IT seems a lifetime away since your intrepid reporter left home in New York at the start of a 20-day odyssey to cover the arrival of one David Beckham in Los Angeles and his first tentative steps as a Galaxy player in Major League Soccer.
And tentative steps they have proven to be as Beckham followers across the world have once again been sent scurrying to their medical dictionaries in a bid to understand their idol’s latest complaint.
A week that started out last Friday with grand themes and the heady
optimism for a brave new soccer world in the sport’s last great frontier has quickly descended into micro journalism of the most tedious kind as medical bulletins on the status of Beckham’s iffy ankle are filed relentlessly and regularly to news desks in all four corners of the planet.
Where once we had Beckham’s metatarsals to gravely assess on the eve of the World Cup finals, we now have his tumescent joint dictating every waking hour ahead of a meaningless pre-season friendly against Chelsea .
As I say, it started out so well. The anticipation was feverish as ESPN, America’s equivalent of Sky Sports, cranked up its marketing machine for the great debut with a very watchable 30-second advert set to the Beatles song Hello Goodbye.
The ad shows Beckham leaving Madrid as fans in the Spanish capital either look forlorn or protest his departure. A young female Real Madrid fan is shown crying as is a woman reading a newspaper while there is a shot of drinkers in an English pub shaking their heads in disbelief at the TV in the corner announcing his move to the States.
Then Beckham appears in a new, all-white Galaxy kit as he walks up a tunnel towards a pitch and the message ‘Say hello, America’ followed by ‘Beckham arrives’ brings the commercial to an end.
They were still showing it last night even as viewers watching the same network were hearing Beckham say the chances of his making his debut tonight at the Home Depot Centre against Chelsea didn’t look good.
The good folks at ESPN clearly didn’t want the truth to get in the way of a good marketing campaign.
So back to last Friday, and the moment LA soccer fans had dreamed about since January when Beckham’s move from Real Madrid was first announced — his presentation to fans as a Galaxy player.
But while the morning TV shows could talk of little else, and 700 of the world’s media queued (yes, queued) patiently (yes, patiently) for their credentials to the event, there were already some signs of dissent beginning to surface.
The city’s newspaper of record, the Los Angeles Times, chose to lead its sports section that morning with a piece from its well-known columnist Bill Plaschke that was headlined ‘Beckham Buzz Off’.
Its first line was: “Bored By Beckham.”
The gist of Plaschke’s piece was along the lines of ‘Beckham’s here, so what?’ “He is clearly showing up not as an athlete, but a celebrity,” he wrote. “He is being chatted up not in sports bars, but star blogs. Folks are viewing him not as a leader of men, but as the husband of Posh.
“Olde England and Access Hollywood are going nuts about him, but I get the feeling that the heart of Los Angeles just doesn’t care.”
He may be right. The local sports radio station, KLAC AM570, held its daily poll for listeners to decide the biggest story of the day. They voted for the city’s famed basketball team the Lakers re-signing a player called Derek Fisher. Beckham was second.
There was clearly some work to do but if preaching to the converted can be considered best practice, Beckham and the suits at both the Galaxy and MLS can be proud of themselves.
Some 5,000 Galaxy season ticket holders somehow managed to get the time off work that Friday morning to converge on the Home Depot Centre and welcome Beckham into their hearts and deposit large amounts of cash into his pockets by buying the new white Galaxy shirt that bears his name and number.
Beckham, you see, gets a percentage of every shirt sold through a deal with adidas.
After the fans got their money’s worth with Beckham’s presentation as a Galaxy player, the journos got what they had been waiting for, the press conference. Having sat through the nonsense, they wanted their reward — some face time with Beckham — and he did not disappoint, whatever type of reporter you were.
Beckham transcends his sport to such an extent that question and answer sessions can be unpredictable and erratic affairs — and this was no exception.
The pattern, or lack of one, was set with the first question, when a lady from Austria kneeling next to a row of British tabloid soccer writers, asked Beckham if he had any doubts about turning up at the Galaxy on Friday the 13th.
Part of Beckham’s charm is that he answers every question with the same level of respect they rarely deserve. So for the next 45 minutes the footballing superstar talked earnestly on a range of topics as varied as acting, fashion, children and, oh yes, a bit of football too.
Under such inquisitions, David said he “wants to be a part of it” quite a lot and has a habit of rubbing his stubble afflicted chin. He did this to great effect long after the British tabloid boys had retired to their Beverly Hills and Santa Monica hotels while he remained at his post and worked a very long line of TV news cameras.
As Beckham himself said, if he fails to make his stay in the States a success, it won’t be for the lack of trying.
The next major Beckham media set-piece came on Monday when the Galaxy threw open its doors and invited fans and press alike to an open training session.
This was when the noble objective of raising awareness as well as the standard of football in the States gave way to Anklegate.
The fans who had come to see the England star train were treated to, well, not very much at all as Beckham jogged gingerly away from his new team-mates for a session of stretches and balance exercises to speed the recovery of the suspect ankle.
They took a dim view of this turn of events back at ESPN where Dan Le Batard told viewers on ‘Pardon The Interruption’ that “David got a boo-boo.”
His co-presenter Michael Wilbon followed up by saying Beckham had to play against Chelsea even if he had been amputated at the knee during the week. “It’s the American way,” Wilbon said. “We want gore.”
They got gore on Tuesday as the Galaxy were soundly beaten 3-0 by Mexican side Tigres. With a performance of shocking ineptitude that gave rise to comparisons with pub teams back in Blighty, Beckham’s new team-mates gave him plenty of food for thought as he watched from an executive box next to Lalas.
Press box inhabitants around the world have developed a foolproof system for spotting important people in crowds. Instead of looking at the crowds themselves in attempt to pick the needle from the haystack, they watch the photographers, waiting for them all to point in the same direction away from the action on the pitch. In a meager crowd of around 2,000, it did not take long to spot Becks.
“They’ve found him,” reported the man from The Sun as long lenses tilted upwards to a private box, and photographers rang their writer colleagues to confirm the visual identification.
“He’s rubbing his chin a lot,” reported one snapper, while another spotted Beckham actually getting his ankle iced as he watched the match.
Two goals was as much as he could take and he left the box shortly after Lalas while the tabloids pondered whether it was time to start a Yallop Out campaign.
It was with a spring in one’s step that this reporter left the tabloids behind in LA the following morning and headed east to the Rockies and the city of Denver for the MLS All-Star Game.
Only to find that the only subject people wanted to talk about was David Beckham.
Still, there’s only one more week to go before this reporter heads for home. Beckham has another five years of this.