Lend it like Beckham, to US soccer


Los Angeles : We heard it in 1975 when Pele came to the New York Cosmos. We heard it again when the US hosted the World Cup in 1994.

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And now with the super-hyped arrival in Los Angeles of football’s celebrity megastar, David Beckham, we’re hearing it again – The US is about to become a football (soccer) nation, as the world’s most popular sport finally makes it into the US sporting mainstream.

The implications could be huge. US athletes dominate in many other sports, and if football were to take off its finances could make the Primera Ligas of the world look like small potatoes.

Even in its current languid state the powers behind US soccer had the clout and nerve to facilitate a handsome $250-million, five-year contract for a man dubbed as “Goldenballs” by the British press.

The former England captain, 32, certainly got off to a good start at his official unveiling Friday – if you overlook the ultimate faux pas – in the US at least – of calling the sport “football” instead of “soccer”.

The event drew thousands of fans to his new home stadium The Home Depot Centre – which with a capacity of 27,000 has neither the romance nor crowds that Beckham has been used to at the Bernabau and Old Trafford.

But the confetti-swirling extravaganza was covered live by dozens of channels, and not just those interested in sport.

CNN cut from the other pressing issues of the day to broadcast Beckham’s first cockney words as a Los Angeles Galaxy player. It was an occasion also previewed, analysed and reported on in all the country’s most important newspapers.

It’s not just on the sports pages either – Beckham’s arrival is a major financial story, and of course a hot item for the gossip columnists and bloggers.

David and Victoria Beckham, the first couple of football, have been greeted as fellow superstars by their neighbours in the Platinum Triangle, an ultra-exclusive enclave in Beverley Hills where they bought a modest 1,300 square metre house for $22 million. Among their closest friends are Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes who live nearby.

It may not take long for former Spice Girl Victoria Beckham to break through in her own right.

On Monday she gets her own “exclusive one-hour special” on leading US network NBC. ‘Victoria Beckham: Coming to America’ shows how she copes with the drama of buying the modest mansion and acclimatising herself to the trials and tribulations of celebrity life in the showbiz capital of the world.

This crossover ability of the couple could be priceless and help Beckham take football up a league in the US, say experts.

The media blitz is “something you are not seeing with any other current US athlete, short of Tiger Woods,” Eric Wright, an expert on sports media coverage, told the Los Angeles Times.

Beckham has already added 10,000 season ticket holders to the Galaxy’s list and helped the team sell an estimated 250,000 team jerseys since his signing.

With commercial contracts set to plaster his face on dozens of products, with the growth of football-crazy Latino populations and with the huge number of grass roots players in the country, Beckham’s arrival could benefit the game on both a sporting and financial level.

“We’ve been waiting for years for this sport to really take off,” said long-time football fan Greg Willis. “Personally I don’t much care for Beckham on the field or off. But I’m excited. He could be just the man we’re looking for.”