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The Beckham Experiment - Failure Or Finally Redemption?

Friday 4th November 2011
David Beckham's first season in Major League Soccer back in 2007 coincided with my hometown club Toronto FC joining the league as an expansion club in that same year. The Galaxy's trip to Toronto was marked early on all of our calendars as a highlight of what was likely to be a long season for a struggling expansion franchise. Unfortunately for many who wanted to see the superstar in the flesh that day all they got to see was Becks sitting in a suit (albeit a splendid suit) on the bench as he was nursing one of his many injuries he sustained in his time in North America's top flight.

In five years of David playing in MLS Toronto supporters only got to see him in the flesh on the field on two occasions, and one of those was the 2008 MLS All Star Game versus Premier League side West Ham. His injury plagued first season which saw him limited to only five appearances overall was of course not something he could control. However later injuries he picked up while playing on loan from the Galaxy in Italy at AC Milan were in my opinion something he definitely could control. In his first stay in Italy Becks lobbied to have his loan stay extended to well after the MLS season started and in the end he only ended up playing in eleven games for Los Angeles, who ended up winning nothing. Becks could have chosen to seriously put his heart into the MLS or not, and I for one feel he chose neither. Many Galaxy fans never forgave Beckham for what some of them felt was a player who had less than his full heart and soul into truly helping his new club succeed.

With his contract about to expire in December the speculation is rife about a return to Europe to finish his career or whether he will play one more season in California.

There is also the little matter of trophies. Beckham's Galaxy dispatched Thierry Henry and the New York Red Bulls Thursday evening to advance into the semi finals of the MLS Cup and they face Real Salt Lake in the next round. LA finished at the top of the standings this past year and they must be looked upon as favourites to advance to the final which is being played on their home field. Beckham to his great credit was stellar in both matches with New York and he may yet prove to be the reason why his club wins the league. We will know in less than a fortnight. Without a winners medal next weekend Beckham runs the risk of leaving Major League Soccer empty handed as of course the Galaxy have not won the league in five years of the Beckham experiment.

The other issue is his legacy and what long lasting impact if any has Beckham had on the league. There was an increase, at least early on, in column inches written about the league and in television reportage of MLS and there has been an increase in league attendances in his time here. However those column inches did not really continue to the degree that the league probably hoped. Television ratings remained for the most part stagnant in his time here and as far as attendance goes since 2007 there have been five new franchises added to MLS that have all been at or near the top in league attendance since their collective inceptions. How much of that is due to one famous player on one franchise is to me at least a highly dubious calculation.

One positive development that Beckham did bring into MLS was the loosening of the strick salary cap rules that have allowed a number of clubs to bring in players under essentially the same salary provisions that has without a doubt increased the overall quality of the league as a whole.

In a few weeks we will know if he is staying or returning back to Europe. We will know if he is leaving with a trophy or not. A trophy for the Galaxy in the coming days might make the Beckham experiment look a little better in the hindsight of history but if the intention in the first place was to grow the game on the back of Becks then I for one think it did not work. The growth in Major League Soccer (and there has indeed been growth) has come from smart new owners building their new clubs the right way with new stadiums, a strong supporters culture and development of home grown talent not through one very famous footballer.
Tim Drodge
Tim writes about all things Toronto FC of Major League Soccer on his blog "The View From The South Stands"

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