July 12, 2007

Let the madness begin

They've arrived...

In the interest of full disclosure, I've been a Beckham fan since his first title-winning year in Manchester. The group of players he came up with (Scholes, Neville, Butt, Giggs, etc.) are the reason I'm a United fan today.

The timing of Becks joining Real Madrid coincided with me getting GolTV and having full access to La Liga for the first time. Of course, I started following Madrid because of the familiarity with Beckham. Luckily, the first game I saw was one of the few where Los Galacticos were clicking, as they won 4-0. They'd have games like that, when the stars could do no wrong. Then they'd have games where they looked like a pub team of former stars who just wanted to try their tricks. The thing that stood out to me consistently was how hard Beckham worked for the team and never rested on his reputation.

There's the celebrity of Beckham that results in lots of fans hating him. I really don't think that's fair. It's not like he goes around, talking himself up like he's the best player in the world. Just because he's the most famous doesn't mean he's the best, although people like to get it twisted. I can't really hold that against him, although many do. Beckham is a hard worker, a great passer, an even better distributor at long range, one of the best crossers of the ball in the world, and one of the best free kick takers in the history of the game. He's not going to beat people very often in 1v1 situations, he's not going to score a ton of goals from open play, and he'll be the first one to tell you that.

I thought it was very classy of him to drop the England armband immediately after their exit from the last World Cup. He made McClaren's job of dropping him for a while that much easier. Say what you want, but you have to admit Beckham always tries to do what's best for the team.
When the rumors started about him coming to MLS, I was all for it. I was also hoping it would be happening sooner rather than later, while he's still near his better days on the field. He was battling injury and didn't play well in Germany. He had been one of the better players for Madrid during the preceding season, but Capello made it pretty clear from the beginning that he wanted something different. The timing was right, and AEG made the plunge to make it happen.

Even when Madrid acted like a scorned lover when he left, complete with the standard name calling and grandiose declarations, Beckham persevered and just got down to business. He busted his ass in training, to the point that his teammates requested his recall to the lineup. He played well, then was injured again. He battled back again, forced his way into the lineup, and rejuvenated Madrid. The rebirth led to an England recall, complete with Beckham assists on three of four goals in two games. He came back to Madrid and was one of the best players in La Liga over the last few weeks. Even Ray Hudson, who has been pretty open in his dislike of Golden Balls, had to admit it. The La Liga title was just desserts for the effort put in over his four years in Spain.

Now it's time for a completely different challenge. I think he's the right guy for the job. He will try his best to fit in with his teammates. He might not even smack Landon around, but that can't be guaranteed. He will put in the extra work required of soccer players in America, the promotion of the game. He will make all the media appearances, and humor the people who don't know what a corner kick is. Would other world stars do the same? I doubt they would to the degree that Becks will.

ESPN is hyping a soccer game like never before. An MLS player is on the cover of Sports Illustrated. An MLS team sold 250,000 jerseys before the design was even released. W Magazine is talking soccer. The Red Bulls might draw more than 12,000 for a game.

Can you really ask for much more?

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