The Beckham mania

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Last Sunday the highly-touted and long-awaited British footballer, David Beckham, finally showed up at the Metrodome in Minneapolis. The media hype of the arrival of the new American superstar is a phenomenon that has nothing to do with the beautiful game of soccer and a lot to do with the beautiful footballer. The challenge facing soccer in the U.S. is much greater than can be influenced by a “hot” 33-year-old player who “looks better than 99% of his gender,” according to C.J., a columnist at the Star Tribune.

Opinion: The Beckham mania

Apparently, the LA Galaxy paid a whopping quarter of billon dollars for Mr. Beckham to cross the Atlantic to expand his commercial skill and not his soccer skill. Wherever he shows up across America, there is a 24/7 media coverage that takes over the sports news, including interviews with the soccer superstar and hysterical teens. Could the 33-year-old footballer be sent to save our lost soccer soul? As a celebrity, he was Google’s most searched of all sports topics, and overnight he became the most elite advertising brand in America and a top fashion icon. According to C.J., “he is the most photographed man alive”, and she knows thing or two about beautiful people.

The real question is whether the global brand will deliver as advertised– will he help give soccer a shot at the American sports stage? I’m not sure. David Beckham is an aging player with his prime days behind him. As a midfielder, short of his skill at kicking and bending the ball on set-pieces, he is practically devoid of the creative vision needed to become a great world class soccer midfielder. Those who stand out in today’s game the likes of Kaka, the most creative Brazilian soccer player who ever played the game; the Portuguese Deco; the German “Emperor of Soccer,” Franz Beckenbauer; the Shakespeare of the soccer world, the Argentine Riquelme; or even the tenacious Ghanaian midfielder, Essien.

If the thousands of Minnesota fans who paid up to $175 to get a glimpse of the British superstar, had considered that in all these years, as a leader of the English national team, Beckham had failed to lead them to any significant glory, would they still be screaming and cheering his good looks. Every four years the national English team–without the African players who contribute so much to the English Premier League–ends up in obscurity on the international stage. What has made the British soccer league the strongest league in the world is not the likes of David Beckham but the influx of the skilled African players like Drogba, Meickel, Maloude, Kalau, Essien, Touri.

Just as the British got sick and tired of PM Tony Blair’s artificial political sophistication, they also got rid of David Beckham in unceremonious fashion for the same reason: artificial soccer sophistication. Now, instead of appealing to the core soccer fans in inner cities and immigrant communities, the LA Galaxy and MSL are trying to introduce Hollywood celebrity soccer to America, when they are actually more interested in showing Beckham’s latest fashion and product line.

David Beckham won’t raise soccer quality or awareness in this country; what he is going to raise is the price of soccer tickets and t-shirts! The “unbending” truth is that David Beckham stands for everything wrong in our professional sport nowadays, which is more about celebrity and personality and not so much about talent!

Ahmed Tharwat is the host of the Arab American TV Show Belahdan with Ahmed, which airs every Sunday on Public TV www.belahdan.com

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