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What you see is what you get

Beckham's looks and fame are perfect fit for L.A., but his on-field talents are definitely on the wane

January 12, 2007|Chuck Culpepper | Special to The Times

You're getting another beautiful face, Los Angeles. You don't seem to mind those.

And you're getting quite the spry haircut, subject to change at any moment. Sometimes it seems every third young male skull in London bears the David Beckham cut that looks like it went along content to stay close to the head until it made a single sweep upward like a wavelet in a pond.

You're getting a soccer midfielder, but let's shelve the minutiae for a moment.

You're getting another brand, and, come to think of it, you don't seem to mind those, either. You're getting a brand so effectively globalized that when Beckham alighted in China in July 2003, fans lined up to swoon, a teenager told of her Beckham dolls at home and a 26-year-old tobacco-factory worker told the Associated Press, "He's so handsome and he has so much class and breeding."

You're getting an earthling so famous his look-alikes make approved endorsement appearances to sell his fragrance, yet who somehow seems to exude an everyday decency plus a bale of what the French call "bien dans sa peau" ("comfortable in his own skin").

And you're getting a soccer midfielder, but let's shelve the minutiae for a moment.

You're getting somebody who married a Spice Girl -- OK! Magazine had exclusive nuptial-photo rights -- and you're getting three more inventive child names -- Brooklyn, Romeo and Cruz -- because you just didn't have enough of those. You're getting another human tattoo canvas who had his wife's name ("Victoria") tattooed on his back in Hindi even though the artist apparently misspelled it (added an "h"). You're getting somebody who prompts that atypical assessment from generally lunatic fans: Well, he'll sell a lot of shirts.

You're getting somebody so hyper-famous that it's possible for Europeans to suffer a mild malaise we might call "Beckham fatigue." Unscientific studies have shown that Beckham fatigue can congeal within six to eight months of taking up residence in England, at a point when the brain absorbs excessive Beckham-and-wife and begins to drown in the frothing impertinence.

Then again, you don't have Beckham fatigue, which might just be one reason you're getting Beckham.

You're also getting a soccer midfielder, and those of you who already realized that already know what kind of soccer midfielder you're getting.

The rest of you might notice this Beckham hubbub and think you're getting, oh, Ronaldinho.

You're not.

You're getting neither the best player in the world nor the former best player in the world. You're not getting the best English player. You're getting a fine 31-year-old who has spent much of the Real Madrid season seated in wane after 94 international appearances for England and 1990s stardom for Manchester United. You're getting a player who can kick the ball ingeniously but often can't beat somebody to the ball to kick it, a maestro when the ball sits still but not so much when the ball moves.

If you'll look carefully -- and you might not, even -- you'll notice that in soccer the ball moves more than it sits. If you'll look even more carefully, you'll notice that, still, if a dead ball struck from a free kick or corner kick curves wickedly and travels, say, into that big net at the end of the pitch -- sorry, field -- they count it as a goal.

Sometimes, it's the only goal all day, thus invaluable.

As you see, you're getting a player of debated merits on European chat boards, yet you're getting somebody who'll rate as a good Major League Soccer player.

That's a kind assessment in the English language, if a put-down in an English pub.

In the omniscient pregame conversations in English pubs, when people speak of Major League Soccer, they ...

Well, they don't speak of the MLS.

But if somebody, say, brings it up, they tend to quibble over whether it resembles more England's second tier or its third. This can be expected from a nation with an 849-year head start on another nation (927 A.D. to 1776).

In the erudite pubs also known as English newspapers, words such as "minnow" and "ignominy" have greeted Beckham's trajectory to the Galaxy from previous stops at storied Manchester United and storied Real Madrid (since 2003).

"Minnow" referred to the Galaxy.

"Ignominy" referred to his exit from soccer Broadway, although many people, if offered $250 million for some ignominy, would take the $250 million and try to cope with the ignominy.

The Guardian's Ian Plenderleith wrote immaculately, "Due to his limitations as a player, Beckham may actually fit in very well in U.S. soccer."

The's Phil McNulty wrote, "It seems he has effectively admitted his serious career is finished...."

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