Last time, we talked about the Los Angeles Dodgers bringing in Manny Ramirez to shepherd the Dodger's young budding stars in the outfield and sell a metric ton of merchandise.
I threw out a few literary/film allusions: Obi Wan and Luke, Harry Potter and Dumbledore, Crash and Nuke. For you see it's a tale as old as time, the hero's journey and the wise old man. In the Dodgers case I proposed that the Manny Ramirez experiment worked, in that Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier showed vast improvement and the Dodgers made a ton of money off merchandise.
To recap, a team goes out of their way to bring in this stranger, and all you hope is let’s make things interesting again. And they are for awhile, but something keeps the team from going all the way. That man’s legs fall out from under him, and everyone’s wondering if he’ll ever be back.
For much of my article I'll be using The Beckham Experiment by Grant Wahl as my source.
In making the leap from the Dodgers to the Galaxy, I have to identify my players. Matt Kemp, a homegrown Dodger talent, well, he's getting dropped from the play because this is pretty much a two man scene. Andre Ethier, the imported young talent who wants to be team leader, that'd be Landon Donovan. Manny Ramirez, who vet brought in to revitalize, inspire, and sell tickets, is of course none other than David Beckham.
Both Andre and Landon came from the Bay Area, Andre coming up through the A's organization and Landon Donovan with the San Jose Earthquakes. Due to the nature of soccer in the US, Landon actually signed with Bayer Leverkusen from the US under 20 team, but only appeared in 7 games with them.
So while Andre learned to shine when the Dodgers got him in exchange for Milton Bradley, Landon made his name with the national team. He had two goals in the 2002 World Cup, one in a losing effort to Poland, and his second goal coming in what still stands as the most important match in US national team history. Landon knocked in a 65' goal against Mexico in the first knockout round stage, sealing a 2 - 0 US victory.
All Landon did for the San Jose Earthquakes is win two MLS cups and get named US soccer athlete of the year in 2003. Some of us knew him as the only US player in EA Sports' World Cup 2002 game with a star power (he had max speed, which remains an accurate assessment of his game). But while he had achieved so much, including a championship with the Los Angeles Galaxy when they picked him up in 2005, due to the nature of US soccer celebrity, he'd only achieve celebrity status every four years after a world cup.
So in 2007, with the Galaxy starting to flounder (they failed to make the playoffs after their cup win in 2005) and the team making goggle eyes at David Beckham, Landon's role with the team was being called into question.
At the time Landon Donovan was wearing the Captain's band, which is the greatest honor a team can give a teammate, unlike the NFL where the Captain's patch usually just goes to the quarterback, the Captain's patch, along with Donovan's #10, are considered serious honors that have to be earned.
When Manny came to the Dodgers he earned himself a $23 million dollar salary (via: baseball reference) but that paled in comparison to what he could earn as the marketing face of the franchise.
David Beckham's arrival brought rumors of a $250 million dollar, five year contract. This would dwarf Manny's salary except for the fact that in reality, Beckham was only being paid $32.5 million over his five years with Los Angeles. A much older, much more fragile Manny was making more than that in two years with the Dodgers. Despite Beckham being an international brand, there are still certain realities about the US soccer market.
So from a European perspective, where Beckham going from Manchester United to Real Madrid commands a transfer fee worth more than his entire MLS contract, this move looked like Beckham moving into a Beverly Hills retirement home. The same could be said for Manny from Boston's perspective. He'd won two World Series' titles with the Red Sox, and it made sense for him to move out to LA and hit an occasional dinger to build a retirement home. All either of them would have to do is not fall apart.
From the perspective of the Galaxy, that $250 million figure is the result of $170 million in endorsement deals. Manny was a merchandising fiend in Los Angeles, with dread wigs, jerseys, and Toys-R-Us ads downtown, but David Beckham was an international sensation. Adidas, Pepsi, Motorola, as well as his fashion world contacts through his wife Victoria (Posh Spice).
Galaxy brass were quick to point out the David Beckham had already paid for himself, with 250k jerseys sold , 11k season tickets, sold out luxury suits, and a $20 million contract with Herbalife for jersey sponsorship. There was no denying, at least initially, that Beckham was selling the Galaxy.
So what of Landon Donovan? He's at the prime of his career, has the respect of his teammates, is worth somewhere around 15 goals a game and can run circles around much of his MLS competition. Not only that, but he's getting much of the credit for making the US National Team relevant.
Meanwhile, David Beckham was giving up being captain of the English National Team. One of the expectations that Beckham's handlers had, was that he'd take over as captain of the Galaxy, without having played a full game.
I don't want to dredge up too much old ground. The so-called feud between Landon Donovan and David Beckham has been well documented. I mostly wanted to show the parallels to the Manny situation, but also to show that bringing in a mentor can have a positive outcome.
While the Galaxy are yet to win a cup title with Beckham, since they brought in Bruce Arena, who had Landon Donovan experience, they've been at the top of the league for the last two years. This opposed to Rudd Guilt, previous Galaxy manager, who had european superstar experience and treated Landon Donovan, American superstar and lesser than.
I would never make the argument that Joe Torre had east coast superstar preference, but that was his previous experience.
Now Landon's back as the Galaxy's captain, and the Galaxy have formed a solid core which can win without David, but are certainly a better team with a healthy Brit being a part of it. Landon Donovan, once asked to let Beckham be the captain while he's the star, has shown that a young US star can be one of the best American players and still have a US career.
With one year left on his contract, Beckham's next move is anyone's guess. But the US standout who felt he couldn't get any respect certainly has it now, as Landon Donovan is slowly emerging as an international superstar.