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Beckham Returns To LA Galaxy Amid Controversy

The stars have realigned in the Galaxy. We're talking soccer here, not astronomy. David Beckham has returned to the LA Galaxy pro soccer team — after a stint with top Italian team AC Milan.

Beckham is one of soccer's better players, and no doubt its biggest celebrity.

But his past couple years with the Galaxy have produced losing seasons, hurt feelings, and now a tell-all book that describes Beckham as a poor captain.

A Household Name

Being a fan of David Beckham seems easy enough. He's a good-to-great player, a household name, self effacing, a hard worker and a winner. Perhaps the only hidden cost is the amount of closet space you have to devote to his many Jerseys. There's the kit he wore at Manchester United, Team England, Real Madrid and AC Milan.

On Thursday he re-donned the LA Galaxy jersey in front of a sparsely populated Giants Stadium crowd. Each year, the Galaxy comes east to face the New York Red Bulls, and Vito Petrezelli has been in the stands for each of Beckham's appearances.

"Three years ago we had the entire stadium, every seat filled," he says "Two years ago a very nice crowd: the first two levels, a sprinkling up top. This year, we'd be very lucky to say the entire first level is filled."

Tell-All Book

Part of the explanation for the diminished excitement is that the home team is dreadful, as proved by Thursday's 3-0 halftime deficit, which Beckham had little to do with. But part of the explanation for the poor attendance was that the Beckham experiment hasn't gone so luminously for the Galaxy, or arguably for the league.

The Beckham Experiment is the title of a new book by Grant Wahl, in which he documents what happens when a star who earns $50 million a year, including endorsements, mixes with teammates who eagerly await double coupon days at the Stop & Shop.

"You have this Armani world of Beckham coming together with this Wal-Mart world of MLS," Wahl says. "And Beckham's temperament over the years suggested that he would be a good teammate, that he would find a way to connect with these guys even though their skills might not have been that great and their fame nonexistent compared to his."

While his teammates were happy to have their road accommodations upgraded from the Secaucus Sheraton to the Waldrof Astoria, the higher thread count did not translate to more wins. The Galaxy went three months without a victory. The failure seemed especially hard on Landon Donovan. Before Beckham's arrival, Donovan was the Galaxy's captain, biggest star and best player. After Beckham's arrival, only the last of those superlatives held true.

"I think he became very frustrated in the second half of 2008 that Beckham's effort, surprisingly, lagged on the field, and that Beckham, he thought, checked out on the team and wasn't committed to the team during that time," Wahl says.

Donovan let his feelings be known through Wahl's book; Beckham criticized Donovan's openness as unprofessional. Before last night's, game they swore they had patched things up.

Making Amends?

One game is not a referendum — one game against the Red Bulls even less so. But Thursday night, Beckham played well enough and Donovan scored a goal and assisted on another.

In the post-game press conference Beckham embraced Donovan with words, just as he had embraced him off the field after his goal.

"When Landon is in the form he's been in, you just give players like that the ball," Beckham said. "And when you give them the ball, they do what they could do and show how good they are, and Landon did that tonight."

Beckham, having delivered a beautiful crossing pass, was rewarded as Donovan rocketed the compliment home.

"He understands how to play the game," Donovan said. "He knows how I play, and he can make all the plays that I need to get the ball in a good spot. So, it's easy."

"Easy" hasn't been an apt word to describe the Beckham experiment thus far, but with the Galaxy sitting in third place, a new chapter might be in the offing.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Mike Pesca first reached the airwaves as a 10-year-old caller to a New York Jets-themed radio show and has since been able to parlay his interests in sports coverage as a National Desk correspondent for NPR based in New York City.