When I first heard rumours that David Beckham might be joining Major League Soccer and the L.A. Galaxy back in 2007, I was sceptical like everyone else.
I couldn’t believe it. It seemed to make no sense. There was no mechanism in place with which to pay him the salary that he would surely command. Nevertheless, the rumours wouldn’t go away.
So when Craig Forrest gave Frank Yallop a call (Yallop was coaching LA at the time), his off the record response was, “Guys, I think this is gonna happen.” Craig and I were off to the MLS SuperDraft that January and it became official that week. The buzz of course was unbelievable. And the rest as they say is history.
But what have Beckham’s six years in MLS really meant? Some will argue that he has helped bring the league to new heights, polishing its reputation. Others will claim he did nothing in the end, other than use the league as his personal summer vacation home. I think the truth is somewhere in the middle.
There is no question there is much more awareness of the league around the world thanks to him. And it wouldn’t be hard to argue that without Beckham the league would not have expanded as quickly as it did. When he joined MLS, there were only a handful of soccer specific stadiums. Now most franchises, but not all, have one. The league’s sponsorship base has grown by leaps and bounds as well. These are all good things.
To me, the most important result of Beckham coming to America is the league’s designated player rule. And one could argue whether or not it has been good for the league. The rule was put in place because of Beckham. And for his first two years in MLS he was the only designated player. That has mushroomed to around 30 in 2012.
But has the evolving DP rule really worked? There’s no question the ability of clubs to pay someone largely outside the salary cap has enticed other big name players to follow. Robbie Keane and Thierry Henry have increased the league’s credibility factor.
But there are several reasons why it might be a bad thing. What does it say about a league when some of its star international players ruminate about going back to Europe to play in a “real” league once the MLS season is over? That kind of thing makes the league look weak, pathetic even. And it sends the message that MLS doesn’t really matter.
And does signing a DP really make a difference? Until last year when the Galaxy won with Beckham, no team with a designated player had won the MLS Cup. It’s also a risky business as many of these players have seen better days. They may not be a good investment. Is a team better off taking the salary cap hit and having one? Or should they use that money to sign several decent players who collectively might make a bigger difference?
All of these questions are debatable. In the end, I don’t know about Beckham’s legacy. Neither does he, as he pointed out at this week’s news conference, deferring to others to make that declaration.
But good or bad, his impact is beyond doubt. And MLS is heading down the road it is on, good or bad, because of him.