A Loan Again, Naturally
Posted on January 4, 2011 1:40 pm
Back in my mid-to-late teens, when Lee Chapman and Jason Wilcox were key players for title contenders, John Warke was enjoying his 87th consecutive year as a professional player and Norwich City fans made sincere claims that their club played better football than Manchester United, Beckham was just one name among many in United’s much lauded “class of ’92″. While there may have been anticipation of his blossoming talent in and around Old Trafford, it wasn’t making headlines yet. Indeed, the media had yet to single him out from the likes of Chris Casper or Terry Cooke.
My understanding and depth of knowledge of the game was significantly less back then (not to say that I’m any kind of expert today) but I couldn’t help but notice that out of all of these “Fergie’s Fledglings”, this Beckham guy had a knack for popping up with impressive goals. Of course, today I wouldn’t be quite so quick to jump to the conclusion that such a thing earmarked a player for greatness, otherwise I’d have posted at least one worshipful blog dedicated to Darren Gibson before now. Back then though, I was sold. What’s more, I was pretty proud that I’d singled this guy out before the media or any of my friends.
I felt my assessment was vindicated based on a goal scored by Becks in a certain opening day fixture. Three goals were more than enough to send three points to that day’s victors, but as that chip sailed over the head of Mark Bosnich, I remember thinking that this kid had proven me right.
“Mark Bosnich?”, I hear your cry “Neil Sullivan, surely?”. Nope – that was the following season. This clever chip was lost in the furor that surrounded that game – a 3-1 victory to Aston Villa – which led to Alan Hansen’s infamous “You don’t win anything with kids” quote.
And so David Beckham became my first ever, independently identified “player to watch”.
Then he exploded into stardom. Women wanted him, men wanted to be a (slightly more intelligent version of) him.
When he got sent off against Argentina in World Cup 1998, I took flak because somehow his actions were deemed to be “typical Man U”.
I even emigrated to a country that didn’t watch football, only for my newly selected “local team” to announce his signing a few days later. This led to most people I met over the next year asking me if he was really the “Michael Jordan of soccer”. I was always quick to point out that despite the hype, he’d never truly been the best player in the world. Best passer of the ball? Certainly – an all time great in those terms. But as an all-rounder, there were always better at United, Madrid and in the game at large.
The things that supplemented his technical talents and in my opinion played as much a part to his contribution were his determination, work-rate and professionalism. That’s why his general attitude to LA Galaxy and the MLS has hurt so much.
Let’s get one thing out of the way: there’s a preconceived notion among some European residents and wannabe Eurosnobs that the Galaxy’s fans have simply been overly bratty. It seems that many view the fans reaction to his 2009 loan extension as a product of a star with legitimate aims “shunning” a club that were lucky to have him in the first place.
I think I speak for the majority of LA Galaxy fans when I say it’s not what he did, it’s how he went about it. A loan move to maintain fitness and perhaps play a few games was the public explanation for Beckham’s first Milan stint. Then (and this seems to often get forgotten) the move went so well that Beckham and Milan tried to secure a permanent deal. When the MLS weren’t prepared to let their flagship signing – who had so far been overshadowed in terms of playing performance by fellow newcomers Blanco and Huckerby – depart for a $3m transfer fee that didn’t even meet the lost revenue in terms of merchandise and sponsorship, Beckham did everything he could to extend the loan.
Now, his wanting to play for England was understandable: even us Englishmen who suck at the game dream of leading our country out at Wembley. However, Becks chose to wait until he was on top of his return date and the more importantly the date that rosters needed to be formally finalised, to make this play. For the uninitiated the rules at the time were that each team could have 25 players, a salary cap of just over $2m and one designated player (Beckham in this case) whose salary only counted for $300k of the cap. Not only were the Galaxy losing a star player, they were potentially looking at taking a massive cap hit, a wasted DP slot and barely any time left to find further personnel to help cover his absence. That’s before facing the prospect of Season Tickets sold on the strength of that player being there. Imagine Steven Gerrard handing in a transfer request to Liverpool one week before the close of the transfer window.
This, compounded by an uncharacteristically lackadaisical 2008 performance and a salary that would cover some MLS teams’ wage budgets three times over, led fans to believe that they had been screwed. Fast forward to the infamous AC Milan friendly, during which Beckham responded to boos by aggressively gesturing to the 138 supporters section and the fallout of Donovan’s criticism in “The Beckham Experiment”. There were very many who felt they didn’t want him back at all.
Beckham’s next moves were much better. He responded by performing well on the field and won many critics over when it was revealed he’d voluntarily played the 2009 MLS Cup game with an injury that required him to take cortizone shots. Even when the next Milan loan ended with a disasterous injury which caused him to miss most of last season, the response this time was more understanding, though many also felt this incident should signal time on such loan deals. Again, he returned with renewed purpose for possibly his most influential spell at the club at the end of 2010.
The assumption was that with the World Cup gone and a major injury serving as a wake-up call, this offseason would be loan-free and Beckham would spend the final season of his contract finally focussing primarily on his club. Beckham seemed to confirm this by declaring there would be no more loans. There was even general understanding of his desire to train abroad again to assist with his fitness, even if it did trigger faint alarm bells. Suddenly it has changed from looking to train, to once again finding a loan. More disturbingly, it is no longer just a loan to maintain fitness, but to again impress Fabio “You Must Be Playing in a Top League to be Considered – or be Jay Bothroyd” Capello.
Now Harry Redknapp is in hot pursuit and while he’s quick to stick with the “just a loan” party line, he’s not quite so quick to completely dismiss the possibility of signing the player outright. Apparently Spurs are also just the front runners, with many teams clamouring for his services.
LA Galaxy, Tim Lieweke and Don Garber need to bite the bullet.
Either tell Beckham “no” or sit down with a club to negotiate a transfer while he still has a contract to sell. They could compromise and insist that any loan MUST end in time for the Galaxy preseason, but why put the potential temptation there?
Whatever they do, let’s have it done quickly, so a line can be drawn and roster needs can be established and met.