Building the Beckham brand, cont.

Maybe we can’t quite trust this denial of David Beckham’s interest in QPR or any other English Premier League team. “No” often isn’t the final word in transfer sagas.

But given Beckham’s rumored destinations — Australia, China, the Middle East — we might need to consider that Beckham’s latest and possibly last move of his playing career is less about an on-field challenge like keeping QPR in the Premier League and more about expanding his brand one more place before he retires.

Wherever he goes won’t be a permanent home. Beckham still has that MLS ownership option, and it’s tough to picture Posh Spice settling down in Shanghai. But a year or so in Asia could make him more viable for a few more global ads.

Or he could keep starring in adidas films like this offbeat video with Snoop:

Not sure what to make of that. Are they really putting a bunch of star athletes in a video with some not-so-subtle references to weed?


Beckham and the remnants of condescending England

Most Americans love England in some respect. They might be Monty Python or Doctor Who fans. They might think London is lovely. They might admire the country’s love affair with a sport that spreads to four professional leagues and scores of semipro and amateur leagues all wrapped up in a neatly organized pyramid. They might think the English are generally better educated and more reasonable, though that could be a stereotype that fails to account for, say, booing an opponent’s national anthem.

What we don’t like the English insistence that, as great-great-grandchildren of the people who wrote soccer’s rules and successfully exported them to the world, they must know better than we do. About everything.

That insistence has faded. The Premier League is built on foreign talent and, in many cases, foreign coaches. American players in particular are much better respected today than they were 15 years ago.

Yet we see vestiges of it on the Web, along with vestiges of all other prejudices. Just check the comments on Paul Gardner’s Soccer America piece quite rightly questioning why David Beckham wants to drag his long-battered body over for a couple of months of being knocked around in the Premier League.

The commenters — clearly unaware that Gardner is himself English and was writing eloquent pieces about FA Cup finals before they were born — don’t address Gardner’s points. They simply refuse to believe that “someone in America” would dare to criticize anyone as brilliant as Beckham.

One doesn’t have to have been raised on Match of the Day and disgusting meat pies to understand the following:

1. A minor point: Beckham would actually be a good candidate for an Olympic overage spot, just as Brian McBride (a player the English might recall) lent his experience to the 2008 USA squad.

2. For those who clearly didn’t read the piece before commenting: The issue is not that Beckham has been limited by playing in a low-quality side. The issue is that Beckham takes off on these loans and comes back injured from playing too many games. He’s not young. He needs to give his body a break. And regardless of what you folks think about MLS, Beckham thought enough of it to sign a contract and pledge himself to playing here, and it’s high time he lived up to his words.

3. For Patrick Cormac — this may seem petty, but if you’re going to complain about education, you should consider spelling “nouveau” correctly. And you should realize that whatever complaints people have about Gardner, he’s not exactly “nouveau.” One of his most brilliant pieces is an account of the 1953 “Matthews final.” A first-hand account.

4. For Jeff Jefferson — Americans did not invent the word “soccer.” The English invented that word to distinguish the game from other codes of football. Americans aren’t alone in calling it “soccer.” Say “footy” in Australia, and you’ll be greeted by a gaggle of men chasing after an oblong ball and trying to maneuver it through three giant posts at either end of a massive oval.

Frankly, it appears that these folks could use an education not just about the realities of the game in the USA but the history of the sport as a whole. Perhaps they should start with Gardner’s book The Simplest Game.

Gardner, in his decades in this hemisphere, has come to the position that the USA should take more inspiration from the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking countries in the Americas than from Europe, particularly as the USA becomes more Hispanic through immigration. His critics would say he belabors the point. But if you’re going to base your entire response on an appeal to authority, you’re going to lose.

Book review: ‘A Beautiful Game’

The first thing you’ll notice about A Beautiful Game is that it’s a beautiful book. The photography is rich and diverse — a treasured pair of dirty boots in Liberia, a youth clinic in Cambodia, a junkyard kickabout in Brazil, Fabio Cannavaro with a medal in Germany. Flip through the pages, and the scenes are as vibrant as the made-for-HD Planet Earth and Life TV series. Put the book on a coffee table, and you may find visitors flipping through it regardless of their level of soccer interest.

The text of the book is a collection of essays from mostly famous players around the world, all telling their stories of how they grew up with the game. The 41 essayists include some of the world’s biggest names — Lionel Messi, Luis Figo, Franck Ribery (unfortunate timing, given his current scandal) and Cannavaro. Yet coincidentally or not, Major League Soccer is well-represented. Landon Donovan is the chosen American. Former MLS players Ivan Guerrero, Claudio Suarez, Carlos Ruiz and Ryan Nelsen contribute along with current Chivas USA teammates Ante Jazic and Maykel Galindo.

Best of all these is a riveting introduction from David Beckham about a UNICEF visit to Sierra Leone. Beckham talks openly of his fear of being overwhelmed by the conditions he would find on his visit, but as he tells it, he left the country full of hope after greeting families with hugs — and a football. The introduction sets the tone: No matter the circumstances, football gives children hope and joy. Five percent of the book’s proceeds will go to UNICEF sports projects.

The downside is that the stories, though they’re drawn from diverse countries, tend to sound the same after a while. Whether they’re playing on the streets of Honduras or in a club in Finland, the players all talk of playing until sundown and forging their happiest memories kicking about with their friends. Browse through the book in several sittings, and this disadvantage is quickly forgotten.

Yet the book has a deeper drawback. As inclusive as it is for people of different national origins, economic backgrounds and faiths, it’s not gender-inclusive. Women are barely visible — a shot of the U.S. team celebrating stands out as the reader flips through pages and pages of boys and men. How much would we love to read the story of Brandi Chastain picking up the game as girls were first encouraged to play in the USA? Or Marta, learning to play in a culture less accommodating to women’s soccer? (Or so we think.)

That’s the one major oversight. Otherwise, this fine book opens the reader’s eyes to the world, not with sad and shocking tales but with inspirational stories of global joy.

The details: A Beautiful Game, edited by Tom Watt, HarperOne (imprint of HarperCollins), release May 2010