Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Seriously... what the hell are the Galaxy thinking?

Landon Donovan will not hug you like this, Davy
On Tuesday, a not-nearly-capacity Old Trafford crowd was treated to Gary Neville's testimonial game, a meaningless friendly against Juventus that ended in a 2-1 loss for the homestanding Red Devils. For everybody except the smirking (and seemingly oblivious) Bobby Charlton, Nobby Stiles and the obviously amused Sir Alex, the game was an excuse to pile into the only UEFA 5-star club stadium in England, throw back a few cold ones and perhaps see a few of the old guard run around for 90 minutes. Oh, and Neville's career was ending.

David Beckham was there, not next to Nobby and Bobby but suited up, wearing out his 36-year-old legs in a No. 7 shirt against a formidable side in a meaningless friendly in the middle of the MLS season.

Bruce Arena... bubby... what the hell are you thinking?

Becks, of course, was given leave by his LA overlords, released to not only attend but play in the game in tribute to his former roommate at United. I don't blame Beckham for bringing the occasion to Arena's attention. In fact, if I were him I'd have done the same thing. But aye, here's the rub. However much I want it, if I ask for a leave smack in the middle of the busiest time of the year in my office to visit a retiring buddy? My editor says, "Hey Will, y'know, we're in trouble if you skip out on us just now. We've got an important week coming up. Take your leave during a slower time." And back to work I go with nary a peep.

Beckham was cocksure he'd only play 45 minutes. In an attempt to soothe Galaxy fans (and ownership) of the two cross-Atlantic flights he was about to take along with a game he was obviously more amped about than any MLS match he's ever played, he made a statement he obviously could not have any clue about. Here's Beckham's quote from Saturday. Ahem.

"Definitely won't be any more than 45 minutes. I think it will be a walk on, play for 45 minutes and walk off."

Did Davy have any intention of flagging down the sideline at the half and boldly declaring he needed to rest his legs for his Galaxy fixtures? Of course not. He said 45, but he meant 90. He clearly hoped for 90, and he got it. Beckham will miss a crucial date with Houston tonight -- if you need confirmation, take a peek at Houston's form lately -- because he's lounging in first class on a flight back to LA with 90 more minutes on his legs than necessary.

Why the Galaxy front office could not do this, could not say no to Beckham's request, gets at the heart of why this Beckham experiment in MLS has missed the high water mark so many set for it. I watched the full 90 minutes of that Juve match (only God knows why), and watching Becks spring around the pitch with a smile on his face was a far cry from the grim heavy-footed stalker he's become in MLS. I'm not surprised, nor do I begrudge him for it. That's his home. The fans routinely showered him with chants of, "Fergie sign him up." The guy even laughingly embraced a kid that streaked onto the field to get a closer look. But somewhere Bruce Arena is stewing over the decision he could not make.

We've heard Beckham's side. Here's Arena's.

"We thought it was important for David to be there," and, "I think it's the right (decision) to make." 

No you don't. A million times, no you don't. How could he? Just last week Beckham was responsible for the free kick assist that led to LA's only goal in a 1-0 victory over Chivas USA in the Superclasico. That was his sixth assist of the year, tying him with Brad Davis for the league lead in that category. Beckham is playing better than his age in MLS, and releasing him for a meaningless friendly serves LA no purpose. That's the LA that abides his bloated paycheck, the LA that has staked its immediate future at least partially on his foot and the league that staked a piece of its reputation on handing a ridiculous salary to an aging superstar. I won't even speculate on the uproar had Beckham turned an ankle or pulled up lame with a strained muscle.

LA's management reminds me of a stepdad trying to wrangle a spoiled, rich son who was 18 by the time the father stepped into the picture. The lavish ways, the expectant, almost arrogant attitude... So what does the father do? He creates a culture of permissiveness, allowing the son not a loose leash but no leash at all because he fears the worst. What would happen if LA denied Beckham the ability to travel to play in a friendly? Do we even know? If it was anything but acceptance, is that a player you'd even want in your locker room? As it is, Galaxy players are probably rolling their eyes and developing mental callouses over the constant questions revolving around Beckham's absences and, "Tell me Landon, is this a distraction?"

This instance in and of itself isn't necessarily the issue. It's symptomatic of a deeper problem, one that continues to plague LA. Grant Wahl's excellent book The Beckham Experiment fleshes this out in frightening detail. It is a failure of both management and man that both are this far apart on appropriate agendas, because Tuesday's clearly served one and not the other. I fear that until the day he leaves the league, Beckham will continue to keep the Galaxy on a string wrapped round his finger. And nobody will do a thing about it.

- Will Parchman


Malcolm said...

Your ignoring the fact that the Galaxy are better on the field without Beckham. They seemingly don't have the balls to sit him down and make him the bench player he should be.

Will Parchman said...

I'll agree with the premise that LA isn't lost without him by any means, but out-and-out better? That's a judgment call and doubly hard to quantify, especially when Becks is leading the league in assists and has played no small part in LA's success this year. The Galaxy are five points clear atop the West and have more goals than anybody in the league. How much better can they be?

More to my point, it feeds into the notion that Beckham is above it all. Above the league, above his teammates, above American soccer. Eschewing an important MLS game for a glorified reunion with some buddies is nearly as bad as being allowed to do it. For an "ambassador" as he was originally billed, Beckham is awfully aloof to this whole public relations thing.

And LA do not have the balls, you are correct.

Masshole said...

Let's be honest here, time and time again we have found that the MLS regular season means little. How many times has a Supporters' Shield winner won the MLS Cup? Twice. LA in '02 and Columbus in '08. Are the Galaxy really going to lose the MLS Cup because Beckham missed one match in May? Are the Galaxy really in danger of missing the playoffs if Beckham misses one game? Regular season in the MLS means nothing unless you are a borderline playoff team, which the Galaxy certainly are not.

As to the comments regarding his commitment to the league and the Galaxy, fairly valid yet not cut-and-dry. What everyone seems to forget is that at the time he signed with MLS, Fabio Capello had already said he wasn't going to play another game for Real. What happened post-signing with MLS? Beckham starts nearly all games during the 2nd half of the season and Real wins La Liga.

In all honesty, would you ever turn down the potential to play for the US national team? I find it kind of ironic that professional athletes these days are demonized for switching clubs and being out of touch with "common people", yet when they show any signs of being humans we throw them under the bus. Yeah, these guys are supposed to be ruthless professionals, but they play a game for a living. Their careers are based on dreams that they had as a little kid. Beckham grew up dreaming of playing for Man United and England. Although I wasn't even close to being talented enough to play for the US national team, every time I heard the national anthem played before one of my college games, I got emotional. Can't even imagine what that is like for those who are talented enough to play internationally.

Has he gone a bit too far in his quest for the English caps record? Should he have retired after Euro 2008? Without a doubt. However, faulting someone for playing 90 mins at Old Trafford in a match honoring your best man's professional achievements is misguided. Beckham will probably not get a testimonial at United. As such, yesterday's match likely served as an informal testimonial for him. After what he's contributed to United and England, fully deserved.

megs said...

I'd say that this year, perhaps for the first time since he came, Beckham's doing a lot to help the Galaxy out on the field, between the goal and the 6 assists and the intangibles. That means that his absence hurts, and more than a glance at the league table might suggest.

The Galaxy aren't nearly as clear at the top of the table as it looks. Sure, they're five points ahead of RSL right now, but they've also played 13 games; most of the rest of the league have only played 10, and RSL and SKC have only played 8. If you look at points per game, LA are second (with 1.76 ppg; RSL has 2.13), but third through sixth are all very close to them (1.71 down to 1.6), so it's not like they've taken a commanding lead over the rest of the league that allowed them to let one of their more influential players go just for the hell of it.

Will Parchman said...

All good points, Masshole. But like I said, I wasn't necessarily demonizing Beckham for going, I was questioning the judgment of the Galaxy for letting him go. Whether or not LA wins the league or not based on one game, I mean, of course not. But why should they even have to deal with it? Why is Beckham putting them in the position to worry about a possible injury to their set piece maestro over 90 garbage minutes just as the season is cranking up?

My main point anyway is that this is more symptomatic of the problem than the problem itself. MLS is still struggling to establish itself as a viable destination for the world's best players. I'm don't think the league sends the right message when it constantly lets itself be led around on a leash by the man with the insane salary who, and let's be honest here, has never really respected MLS. Sure, Beckham's only one guy, but the league hitched an aaawful lot to his success.

Jason Kuenle said...

If the options are 1) having a David Beckham who misses an occasional regular season match, but is committed to the club the other 90% of the time (as Beckham seems to be this year), or 2) having a pouty David Beckham, who gives 80% effort all the time (the Beckham that we've seen the other seasons that he's been in MLS), I'd take option number one. If there was an scenario in which Beckham was fully committed to LA 100% of the time, then that would be ideal, but I don't think that is a realistic option. Yes, it may be a double standard, but it's not like this is the only instance of it (see Favre or Roger Clemens toward the ends of their careers for non-MLS examples).

Finally, the league may have hitched a lot on David Beckham's name, image, etc. early in his time in MLS, but that time has passed. Besides a few disappointed people in LA who bought tickets to this match and were hoping to see Beckham, Beckham haters, and hardcore MLS followers, no one will care that Beckham missed a midweek match of average regular season importance. If playing in the testimonial would have meant he missed the nationally televised, weekend match against New York a couple weeks ago, I think there would have been a much different response.

Jesse said...

I'm only amazed that the Galaxy weren't the opponent in the Neville testimonial.