The Failures of David Beckham

i-89e8cc322d735554ccf5e82f969b4764-Becksdespair copy.jpgHis soon to be aborted American adventure with the Galaxy makes three.

The first came in 1998, when a petulant Beckham threw away England’s best chance of winning the World Cup since its lone triumph in 1966, getting himself sent off with a childish, retaliatory foul in the second round against Argentina.

The second came in 2003 when Manchester United Manager Alex Ferguson showed him the door at the world’s biggest club, concerned his growing fame and celebrity was undermining the team.

And now Beckham has failed in MLS, playing no small role in transforming what was the league’s flagship franchise into its worst. A player who was supposed to bring star power and credibility to MLS instead merely exposed the inherent weaknesses of a league with a relatively low salary cap and small squads.

In the end, Beckham proved he’s no Pele or even a Juan Pablo Angel.

Beckham is a simple, uncomplicated chap. What you see is what you get.

I have no doubt that when he originally left on loan for AC Milan it was, as he said, to keep fit at his relatively advanced age of 33 during what is by soccer standards a long off-season.

In Milan, he was allowed to do what he could not in MLS; play a specific role that emphasized his strengths rather than expose his increasing fragility, surrounded by players as good or better than him.

Beckham has said he was surprised by how much he enjoyed playing for Milan. The bigger surprise is that he was surprised by that.

It became clear last season, playing for an abysmal team surrounded by average players, that Beckham was both increasingly frustrated and disinterested.

Some players are capable of making a team better, hauling less talented teammates up to their level, inspiring them and setting an example.

Beckham is not that kind of player.

At the Galaxy, it became clear with virtually every pass, every cross and every free kick Beckham made that he needed a competent and accomplished supporting cast. That safety net simply did not exist.

Beckham is a role player with a knack for sublime free kicks and long, accurate passes perhaps no other player in the world can duplicate.

But when Beckham continually sends in crosses teammates are unable to finish or make passes less talented players are incapable of reading, the predictable result is a disenchanted, dissatisfied player.

Beckham’s inaugural, injury-plagued season was little more than joke – some might use the word scam – that saw him make just two MLS starts, despite drawing huge crowds wherever he didn’t appear.

Last season was in some respects even worse, his mediocre output of five goals and 10 assists in 25 MLS starts serving largely to underline his, and the team’s, lack of achievements.

The often maligned Landon Donovan proved last year that even on a horrific team a talented player can have the best season of his career, especially if he’s motivated by the prospect of a lucrative move abroad.

Donovan deserves a move to Bayern Munich and the U.S. National Team is likely to benefit from a player turning out for one of the world’s best teams in one of this planet’s best leagues.

Beckham had no such motivation.

Commercially, he had already enriched himself and Galaxy owners Anschutz Entertainment Group merely by signing on the dotted line of his $6.5 million a year contract and adding even more lucrative commercial endorsements along the way in the world’s largest economy.

MLS may be a second-rate league – as is every other in the world outside of England, Italy, Germany and Spain – but it is incredibly demanding.

On the field, MLS is a physical, tough slog full of young, strapping athletes if not overly-talented players. Off it, there are thousands of miles of air travel and frequent time zone shifts capable of sapping the stamina of all but the most focused players.

Beckham, it’s clear, was never focused. Worse, he underestimated the demands of MLS. Beckham has more in common with failures like Lothar Matthaus than successes such as Darren Huckerby.

There are 45 days until the season begins.

Replacing players of the stature of Beckham and Donovan will not be easy in that short time frame. But it does give Coach Bruce Arena considerable latitude under the salary cap to find a talented playmaker capable of putting his mark on the team in a way Beckham never did.

Beckham has failed – again, again and again – when it mattered most.

His time has gone. It’s time for the Galaxy and American soccer to move on.

Because the only thing worse than failing is not owning up to a mistake.

And Beckham has proved a colossal mistake.

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About Nick Green

South Bay-based Los Angeles News Group soccer columnist and blogger Nick Green writes at the 100 Percent Soccer blog at and craft beer at the Beer Goggles blog at Cheers!
  • Alex

    Great article…

  • I always read your articles Nick. And even though Ive been a LAG fan since 1996, I admit getting caught up in the Beckham hype. Heck, I even made a Youtube video about his first LAG game against Chelsea. I held out hope that he really loved our team and would be back. But, your article is spot on, very timely and explains it like it is. Our league is much tougher than foreign players might think. Beckham failed miserably. He truly was a circus that distracted all of the players. While England’s fans are cheering the arrival of their pseudo savior, I believe he will once again fail them somehow and they will quickly get tired of him and demand change.

    I can’t say I’m a Bruce fan, but if he can put a cognizant team together, that can compete and win more games than we lose, I will be happy. Let’s get back into the playoffs and make a run for the cup!

  • bz

    Harsh, thorough, and accurate… well put Nick!

    Say what you will about Beckham, he certainly did create quite a bit of buzz about MLS and he put butts in the seats. Now lets see if MLS can hold on to what Beckham brought.

    Do you think AEG will try to bring in another soccer superstar near the end of their career, or do you think AEG considers the Beckham experiment a bad move? Is their an aging superstar (Ronaldo?) out there who would work better in the MLS system?

    Nick replies: Good question. And likely the subject of a future post or column. Short answer: It depends. But please, no Shevchenko!

  • StudsUp

    Spot on Nick. I might add that the gaLAxy performance woes predate the Beckham AND Donovan signings. Since the retirement of Cienfuegos LA has not even approached that caliber of play. The nail in the coffin was the tenure of now revered-by-all Sigi Schmid who managed to kill off all the style and edge this team ever had. To his credit Sigi learned from his gaLAxy mistakes and brought in Guille to save his career in Colombus. Sadly gaLAxy has not learned that lesson yet.

    I say use the Beckham $$ and persue Riquelme with all your might AEG.

  • Daniel

    Great Article Nick.

    I never miss any of your articles!

    I have been a Galaxy fan since the Luis Hernandez days! We all remember how that turned out!

    I’m a HUGE David Beckham fan! Because of him Real Madrid holds a special place in my heart! But I remember the first time I heard that David was coming to L.A. My first thoughts were YES!!

    But little by little after hearing all the details of his contract and the money he was going to be paid! I knew the Galaxy was never going to be able to win! When one or two players are making that kind of money it’s always going to cause the locker room to fall apart!

    I went to every single Galaxy Home Game exept for the final one! And I just didn’t agree how they would announce David’s name first and show high lites of him only! How do you think the other players are going to feel? Maybe if they would have won the MLS Cup or even made it to the playoff things would have been different! But hey it is what it is!

    I wish David and Landon luck and hopefully with all that money they can pick a few quality players! Because with what I have seen them do this offseason we are going to be in the same boat again this year!!

  • Ben

    I’m not agreeing with all that you’ve written in that article/post however may I ask and show you this:

    Why did MLS get Beckham?
    They wanted a huge, bold, flashing “Hello World and U.S., there is Soccer here” statement.

    Did the get that? Yes.

    Ask non soccer interested folks all around the globe, who’s Beckham, where does he play and you’ll get MLS/Galaxy mentioned very often.

    (In what regard they see MLS is a debate on its own and does not diminish that achievement)

    In all areas other than on the field, Becks extremely helped MLS and the sport (obviously he profited financially).

    I’m not saying expansion, soccer specific stadiums, coverage contracts, etc., are all his doing, but he helped in his way, which is exposure.

  • Art R.

    An earlier talking point was that even if a team overseas wanted to sign Beckham, he could not leave MLS because he would have to break all the other parts of the contract (endorsements etc) that took his 5-year $6.5 million MLS contract up to the often quoted $250 million grand total deal. I guess that’s why we are hearing from him the “get my lawyers involved” as a talking point lately. MLS and the Cirque du LA Galaxy will be better off without.

  • Well said. As a Chivas USA fan, I’m laughing my ass off. Tears of laughter.

    As a fan of the MLS, I’m pissed. He said he wanted to be an ambassador, help make soccer more viable to the youth in America, etc.

    In the end, its all about David Beckham.

  • shelbo

    5 goals and 10 assists is “mediocre”? Being the offensive playmaker on a team with 55 goals makes you a failure? Geeze Nick, you’re tough to please!

    Look, clearly the season was a disappointment for Galaxy fans, but you can hardly blame Beckham, and to call him mediocre and a failure is just sour grapes. Blame AEG and Alexi, blame Ruud, blame Bravo, but don’t blame Beckham. For most games Beckham was the hardest working guy out there, trying to play the whole field to make up for the crap that was the Galaxy last year.

    As Ben said, the Galaxy got what they paid for, which was a name to sell shirts, get headlines, and put butts in the seats. Anyone that followed soccer knew that Beckham wasn’t going to score goals like Angel. They were getting an offensive playmaker – how can you say he failed at that? 55 goals? 15 goals for Edson Buddle? The guy was a freaking miracle worker!

    I’m pissed at Beckham, and the Galaxy, for the current situation, and maybe the experiment was a failure, but to blame it on Beckham is unfair.

  • IJC

    It sucks that he went back on everything he said, but in the end, I think it’s better this way. I am not from LA, in fact, I am a SJ fan, but the fact is I miss the days when the Galaxy were glorious; when they actually won. MLS, right now, doesn’t need superstars. It just needs to keep being stable and win international competition. It needs to win the CONCACAF Champions League, it needs to win (when invited) the Copa Sudamericana; it needs to win consistently. When it does this, at least more talented South Americans, you know, the ones that lead their teams to Copa Libertadores/Sudamericana titles, will want to come over.

    And that’s how we can grow the sport. When we win. It wouldn’t be bad either for the United States to consistently do well in FIFA World Cups.

    With the departure of Donovan and Beckham, LAG has a clean slate. Not only that, it frees up so much salary cap space. Now Bruce Arena can build a team with some depth. I know he might be out of touch with MLS coaching, but I think, if you give him a year or two, he’s going to do a great job.

    The Galaxy must redeem themselves, and by winning, not just an MLS Cup but a CONCACAF Champions League, they will. This is a slate wiped clean and I for one am excited about it. Beckham turned that team into a circus. He was bigger then the team, everybody bent over backwards so he could have his way.

    I think with Beckham gone, and probably Donovan as well, LAG has a chance to return back to its glory days. Remember the days of Cienfuegos, Cobi Jones, etc?

    I can’t wait for Beckham to completely leave the picture.

  • Joseph D’Hippolito

    With all due respect to the commentators on this blog, why do any of you believe that AEG will do anything right? AEG — especially Tim Leiweke — is the problem.

    Leiweke’s arrogance and unreasonable demands (as expressed by Alexi Lalas’ constant trades) destroyed the Galaxy’s chemistry and morale — and cost the club its two best assets, Beckham and Donovan (do you think Donovan wants to return to this mess?).

    Leiweke acquired Beckham ostensibly to bolster the league’s profile and increase profits. He did the latter in the short run but at the cost of long-term respect for the organization.

    Leiweke not only made a fool of AEG but of MLS, as well. Anschutz should fire the bastard before he makes AEG more of a laughing stock than it already is.

  • r0bt

    Nick, on one hand, you seem to realise the fact that the uncomplicated nature of David Beckham the footballer means that he’ll never change MLS the way Pele might.

    On the other, you put 5 goals and 10 assists in 25 games as an abysmal failure, which it isn’t. It is perhaps precisely because most European clubs knew what they were going to get (a grafter, a professional, but not an artist) that nobody really put up a fierce struggle with the Galaxy to sign Beckham in the first place.

    The Galaxy have indeed committed a terrible mistake to sign Beckham, but it is a bit far fetched to accuse Beckham of being a failure. He wasn’t. The sheer fact that Beckham has managed to walk straight into the AC Milan starting eleven from a MLS team that is, literally, second rate in a second rate league at the age of 33 speaks volumes about his professionalism and dedication. In fact it seems the vast majority of this disillusionment with Beckham stems from the fact that he’s not a Pele, or a Maradona, or even a Cuauhtemoc Blanco.

    The Galaxy stand to make a small profit (even after his massive wages have been taken into account) for Beckham if they accept a bid from Milan, and they should. Everybody wins, even the Galaxy. Everybody knows Beckham signed for the MLS, did a reasonable (if not fire-setting) job there, and got his head turned by AC Milan, which is no big crime. It’s hard to see what all the fuss is about.

    Nick replies: I’m curious: how many Galaxy games did you see last year?

    Beckham trailed off badly toward the end of the season. The net result is he had five goals and 12 assists in 30 games (27 starts) over two seasons. Not great production for $6.5 mill a year.

  • Laurie

    Reading this and Dan Loney’s piece have made my night. I’ve been trying to say the same thing (less eloquently) all week and getting nowhere with people who say, “But you can’t blame Beckham for wanting out.”

    Excuse me? Lots of people have followed through on difficult commitments because they had promised to do so and because other people depended on them.

    Too bad Beckham wasn’t man enough to do the same.

  • dylando

    What a load of crap! 2nd most capped England player of all time and still people question his ability rather than a Galaxy lack of management or talent. Get a clue, a country like England doesn’t give out the captain’s arm bands to people who don’t have the ability to bring out the best in the team. Beckham is the most successful footballer of all time. I don’t think failures are what will sum up his career.