The Los Angeles Galaxy held their first pre-Cup Final training session this morning at the Home Depot Center.
For the attending world media however, the main focus of attention was not the small matter of deciding who will be North American champions in 2012, but the immediate future of England midfielder David Beckham.
Throughout just under an hour of answering questions, only one was posed about the match coming up against the Houston Dynamo.
But to be fair, today is just Thursday and the men from Texas had not arrived in town yet. It therefore seemed appropriate to reflect on Beckham’s time in Major League Soccer and how far it has come in his six years here.
This was his own potted history and outlook:
“When Tim Leiweke came to my house, he said ‘soccer’s not one of the biggest sports in the US, but one day it will be.’ When I first came here, I committed to this team, I committed to this league and I committed to growing this league.
Just because I’m not playing here anymore after the weekend, my commitment stays the same and I will do anything to keep these players coming over; players like Thierry Henry, players like Robbie Keane and anything I can do on that side of things. I want to to see this league continue to grow.”
It is easy to take Beckham for granted and assume his career trajectory could have gone no other way. But that is not the case. The history of his island is littered with supremely talented individuals, some arguably more talented than Beckham, who wasted their ability by drinking in their own champagne laced kool-aid rather than making the sacrifices necessary to keep their health at their peak.
If the name George Best is not on the tip of your tongue by now, it can only be due to your youth. The Ulsterman is the poster child for wayward genius.
But other supremely talented men, such as Matthew Le Tissier, Glenn Hoddle and Duncan Mackenzie could also place a ball on a six pence from 45 yards. Of those only Hoddle went on to achieve true greatness and even then, received a fraction of the England caps that he should have, and David Beckham did.
George Best and latterly Paul Gascoigne had immense talent but not the incredible temperament to handle success that Beckham has acquired over the years. Whereas Best was distracted by his choice of tipple and women, even Beckham’s worst critics, some of them motivated by no more than sheer snobbery, can argue that family life hampered his career.
Instead Beckham put keeping his family happy at the core of his career and became a better player, and a better role model for it.
If corporations chose David Beckham to represent their brand, it was because he was a worthy role model.
To be that role model he forswore temptations to which other equal talents have fallen. For that he was often criticised.
In short, he deserved a great deal of what came his way. He made the most of his talent, respected his body and respected his family obligations. In doing so, he respected the game.
Yet he is not done.
“I still believe I got another challenge inside of me. I could still play for .. I don’t know how many years left. I do still feel like I can still play. I’ve had an amazing time playing here for the last six years. Last year felt like the right to time to leave.
I discussed it with my family and I just felt I had some unfinished business. As for the future, I have some interesting and exciting options on the table. I’m very flattered by some of the options that I’ve got.”
Has he charmed the media?
Yes he has and he was still doing so today and paying tribute to some very old school men who you might characterise as the sort who would not wish to see the Beckham circus arrive at their club.
“It’s always nice to be recognised by good managers. The fact that I’ve still got good managers like Carlo Ancelotti, Harry Redknapp and Sam Allardyce; managers like this who are coming out and saying they’d love me to play and how professional I am means a lot to me.”
He has one more game left in MLS. Then another, maybe more, elsewhere. But he’ll be back, evangelising for the beautiful game in this last outpost where popular culture has resisted it.
That resistance is breaking down. Just as resistance to the charms of this incredible phenomenon eventually did too.
MLS Commissioner Don Garber could barely hide his glee when speaking of Beckham returning to carry the torch for this league as an owner after he quits playing. No real fan of the sport should disagree.
Beckham has helped the game here. How much he can do so in his next capacity remains to be seen.