His 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.