according to the Boston Globe. “David is truly the only individual that can build the bridge between soccer in America and the rest of the world.”
However, Beckham will leave MLS having played just one full season. He has missed many games due to injury and has been unable to lead the Galaxy to the league playoffs. Though he undoubtedly brought increased attention to the league, many have questioned whether he accomplished what he set out to do.
The MLS brought Beckham to America to increase exposure for the league and help grow the sport in the United States. Now, with his MLS career approaching its abbreviated end, many soccer observers are wondering if Beckham's tenure did anything to help the league or the sport.
“So what did he accomplish in 18 months?” asks Grahame L. Jones of the Los Angeles Times.
Besides scoring five goals, selling a lot of Galaxy jerseys and bringing in some more fans, Jones says not much. “The soccer needle remains about where it was before he stepped off the plane at LAX.”
Still, Beckham did help raise fan attendance, television ratings, jersey sales and the overall profile of the MLS during his tenure. “True, Beckham's right boot only infrequently cranked the ‘Wow’ meter to 11,” writes ESPN’s Steve Davis. “But that doesn't change the fact that he amplified league value.”
Whether Beckham’s impact will still be felt after his departure is questionable. Goal.com’s Zac Lee Rigg believes that most of his fans will leave: “there will be a good number who tuned in for his latest haircut, but stick around for the soccer.”
However, many believe that his early departure damages MLS’ credibility, making it look like a third-rate league. Beckham’s “obvious relish at playing for Milan and his eagerness to move permanently to the San Siro have seemed to damn the MLS by implication,” writes Simon Austin for the BBC.
Cathal Kelly of the Toronto Star declares that Beckham’s departure could doom the MLS. “It may take years of decline … but it's a straight line from right now, from this failure, to the funeral.”