Beckham’s U.S. spat raises questions over role

Donovan (right) and Beckham (left) were at the center of a war of words but are expected to play together.
If all publicity really is good publicity then David Beckham, the Los Angeles Galaxy and Major League Soccer have had a really good week.

But the publicity also raised questions about Beckham’s commitment to advancing soccer in the United States where other sports such as American football and baseball are the high profile money spinners. A new book and a spat with teammates provided much-needed Beckham fodder for the media and, as a result, soccer in America was in the spotlight following his return to the United States after a five-month loan spell playing for Italian powerhouse A.C. Milan. Beckham appeared on the top-rated U.S. breakfast program, “The Today Show.” “Beckham is Back” screamed sports pages and cable network headlines. Global media, including CNN International, covered the Englishman’s every word, inevitably drawing focus to Major League Soccer — considered a second tier league around the world. But, ironically, it was details of Beckham’s perceived failures as a player and a teammate that led to all of the attention. In the book, entitled “The Beckham Experiment” by U.S. soccer writer Grant Wahl, Beckham is accused of being unprofessional, uncommitted to his American team, and tight-fisted with money. Many of the allegations come from the top American soccer player and teammate on the Galaxy, Landon Donovan. Watch how Beckham’s return to the U.S. was covered » Wahl also writes that Beckham has had success off the pitch in terms of boosting attendance figures and jersey sales. But he refers to Beckham’s time on the pitch as “a fiasco.”

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Since his 2007 transfer from Real Madrid, Beckham has played 30 times for L.A. and scored five times. MLS commissioner Don Garber told CNN: “I expect the Galaxy will perform better on the field with a world class player like David on their team and I expect that the popularity will come back.” “Hopefully the controversy dies down and it’s just about David scoring a bunch of goals and perhaps lifting the Galaxy’s fortunes a bit higher,” he added. The Galaxy has presented a united front and says they have moved on. Beckham says he and Donovan “sat down… went through everything that had been said. Landon apologized and I you know told him my view on things.” The teammates are expected to take to the pitch together Thursday night when the Galaxy clash at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey against the New York Red Bulls. But the spat has opened up wider questions about Beckham’s commitment to soccer in America and Major League Soccer’s ability to not only lure but keep big name players. For his part, Beckham says he’s “committed to it and committed to the cause” of soccer in America. But it’s no secret that Beckham wishes to play for England in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. A good run of appearances in the remaining qualifying games and the finals tournament could see Beckham become England’s most capped player. But to be considered for selection it has been made clear to Beckham that he needs to be playing at a European level of competition. That equation seems to challenge Beckham’s idea of commitment.

So now questions linger on where all of this leaves Beckham and his role in elevating the popularity of soccer in America — the main reason tens of millions of dollars were spent to bring him here. Beckham is steadfast. He says “if I didn’t want to be here I wouldn’t be here.” The question is – for how much longer