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How Beckham Blew It
GRANT WAHL
July 06, 2009
When he came to L.A. two years ago, David Beckham was supposed to lift soccer's profile in the U.S. and help the Galaxy vie for a title. Instead he failed as a leader, foundered on the field and alienated his most important teammate
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July 06, 2009

How Beckham Blew It

When he came to L.A. two years ago, David Beckham was supposed to lift soccer's profile in the U.S. and help the Galaxy vie for a title. Instead he failed as a leader, foundered on the field and alienated his most important teammate

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Beckham, meanwhile, had grown increasingly frustrated over not seeing enough of the ball on the right side, so much so that he had been drifting all over the field. "There are times when I scratch my head, saying we're paying millions of dollars for a centerback," Lalas said. Beckham wasn't hiding—he wanted to do something—but the net effect was negative. Donovan lost count of how many times Beckham commandeered the ball deep in the Galaxy's own end, gave his teammates time to run downfield and sent a long pass a yard or two short, allowing the opponent to counterattack against a defense that now had five players out of position.

By mid-July, Donovan felt he needed to say something to Beckham about it, but it was a sign of their increasingly distant relationship that he did so by text message. I know you're frustrated and I know you're trying, Donovan wrote, but we need you farther up the field where you're more dangerous. You're the best player out there and you need the ball, but it doesn't help us achieve anything if you're doing other people's jobs.

Beckham's reply was short: We just need guys to be better on the field and do a better job. Donovan tried to follow up with Beckham in the locker room the next day—"You understand what I'm saying?" he asked—but Beckham clearly didn't want to talk about it.

"It's difficult to know how to approach him with things, to be critical of him," Donovan said, "because he doesn't take it well."

In August 2008 Leiweke napalmed the Galaxy's dysfunctional management structure, pushing out Lalas, Gullit and Byrne, thereby damaging his relationship with Team Beckham. Not once did Beckham address the players as L.A.'s free fall continued, and in October he used a yellow-card suspension as a reason not to attend L.A.'s most important game of the season, a loss in Houston that eliminated the team from playoff contention. Four days later news broke of Beckham's clandestine push to be loaned to AC Milan. Donovan was furious.

Over a lunch of lamb pizza and a peach salad at Petros, a stylish Greek restaurant in Manhattan Beach, Donovan took a sip of Pinot Grigio and exhaled deeply. It was 24 hours after he'd learned of Beckham's desire to move to Milan, and instead of enjoying a Thursday off from practice, he was miserable. The Galaxy's awful season hadn't ended yet, but all the talk was about Beckham's possible departure. Donovan himself was convinced that Captain Galaxy had vanished in spirit weeks earlier. "My sense is that David's clearly frustrated, that he's unhappy and, honestly, that he thinks it's a joke," said Donovan, who was about to clinch the MLS goal-scoring title. "I also kind of feel [he has taken the team] for granted. I don't see dedication or commitment to this team, and that's troubling."

The longer Donovan had been around Beckham, the more he'd asked himself, Who is this guy? Why is he so secretive? Donovan had tried to have a conversation with Beckham the day before, but he'd gotten nowhere. "So you're going to Milan?" Donovan had asked.

"We'll see," Beckham replied. "I've got to stay fit somehow during the off-season."

"It's a nice city, right?"

"Some people say it is, but I don't know."

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