Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Bend it, Beckham. If You Can.


That was what Philippine Football Federation President Johnny Romualdez said when he was informed of the hefty price tag that came along with Goldenballs’ proposed tour of Manila. Half a million dollars. And in the event David Beckham does play you know he’s not even going to go full throttle. With his debut with the Los Angeles Galaxy coming up there’s no way Beckham will risk another injury more so after he limped off the pitch during the championship deciding match against Mallorca in the just concluded Spanish La Liga.

That price alone is enough to host a couple of seasons of a pro football league and pay for training, materiel, clinics etc. “But that’s possible only if we could find some sponsor willing to cough up that amount of cash,” added Romualdez.

Some time ago, there was also a similar offer regarding Diego Maradona to play in a seven-a-side friendly in Indonesia with a possible stopover in Manila. The asking price was the same and too steep. Yes, Maradona may have scored the greatest goal in World Cup history and is worshipped as a demi-god in Argentina, but even clean and sober, he’s far removed from his peak form.

It would have been nice to actually see Becks make an appearance, give a talk or two, and help out in a football clinic as it would have attracted attention from hardcore football fans as well as the casual and non-fans. Becks and maybe Posh by his side. It would have been crazy. But at the end of the day, would it have helped local football? Maybe. Maybe not, added another local football official. It would be erroneous to think that the spark that local football needs is going to come from an Englishman who may not be anywhere among the Top 20 best footballers in the world yet may certainly be the most well known. What is needed is a long-term plan with long-lasting and positive effects on the game not a short-term photo op with politicians who play footsie under the table and certainly not an opportunity for hawkers to sell Galaxy Beckham kits (his jersey number is still a mystery) to fashionistas who don’t even know how many MLS teams there are.

Signing Beckham to anything is also a cash bonanza. That’s something Real Madrid found out as soon as the former Manchester United right-winger signed with them. On the day of the Beckham signing, they sold out every available #23 kit for a 624,000 Euros (that’s equivalent to $850,321.60 or Php 39,119,045). In one day. In Beckham’s four years in the club, Real Madrid Marketing Director Jose Sanchez said that the club made L300 million pounds sterling (that’s $ 603,281,853.28 for the exchange rate conscious). The knock on then-Madrid President Florentino Perez was that he acquired the Englishman’s services not just to serve as the last piece to the championship puzzle for his galacticos but also for the media mileage and corporate sponsorships Becks would bring. Becks longed to play the central midfield but with Zizou and Guti in there, his job was to cross the ball to Ronaldo, Figo, and Michael Owen.

As Becks heads westward to a galaxy far far away in the football firmament, Major League Soccer is hoping that lightning will strike twice. Thirty-two years ago, Pele left Santos to play for the New York Cosmos in the now defunct North American Soccer League where he teamed up with Franz Beckenbauer and Giorgio Chinaglia to raise the consciousness of America to the world’s most popular sport. Although well past his prime, he was plenty still good enough to prompt former American President Jimmy Carter to say, “Pele has elevated the game of soccer to heights never before attained in America. And only Pele, with his status, incomparable talent, and beloved compassion could have accomplished such a mission.” And as if on cue, Pele scored against the Dallas Tornados in his first game with the Cosmos for a 2-1 victory and led his team to the league title in his third and final playing year. In his farewell match in Giants Stadium, where he played for the Cosmos in the first half (and scored the equalizer) and with Santos FC in the second half, the game was beamed to a world that was watching.

Pele certainly sees comparisons and says that Beckham’s move to MLS will only be good, because if it works in America then it can only mean better things ahead for football which has been torn asunder recently with reports of racism and game violence.

ESPN will be giving Beckham marquee coverage. Its Sportscenter episode at 6pm will give the pre-game lowdown while the 7pm edition will be MLS-centric. By 7:30pm, the sports network will air an hour-long documentary “David Beckham: New Beginnings” to be followed by a half-hour pre-game show. The Galaxy will be going up against English Premiere League runner-up Chelsea FC featuring John Terry who replaced Becks as England captain. There will be 19 cameras used for this game with most of it trained on Beckham.

But beyond the hype and the excitement of the transfer is a torrent of cynicism. Even within ESPN, some like senior columnist Gene Wojciechowski opine that the madness that has inflicted LA (something not seen since Wayne Gretzky transferred from the Edmonton Oilers to the Kings in the National Hockey League) will dissipate within a few months time. Recently, several English premier League officials lambasted the MLS for its inferior play prompting Galaxy President Alexi Lalas, the Mark Cuban of American soccer, to retaliate by saying that American football players were just as competitive if not better than the British. "The experts in England talk about David Beckham as if he's going into semi-retirement, growled Lalas to the Guardian Unlimited. “It's insulting to say Beckham is on his way to Hollywood when he's coming to play in one of the most competitive leagues in the world.”

The Los Angeles Galaxy website is running a countdown to Becks’ July 13 debut. The team is currently in fifth place in the MLS’ Western division with a 3-3-5 record despite the presence of Captain America Landon Donovan who led the league in goals the past two years. Whether rightly or wrongly, David Beckham is being looked at as the savior of football in America. The footballer who would finally elevate football into the upper tier of sports in America and would begin an exodus of top-flight talent to the MLS.

Jorge M is a former officemate of mine when I used to work in New York. He transferred to LA two years ago so it’s closer to his homeland of Mexico. In LA, he roots for Chivas USA, a team deeply rooted with Hispanic and Latino players. Yet he’s clearly excited about Goldenballs’ move Stateside.

“Beckham,” he wrote to me via an email recently. “Oh yeeeaaahhh!”

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