David Beckham has started just 16 MLS regular-season games for the Los Angeles Galaxy over the last two years. Chew on that for a bit, remembering that we are discussing Major League Soccer's highest salaried hotshot. Now set it aside; we'll get back to it in a minute.
It's January and with the international transfer window open, Beckham's name was always going to surface regarding a loan to a European club. Sure enough, England's
Reports of Spurs' interest are streaming out of England. Beckham -- who apparently plans to keep his family in Los Angeles, despite gossip page reports last week saying the Beckhams were moving to Manhattan -- hasn't said anything lately on the subject. Neither has the club, whose offices were closed from Christmas through last weekend.
Not that a Beckham comment would matter, since he's changed his tune before. Beckham said during the 2010 MLS campaign that he wouldn't seek an offseason loan. Later he said he wouldn't be playing for any clubs in England other than Manchester United. Then recently he softened the stance further, allowing that a loan to some other England side might just boost his chances of earning additional England caps. He just can't let that one go; 115 caps just aren't enough.
So here we are, and some analysts think a temporary stay at Tottenham's White Hart Lane is a good thing. But a good thing for whom?
First, they might be using some dated logic regarding the here-and-now value of Brand Beckham; it's not exactly what it was before. He's a little like a Hummer. We still gawk when we see one roll down the street. But since this isn't 2006, we're not exactly looking at them the same way, are we?
Still, one commentator Sunday labeled a potential loan as a "win-win." It's good for Beckham's ongoing international pursuits, and it's good for Tottenham, where the depth suddenly improves through March and where younger types can benefit from Beckham's tutelage. Meanwhile, conventional wisdom suggests that it's another score for MLS because the league gains additional exposure.
There's some truth to all that, but the reasoning is a little stretched these days. Again, this is not the young Beckham at Manchester United nor even the maturing Beckham in Galactico days at Real Madrid. This is the 35-year-old Beckham; his value remains high, but it's certainly on the fade.
Even if you accept that a two-month stint is good for Beckham himself -- and that notion truly seems half-baked -- how can this good for the Galaxy? How does this possibly benefit the organization that has built around Beckham and patiently awaited the back-end dividends, the wins and the championships? How is this good for a club that keeps paying Beckham a full-time salary for, essentially, part-time work? Remember, a loan deal to AC Milan took Beckham away for half the 2009 season, and the Achilles injury chewed up all but the last few weeks of 2010.
At some point, doesn't Beckham owe it to the Galaxy to truly commit, to pull the team close and call the Galaxy his one and only? Failing that, shouldn't someone with the Galaxy draw the line in this one-way relationship and say, "This can't always be about what's best for Brand Beckham. Sometimes this needs to be 'What's best for the Galaxy!' "
It truly is time for Beckham to show a little loyalty to the Galaxy shirt. Beckham has played only 18 regular-season games over the last two years, including two as a substitute last fall as he got back on the field just in time for the MLS playoffs. He has started just 16 of 60 regular-season contests since 2008.
Beckham certainly remains an effective player for L.A., committed physically and connected emotionally. He brought something to the side late in 2010, significantly improving the team's passing through midfield and giving defenses a lot to worry about. But the bottom line can't be dismissed; he simply has not been on the field enough.
The Beckham camp will probably make the case that eight or so weeks at Tottenham or training elsewhere in England is the midfielder's best move from a performance standpoint. They'll try to say that Beckham needs games and needs to get in shape.
But don't buy it.
The man is 35. He's got plenty of experience, so he hardly needs the matches. What he needs is to keep his body healthy and focus on the best ways to negotiate an eight-month MLS campaign. The Galaxy will play at least 40 competitive matches, plenty of them in hot weather, while navigating the stresses of travel over a big country. To suggest that tacking two months of wear and tear onto the front end of all that is somehow helpful is a specious argument at best.
So in truth, the only purpose another loan assignment really serves is to keep Beckham's name in the headlines a little more.
It's fair to expect big things from the man this season, the final year of his ballyhooed five-year MLS deal. He landed with pageantry amid promises of exposure and championships. He has certainly delivered on the former, bumping up attendance (when available) and adding profits through robust merchandising.
So it would be truly unfair to call his days in L.A. a bust, because Beckham has undoubtedly raised the MLS profile. But where are those titles? The Galaxy have gotten close, of course, just missing two years ago as runner-up to Real Salt Lake, then crashing out in last year's conference final. But, heck, FC Dallas also "got close," and didn't have to shell out Beckham-type money to get there.
This is a little different from Landon Donovan's loan deal a year ago. First, Donovan is younger, so the wear-and-tear effect and concerns over burnout aren't as pronounced. And Donovan had always wanted -- probably needed -- to prove that he could cut it in England. It was important for him personally to show himself and everyone else. Clearly, that's not the case with Beckham.
Plus, Donovan did just as he said, moving to England in late December, playing with Everton starting in early January and then rejoining the Galaxy in time to kick off the 2010 season. Beckham's history on minding the loan assignment terms isn't as sparkly clean. Remember, the loan two years ago to AC Milan was supposed to be similarly structured, terminating in March. But Beckham was having such a grand time at the San Siro that he decided to extend the loan to the summer. Again, his responsibilities to the Galaxy were secondary, reduced almost to afterthought status.
Obviously, the potential for injury must be part of this debate. Games in the English Premier League are fast and physical, and Beckham won't be afforded any special treatment. If he gets hurt, the Galaxy will look pretty bad for signing off on the deal. And they could pay the price on the field, too.
And for those still flying the banner of "Good for MLS visibility" here, perhaps they should take a second look. There certainly was a time when MLS needed further name recognition outside the States. But the law of diminishing returns applies here. How much will a couple of months at Tottenham or elsewhere help tell the MLS story? On the other hand, if Designated Players start signing up regularly and then treating their MLS contracts as distractions around their high-profile European loan assignments, what story does that say about MLS? There's a precedent to be set here: Big shots from abroad must understand that signing an MLS contract means, you know, actually playing in MLS.
There's also something else at work here. Beckham's ongoing wanderlust and desire to play in England is all about getting in front of national team coach Fabio Capello. But does Capello even want or need the distraction?
Surely Beckham isn't in England's long-term plans at this moment. He's well past the age where most players -- those more self-aware, and those without a bevy of handlers whose livelihoods depend on keeping their employer's name in the headlines -- retire from the international game. They recognize that the right thing to do: to focus dutifully on club matters, giving the best of what they've got left to the organization signing those paychecks.
But Beckham's last-stab-at-glory stance will look increasingly desperate, and could even strip a little sheen off his otherwise glorious career. For his sake, he's better off conceding to a career in winter, focusing on the organization still paying him and put everything he has into delivering that MLS hardware he came to claim.