Why Becks chose land of the freeway
The 405 freeway is a soulless strip of concrete that stretches 118 kilometres from start to finish. It grips the greater Los Angeles area in perpetual gridlock like a claw and, according to the US Department of Transportation, is the most travelled urban highway in the country, carrying 374,000 cars a day. The vast majority of these drivers are helpless commuters who sit in traffic for an ungodly portion of their lives and all that idle time tends to put one in an existential mode. Why? Why do I put myself through this every single working day? More often than not the answer will come back: because I have to. Well, David Beckham does not have to. He has many other options and most of them are extremely lucrative. And yet it appears, for all intents and purposes, that Beckham will sign up for at least one more year of freeway hell.
When his five-year contract with the Los Angeles Galaxy expired last week, it was widely reported the 36-year-old Beckham was on his way to Paris Saint-Germain. He had arrived in Los Angeles to much fanfare in early 2007. 'I'm coming there not to be a superstar,' Beckham said at the time. 'With me, it's about football. I'm coming there to make a difference. I'm coming there to play football.'
But he wasn't coming to just be a sports star, and he knew it. Beckham has never been the best player in the world. His speciality is the dead ball - corner kicks and free kicks. Bend it like Beckham. By far the two biggest goals of his career were a free kick against Greece late in a match in 2001 to assure England's qualification at the World Cup and his penalty kick to beat Argentina 1-0 at that same World Cup in 2002.
Lionel Messi is the greatest soccer player in the world, a true magician, and if the Barcelona star came to play in the US he would most certainly energise every American soccer fan. But that's not what they were looking for in the US because all the soccer fans were presumably watching already. They needed a crossover star that could steal the glare from the likes of Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton. That man is Beckham.
As a pop culture phenomenon, he is without peer. As a soccer player, well, he was pretty good. The owners of PSG knew all that and yet they were willing to double or triple his current salary despite his diminishing skills. But Beckham did the one thing that the overlords from Fifa would not do: he turned down a heap of Qatari oil money. Since a group headed by the Prime Minister of Qatar bought PSG in May of last year, they have made no secret of their ambition to pursue the big names of international soccer. Failing to bring Beckham back to Europe will sting but only temporarily.
Beckham has toiled at some of the world's truly great soccer cathedrals, like Old Trafford in Manchester and the Bernabeu in Madrid. A move to PSG would have seen him playing his home matches in arguably the most venerable of France's stadiums at the Parc des Princes, where the unique architecture features deafening acoustics and a crowd of 50,000 that are so loud the French media call the place caisse de resonance (soundbox). Instead, Becks will be making the commute from his home in Beverly Hills over to the dreaded 405 and 38 kilometres of soul-stunting gridlock down to the industrial haze of Carson, California, to play in the 27,000-seat Home Depot Centre, affectionately referred to as The Toolbox. This is not in any way, shape or form a sporting decision. This is largely about putting his family first and not wanting to uproot his three young boys again. In that respect, we should commend Beckham for making a quality of life decision.
Much as I like Beckham, though, I really hope he doesn't try to sell this as a move born out of loyalty and devotion to the Galaxy, because everybody knows that two years ago when he was on loan to AC Milan he tried to get out of his Galaxy contract and make the move to Italy permanent. But the Galaxy wanted more than Milan were willing to pay, so back he came to the 405 and the dreaded commute to The Toolbox in Carson.
When he signs his new contract with the Galaxy this time it will be with considerably less fanfare than the last one. There won't be any A-list celebrity bashes hosted by pals Tom Cruise and Will Smith. This time Beckham gets to just play the game. The most significant moment in US soccer over the past 10 years was not bringing Beckham to the country. It was hiring German legend Juergen Klinsmann to coach the national team. Klinsmann, not Beckham, is the face of US soccer these days and I think Becks is OK with that. It's no doubt one of the main reasons he decided to be among the endless legion of grumbling commuters crowding the 405 for at least one more year.