Sunday, January 14, 2007

The American Dream

Let's get one thing absolutely clear before we even start - the transfer of David Beckham from Real Madrid to LA Galaxy at the end of this season is approximately 10% about football, and 90% about image rights, marketing and those other twenty-first century creations which do so much to enhance the average fan's experience of the game. But you lot, beautiful and clever people that you are, already knew that, didn't you?

It has been clear from the start of the season that Fabio Cappello has no time for the Beckham publicity charabanc. Though Real have struggled on the pitch, Beckham has barely figured at all, and the rumours coming out of Madrid seem to be indicating that he's got six months warming the bench to look forward to. It won't make any difference in the MLS, where the standard of play is mediocre to say the least. This may explain why he has chosen to go there now. He probably still has another couple of years in the tank, although whether he stands out will depend largely on which position he plays on, and what players the other clubs bring in under this new MLS rule, which allows each club to break the league's strict wage cap on one player.

From Beckham's perspective, the move makes perfect sense. None of the top four in the Premiership were interested in him, which is clear evidence that his star is on the wane, but in the USA he can kid himself into thinking that he's acting as an ambassador for the game. Victoria will settle into the vapid, celebrity obsessed LA lifestyle and, of course, the half a million quid a week that he'll be taking home should help to temper any homesickness that they may feel. It may feel a little odd, going from the 85,000 capacity Bernabau to the 27,000 capacity Home Depot stadium, but regain the hero status that he has lost over the last couple of years as he has slipped down the pecking order in Madrid.

Whether the decision makes sense for AEG and Adidas, who are bank-rolling it, is a different matter altogether. Can they seriously expect to turn a profit on an ageing midfielder whose best days are clearly behind him? Are they can going to sell more than half a million pounds worth of tickets and merchandise every week for the next five years? I can't see how they will. Of course, they will argue that they're doing it to "raise the profile of the game in America", and somebody has clearly got to have a go at cracking what would be by a country mile the most lucrative market in the world (why else do you think Manchester United and Chelsea have both toured there lately?), but $250m is a hell of a lot of money to have to recoup.

What is interesting to note is that MLS franchise owners are already petitioning for the number of players that they can bring in outside of the wage cap to be doubled from one to two. They're likely to get their way. They will doubtlessly then start to campaign for it to increased to three, and so on until it's scrapped altogether. What effect this will have on global football is open to question. I remain sceptical that it will make the US team a major force on the international stage - the money and attention will be lavished upon foreign stars rather than home-grown talent - and, if they start seriously flashing the cash, it could even bring about a little more equality on the European game. Take that, Chelsea, Real Madrid and Barcelona. Your days as the richest football clubs in the world could well be numbered.


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