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Will ascendant Becks bring L.A. fans down?

By Ed Draper

LONDON (Monday, June 4, 2007) -- On Friday, David Beckham returned from the ashes of international exile to star in England's 1-1 draw with mighty Brazil at the wew Wembley Stadium.

It was fitting that the Three Lions' finest captain in a generation made his comeback on the day England made its comeback at the spectacular venue after seven years of rebuilding. And, on the back of his performance, Golden Balls deserves to keep his spot in manager Steve McClaren's squad.

Beckham oozed class, with his faultless passing and deadly set-piece delivery. It was appropriately he who set up England's current captain John Terry for England's goal. But, more than that, he was the fit, industrious and tenacious midfielder of old.

Of course, anyone's who's seen Spanish football of late wouldn't be surprised by Beckham's showing. He's been in masterful form for Real Madrid and has been the talisman behind their surge for the Spanish title.

On the face of it, Beckham's renaissance is great news for Brand Beckham and thus by association the Los Angeles Galaxy and the entire Major League Soccer. The former England captain's decision to join the American league can no longer easily be scripted as a has-been star looking for a final monster payday in a pedestrian league. Instead, the Galaxy will be getting a well-conditioned, current international who's just finished playing at an exceptional level for one of the biggest clubs in Europe.

This will benefit not only the Galaxy -- the club will have a world-class player in its ranks -- but will also endorse the MLS credibility across the world (and presumably among the wider sports media in the U.S.).

There is an obvious downside for the Galaxy, though. If Beckham does inspire England to a win in Estonia on Wednesday in a vital Euro 2008 qualifier, then it's hard to see him being dropped for the next round of international fixtures -- which will take place after he's relocated to California.

And there'll be inevitable clashes between the Galaxy's schedule and Beckham's England commitments. For example, on September 8, England takes on Israel in London -- four days before taking on Russia on home soil. Now feasibly, the player could board a plane for England after the MLS team's match against Real Salt Lake on Saturday, September 1, to join up with the national-team camp. He'd then only miss the Galaxy's game against Chivas USA before returning in time to face the Houston Dynamo. In time, but after playing two games in quick succession and couple of long-distance flights, it remains to been seen how fresh Becks will be for the clash with the team from Texas..

There is undoubtedly cause for concern for Galaxy coach Frank Yallop. When he needs Beckham for big games, will his leading light be dimmed by his trans-Atlantic excursions? In the long term, will Beckham be out of the country on England duty when his club teammates need him most? And Yallop will be well aware that, for Beckham, no matter how high his wages, his first loyalty has always been to England. It was the case when he played for Manchester United and is now as he plays for Real Madrid. That sense of commitment won't change because he now lives in America.

It's the player's fierce patriotism in a country currently consumed with self-cynicism that makes him so loved by English fans. Now, I do think Beckham will be excused certain friendly matches. Galaxy general manager Alexi Lalas has said he thinks Becks should only be allowed to hop on a plane for "competitive" matches and I believe McClaren will make allowances for Beckham's unique geographical predicament. But, the reality remains that Beckham might miss out on several key games for his club.

Still, while at a superficial level this might dent the Galaxy's ability to make the most of its marketing phenomenon -- if Beckham's not there, the anticipated boost in ticket sales won't happen -- I believe the positives outweigh the negatives. For the Galaxy and MLS, having Beckham continuing to play on the international stage is priceless global advertising for U.S. soccer. Above all, it will show that top players can stay at the top of the game while plying their trade in America. And where Beckham treads, other world stars maybe tempted to follow.

A lot of ill-informed rubbish has been written and spoken in the English media of late with top pundits labelling Beckham's American adventure as a form of semi-retirement. MLS has been continually likened to part-time leagues in England, but Beckham could change those perceptions. Knowing his tenacity, his determination to prove people wrong and his will to win, I wouldn't bet against him hanging around the national team and educating the world on the increasing merits of MLS.

That would be a good thing for the Galaxy and American soccer, and I think that's the overall reality facing Yallop and Los Angeles president and general manager Alexi Lalas. Golden Balls might go a bit rusty if the prestige and excitement of playing for England is denied him. Of course, ultimately it'sMcClaren -- or if he gets fired, his successor -- who'll decide whether Beckham continues to pull on his country's white jersey. But, that's another story for another day.

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