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The Becks stop here

David Beckham's soccer skills may be waning, but his undiminished star power will serve him well in L.A.

January 13, 2007

FORGET ABOUT the Rose Bowl or Dodger Stadium. Soon the most globally renowned athlete in all of Los Angeles will be on display at Carson's cozy soccer pitch, the Home Depot Center. The L.A. Galaxy has signed David Beckham, Britain's aging midfielder and A-list celeb, to a staggering $250-million, five-year contract.

For Beckham to go from Real Madrid, where he's been on the bench a lot lately, to the Galaxy is the equivalent of Kobe Bryant going to Armani Jeans Milano in the Italian professional basketball league. Opting to play in America's mediocre Major League Soccer amounts to self-imposed exile from the front lines of world soccer, though in Beckham's case it's a rather lucrative decision.

But Beckham, with his rock star looks and marriage to a former Spice Girl, has long transcended mere soccerdom; he is the kind of celebrity who can drive non-soccer-fanatic Japanese teenage girls into a crying frenzy. That is why his move to L.A. is brilliant for him and his new employers. "Becks and Posh" get a Hollywood makeover, and struggling Major League Soccer buys itself a measure of international credibility and a great deal of attention, at least in the short term.

It's fashionable among soccer aficionados to trash Beckham's ability -- it's the Anna Kournikova syndrome, in which the prettiest athlete is better known (and therefore more reviled) than the best athlete -- but the criticism is often overdone. Becks is not in the prime of his career, and he has suffered infamous meltdowns in World Cup matches. But he still possesses a mesmerizing touch when it comes to passing the ball and taking free shots on goal, especially from the corner. Fans who make their way to Carson will be in for a treat.

With Beckham's signing, MLS throws out its old business model, which was all about modesty, fiscal discipline and the painstaking development of homegrown talent. But that's no fun, at least not when you have the deep pockets of a Philip Anschutz, whose AEG group owns the Galaxy. The MLS, which has not been gaining much traction with the public, might have felt it was time to roll the dice and go crazy.

It will be interesting to see whether the Galaxy recoups its investment, which it plans to do with endorsement and licensing deals and more international matches. But we are skeptical (reluctantly, because we do love the game) about whether this will pay off in making professional soccer significantly more popular in this country.

Still, whatever it does for the sport, the Galaxy's move is undoubtedly good for Los Angeles and its stature as the world's entertainment capital, as Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was quick to note. Becks and Posh should be nothing if not entertaining, both on and off the field.

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