The match between LA Galaxy and Milan was always, in view of the recent goings-on between David Beckham and the Italian giants, going to be something of a powder keg, and the global media reaction to the events at the decidedly unromantically named Home Depot Center has said a lot about how Beckham has managed to control the public perception of him. When he signed for Galaxy, there was no question that it was all about the money. With Simon Fuller and Victoria Beckham lurking in the shadows, Beckham and his entourage had such control at the club that it was they rather than general manager Alexi Lalas that were behind the unsuccessful appointment of Ruud Gullit last year, but it was Beckham’s decision to go to Milan on loan that really put the fans’ backs up.
Since his return to LA earlier this year, it had been debatable whether he would pull on a Galaxy shirt again, and often gave the impression that he was playing out time, waiting for a better offer to come along. Beckham’s justification for his behaviour has been merely that he needs to play domestically at a higher level in order to secure a place in the England squad, but this has broadly not washed with fans. Indeed, his justifications might have carried more weight if he had actually consistently performed for Galaxy, but he hasn’t. The involvement of Milan in this peculiar story is says much about the status of the protagonists. Milan is a club that seems to be stuck in a rut of decline, and Beckham’s signing for them is, in this respect, quite symbolic. No matter what Silvio Berlusconi said at the time, no-one really thought that they weren’t taking him on in order to shift a few shirts.
What is surprising, perhaps, is that in spite of many years of media training, Beckham lost his temper in a match in which he must have been made aware of the importance of keeping his cool. After all, the reaction to this story might just have burnt his bridges in Los Angeles once and for all. What is curious about Beckham is that, for all of his apparent quietness, he does occasionally have a hair trigger temper. That Sending Off Against Argentina may have been over ten years ago, but Beckham has always demonstrated what has seemed like a surprisingly hot head if there is half a chance of getting in a scrap. Ultimately, whatever the truth of the matter is about what happened regarding his interactions with the crowd during this match, any seasoned Beckham watcher wwould say with confidence that he is more capable of a confrontational reaction with a supporter than many may have thought.
What we are seeing here is a clash of cultures of the highest order. The bare fact of the matter is that MLS has some way to go in terms of quality before it matches the Premier League or Serie A. This isn’t a criticism of MLS, by the way. The league has come along in leaps and bounds in recent years and isn’t the Mickey Mouse league that many in the European press would have us believe. There is, however, an element of truth in the belief that a European player playing in this league may be adversely affecting his chances of playing for his national team if he plays in it. None of this, however, really excuses Beckham’s behaviour over the last year and a half or so, and he has really given the impression of seeking to have his cake and eat it. He should have known when he signed for Galaxy that he was, with this move, making a choice – Galaxy and a massive pot of cash, or the chance of playing at the 2010 World Cup finals. He chose the former, but he really wanted the latter.
With a bit of luck, MLS will have learnt from the comparative failure of Beckham’s move to LA Galaxy. The league’s strict wage cap rules were bent to the point of destruction by his signature, endangering one of its founding principles – to avoid the financial disaster that befell NASL in the early 1980s by insisting on solid financial footings for clubs. MLS would be better advised to continue to plough its own furrow and ignore the trinkets and baubles of the European game and to continue to develop its own identity. They are best off doing this without the likes of David Beckham travelling over, taking their money and then insulting their league, no matter what his reasons for doing so are.