Whether putting the ball on the fast-moving toes of Ruud Van Nistelrooy or Ryan Giggs, or knowing where the cameras were, David Beckham usually had a sense of time and place.
Then he came to America and found a way to make money and grow old, not always gracefully but near the end with even an appealing touch of grit.
Not only that, but he got to dub the voice of the Geico Gecko in the commercials. At least, I think that’s him.
Check out this video where imagination and reality overlap:
Beckham is leaving Major League Soccer after Saturday’s championship game between the Galaxy and Houston. (ESPN Broadcast begins at 4:30 p.m.) Beckham has done his six years, longer than I thought he would last, even though he had picked a nice safe aerie above Los Angeles for his family.
But he stuck it out and last year helped win the championship, with a hamstring injury that seemed to deepen the lines in his once pretty-boy face. He was hobbled all game, so he resorted to things like tackling opponents in the open field, just like the Yanks do in their funny version of football.
He was probably worth the $32.5-million guaranteed for five years and the $4-million he endured in his sixth and final season. He earned it, by coming along at the right time in the careful maturation of M.L.S., when he could have talented teammates -- maybe not the level of his old mates at Man U or with the Galácticos of Real Madrid, but players who could do something with the ball when he directed it into their path.
The league has had plenty of aging international stars in the 17 years it has been directed first by Doug Logan and since 1999 by Don Garber -- Carlos Valderrama, Roberto Donadoni, Cuahtemoc Blanco, Youri Djorkaeff and Lothar Matthaus, just to name a few.
Most of the old guys looked as if they were here for a nice holiday with the wife or the girl friend, and frankly that’s what I thought of Beckham’s amazing summer vacation when he turned up in 2007.
Some of the old stars became disillusioned almost right away.
I remember watching Donadoni, fresh from AC Milan, coming to the hideous own-goal MetroStars in the first year of 1996. Donadoni was a modest team player, and he would receive the ball on what could have been an attack, except that he would look to the left and find not a great option and he would look to the right and find not a great option. Where were Van Basten or Gullit when he needed them?
However, M.L.S. has gotten better incrementally, in size and attendance and talent, and Beckham was able to use his aging skills. I know it wasn’t a lot of fun for Landon Donovan and other members of the Galaxy, who were caught in a huge promotion on the run. My friend Grant Wahl wrote about that in a fine book in 2009 called The Beckham Experiment. But the league and the Galaxy were able to absorb a Beckham era, and see him toss his aging body around in a title game.
Beckham is talking of some further adventure. My guess is that despite his disclaimers his ego is angling to go back for a farewell tour with Man U. How many people get a flying boot in the face from somebody named Sir Alex and yearn for a cameo return? But Beckham understands that he is part of show biz. He gave as well as he took on this gig.
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