This Sunday is Beckham’s Grand Finale to his five year stint in MLS. In his time he’s marketed the league to a new group of fans who had at least heard of him – even in the USA where football means something altogether different. He’s also successfully marketed the league to aging European stars as a place to play out their last few years: Henry, Ljungberg, Keane, and Frings are probably here in part because of him.
It’s like Superman swooping down from the sky building up the league and then declaring, “my work here is done.” So Sporty Spice once again leaves his team/league in a better place than when he found it (the exception to the Beckham effect is Milan, but I’ll get to that in a minute). Wherever he’s gone, prosperity and success have followed. He started at ManU, was an important part of the treble winning 98/99 side – which is even more amazing considering that he began that season as the most hated Englishman for his sending off in the World Cup. Later he went to Real Madrid, only a club known as the Galacticos could possibly be big enough for Beckham, and again he left after hardship (put to reserves by future England manager Capello) followed by triumph: back on the first side and winning La Liga. So it was off next to America where he could not only take a team, but an entire league to new heights.
The North American adventure followed the traditional script, he sold a bunch of jerseys and then met with some problem, now it was injuries to the no longer youthful Beckham. Yet even injured, he managed to lift attendance and put the whole MLS on more solid footing. I always thought that the Beckham in America project was about his wife (and I still think that is part of it), but I’ve also grown to realize that he does see himself as much a football ambassador as a style ambassador. His loan to AC Milan perhaps undermined some of his commitment to the MLS project, but his faithful return and his play over the last two seasons have made up for that. The Milan loan also broke his string of bettering the teams he joined, as AC Milan was arguably at its peak at that moment and thanks to the trials of its owner Silvio Berlusconi has fallen far.
I was lucky enough to see him this spring during the Champions League match between Toronto and LA, and I have no doubt that TFC was able to get 43,000 fans into Rogers Centre due to the presence of Beckham. He was the star of the show, yes I got to throw a balloon and streamers at him on a corner in the first half (second row seats are fun), but the moment that sticks out is when he complained about the beer can that the far corner tossed at him just before taking the corner that tied the game for the Galaxy. He fights hard and gets mean when he needs to, he’s less posh than I thought. The fans cheered for Toronto, but came to see him.
And so once again Beckham is headed out, likely on a high note with the Galaxy in their second straight MLS final, but as he removes his jersey on Sunday (in full view of the crowd naturally), what jersey will he put on next? The success of the team is not Beckham’s criteria, it is the style of his arrival and playing that matters to the Beckham story. He began in Manchester, which has its own sort of cool, but wasn’t the fashion capital like say: London. His next moves have been to Madrid, LA, Milan – he lives the good life and he lives it in style. He also has a family to think about. So in the various rumors offered up so far we can see the potential moves for Beckham.
- Australia is out. Beyond the no already stated, Australia serves no purpose in the Beckham project. It neither advances soccer in that country or the world, and it is too remote from the fashion world to serve as a typical launching pad of Beckham style.
- Glasgow Celtic is out. Even if Snoop Dogg were to buy a stake in the team – don’t hurt yourself jumping on that bandwagon Snoop (you might make Rod Stewart cry). Glasgow again lacks the style requirement for Beckham.
- Paris-St. Germain has apparently offered once again to take him. While you can’t argue against Paris for style, and he has lived in France before, the other consideration for Beckham is that his aging body requires a league that he can still look good in: Ligue 1 yes he can do it, Champions League no he’s lost that pace.
- That leaves three intriguing options that all represent the same goal. As a soccer ambassador, and fashion-forward mannequin, I can think of no better place for him than Asia. By this I mean China, Japan, or Korea. The parallels to MLS are important, he would come as the conquering hero of global soccer he already has legions of fans in those countries, and the risk to his brand by setting up there is negligible. Didier Drogba’s move to China this summer only increased the likelihood that Asian teams would try to land known superstars in the future.
Forget Gangnam style. They’ll be bending it like Beckham after the January transfer window.