|Landon Donovan will not hug you like this, Davy|
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