Friday, January 19, 2007

If at first you don't succeed...

by the butler

If hindsight is always 20/20, then we should already know what's going to happen, right? I mean, we've actually been down this road before. It's not like the idea is new. "Hey, I know! Let's bring a world famous soccer player to America! That's what we need to boost the sport's popularity! Why haven't we ever thought of that?!?"

Apparently the MLS and the L.A Galaxy, even with the Information Superhighway at their ignorant little fingertips, can't learn from what happened about 25 years ago. ESPN even came out with a documentary about it just last summer, and it was actually quite good.

"I'll take the blonde..." "Good, 'cause I'll take anything"

What should we have learned? Well, you know how the rest of the world kinda-sorta thinks Americans are a little short in the intelligence department (no pun intended, but I'll take it)? The thing is, Americans at the time (and still today) just didn't feel the same way about the world's most popular sport as, well, the world...not that there's anything wrong with that. Can't really fault people for their preferences, but as a country we could not understand exactly how HUGE Pele was. We still don't. Back then in 1975 his 2-year $2.8 million contract with the Cosmos was just as shocking as Beckam's current potential $250 million deal. Hank Aaron was the highest paid baseball player in 1972, making $200,000 a year.

Comparing Beckham to Pele, though, is like comparing Oasis to the Beatles. Beckham is no doubt a star, but Pele was/is a god. Why does the best player on most professional soccer teams today wear the number 10? 'Cause Pele wore number 10. After the 1962 World Cup he was declared an "official national treasure" by the Brazillian government to prevent him from being lured by massive offers from European Clubs. In 1967, the two factions fighting in the Nigerian Civil War stopped for 48 hours so they could watch Pele play an exhibition game. In 1958 (at age 17) he became the youngest player to play in a World Cup Final, scoring two unbelievable goals in a 5-2 victory over Sweden. (Ending Wikipedia plagiarism now) He was NEO, the ONE! People worshipped him. The only human beings in the world that could compete with his fame were Muhammed Ali and the Pope. He and Ali are the probably the most well-known atheletes to have ever lived.

What we should take note of is the reactions from the rest of the world. Brazillians considered Pele's move to New York his actual retirement (Henry Kissinger actually had to pull strings with the Brazillian government to make it happen, even though Pele had retired two years earlier from his Brazillian Club team). Certain Italian fans threatened to throw themselves under the wheels of the plane that was flying Chinaglia, one of the best strikers in the world at the time, to the Big Apple. Germany's immortal Franz Beckenbauer, who invented the sweeper position, was labled a traitor by many of Bayern Munich's supporters after accepting his lucrative contract from the Cosmos. Beckenbauer famously described the benefits of playing in America vs. the pressure of playing in an actual competitive league, saying "in Munich I could not walk two feet without being mobbed, now I can stroll down Fifth Ave. and no one knows who I am". It was an escape for these guys. Retirement in the Land of the Free, the glorious U.S. and A.

To come up with an equivalent for Americans to relate to is difficult. We just don't feel the same insane fiery passion for our sports stars here. We would never think of throwing our bodies in front of an airplane to keep someone like Tom Brady here.

What will David Beckham bring? To the sport of soccer in America, I say not much. He's no Pele, really. But to the Hollywood scene, that's a whole different ballgame. Goalkeepers all across the MLS have less reason to be afraid than do the likes of TomKat and Brangelina. Posh and Becks, baby. Watch out. (I would like to point out early here: ONCE PEOPLE HEAR DAVID BECKHAM TALK, they may or may not think he makes even Mike Tyson sound tough.

The following quote from the director of the aforementioned ESPN documentary sums up what happened with the Pele attempt, and it will also serve as a prophecy concerning this current Beckham deal unless something different (maybe like not overexpanding the league this time) is done:

"...the Lords of American Soccer, who misread the success of the Cosmos as an endorsement of the sport rather than what it was — a feverish, ephemeral moment when the arrival of a global idol combusted with the birth of showbiz in American sports. When the house of cards finally collapsed for good in 1984, its demise was so total that it took another 12 years for a professional league (Major League Soccer) to emerge from the rubble."

At the end of the day, I just don't believe we have it in us, as a country, to embrace soccer the same way the rest of the world does. We should just accept that, all the while counting our blessings because our nation's favorite sports are not cricket and polo.

1 comment:

OZ said...

Very well put. I think I'm an excellent example for your discussion. I played soccer all the way up through college year round except the dead of summer. Even now I play indoor on occasion, but I have no intention of driving to San Jose so I can watch the Galaxy vs. Earthquake just because Beckham. If they can't get me in, they have no chance at the rest of the country. I may flip on the tele, but it will be fleeting interest at best.