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The best and not so good of 2006.

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Mr. Rogers On Soccer

Quarter billion dollars buys a good, but no longer great player.

By Andrew Rogers

SUNBURY ON THAMES, England (Tuesday, January 23, 2006) -- You may or may not have heard that a certain English footballer is arriving on the West Coast this summer. If you haven't, basically a conglomerate of big businesses have committed an estimated quarter of a billion dollars for a good, but not world-class footballer.

If you did notice, David Beckham has already paid for himself in global publicity. Now the dust has settled, what are the likely ramifications for soccer in the United States?

The most significant factor in the transfer of Beckham to the Major League Soccer appears to have been set in motion before the former England captain even kicked a ball in America.


The Media Frenzy. Capturing the public's imagination goes beyond marketing budgets and publicity. A 200 percent rise in crowd attendance or a significant increase in the salary cap could not achieve this. Splashing $250 million on Beckham has.

Additionally, the exposure the MLS received from Tulsa to Tokyo simply because he is now set to play in the league goes way beyond the pay packet. The wall-to-wall coverage of the signing means everyone in the U.S. is likely to have made a mental note of the league and is now likely to pay a passing interest. The world knows about the MLS now. Can the league head toward the big time?

Creditability. Despite progressing in the last decade, sports fans within and outside the U.S. have yet to be convinced the MLS is the real deal. Commissioner Don Garber has done his level best and the future of the league shows real promise.

However, the Beckham deal is a huge shot in the arm, landing the world biggest footballer sends out the message that U.S. soccer is for real. The signing goes a long way with fans, the general public at large and will give the league more leverage with the media networks and sponsors.

Role Model Supreme. On a basic level, there can be no better public representative for the sport. The Real Madrid midfielder is a devoted family man and is clean living. Previous English exports, such as Paul (Gazza) Gascoigne, have proved to be hugely embarrassing for the home of football. Drink problems and a fragile mind have reduced the once great player to a running joke for the tabloids.

Becks is mentally sound and won't be seen staggering out of night clubs. He is someone the kids can look up to and try to emulate. He always give 100 percent on the field and set the right example off it.


Player Development. In a recent conversation, Garber explained, "The future for us is to focus on what is taking place on the playing field. We want better players and better training environments."

The context of the discussion was that MLS now has soccer-specific stadiums, an excellent TV deal and players that could compete in Europe.

The next step is to develop of pool of world-class players. While $250 million could have gone a long way to a achieve this, understandably the chance to get Beckham was an opportunity few would turn down. However, it's important for the league to implement The Don's vision.

The Great White Hype. For all Beckham's qualities, his ability as a footballer isn't really his main asset, especially now he is in his 30s. The former Manchester United player was not a top three or four player at either of his European clubs. He worked well as part of a good unit, but never was the talisman of the team.

It is possible his decline will be quickly found out by eager rookies in the league. He lacks pace and is over reliant on his right foot. When golfer Nick Faldo joined the PGA Tour in 1995, to challenge for more majors, the aura he had established in Europe was quickly stripped by eager young hopefuls who had previously quaked in his presence. MLS does not need to be saddled with a $250 million white elephant.

David Beckham the Bad Example. Like any star, Beckham's qualities are also rivaled by his flaws. Kids across the U.S. will imitate him and copy his ways. American soccer could find itself going backwards if his influence is as strong as one might suspect.

If MLS had Paul Scholes and Zinedine Zidane in its ranks, the future would be bright, but copying Beckham's football skills is not a recipe for success. He is not two-footed, hogs all the free kicks and corners, and is too reliant on superfluous 60-yard glamour passes when a 10-yard pass will suffice.

His vision as a midfielder is not world-class and, for all his effort, his defending is inadequate. The kids need to be paying attention to complete players like Fabio Cannavaro, Wayne Rooney and Ronaldo.

Andrew Rogers, a regular contributor to the United Kingdom's League Paper and Non League Paper, lives in Sunbury on Thames in England. Formerly the director of communications for the Long Island (N.Y.) Rough Riders, he is a UEFA 'B" license coach and plays semi-professionally with Spelthorne FC.

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