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Are David Beckham’s contributions on the field underrated?

Nov 25, 2012, 12:15 PM EDT

David Beckham, Fabian Castillo

On the latest Big Head Red Head podcast, featuring former U.S. internationals Taylor Twellman and Alexi Lalas, the analysts discussed whether David Beckham’s contributions between the white lines have been underrated?

It’s a fair question, because so much of the Beckham narrative (when it comes to MLS, that is) focusses on his achievement in matters of media, marketing and Madison Ave. Lesser discussed, it seems, is Beckham’s good deeds on game day.

ESPN’s Marc Connolly, third member of the podcast, suggests that the Galaxy midfielder’s achievement on the field is vastly underrated. He especially lamented how many of the Beckham articles of the last few days mention his goal and assist totals. The numbers are just a tiny bit modest (18 goals, 40 assists in 98 matches), although not terribly so for a holding midfielder, which is more or less the position Bekcham assumed two years ago for the Galaxy.

Said Connolly: “I just felt, going into every game, he was the player you wanted on your team. He was the best guy.”

One explanation for the disconnect: Performance-wise, the Galaxy was fairly miserable in Beckham’s first two seasons, finishing one spot off the bottom in the West over the former England captain’s first two seasons, 2007 and 2008. Given the difficulty in circling individual achievement on a team that stinks, we all got into the habit of directing our analytical efforts to the business side of Major League Soccer’s Beckham gambit.

But the point is well made otherwise. Holding midfielders are always in a black hole, so to speak, in terms of recognition. They do so many little things – well, good ones do, that is – in terms of cover and linking. That linking is frequently more difficult than it looks, although smart, early movement upon claiming possession makes it less problematic. And that’s Beckham.

One other quick point: Beckham’s influence has waned slightly this year. His free kick and corner kick deliveries remain sharp, but he has adopted more of a supporting role, a response to those sands of time that slip inexorably away.

The man is 37, after all.

So, if there was a sweet spot in discussing Beckham between the white lines, it was probably this time last year.

  1. dfstell - Nov 25, 2012 at 1:36 PM

    Oh…..he’s a really good player. True…..he might not be worth his entire salary based on on-field contributions anymore and that’s probably why the Galaxy aren’t THAT sad to see him leaving. But, look at most professional sports. When you sign a 30-something athlete, usually their last year is a disaster where they’re horribly overpaid, always injured, a locker room cancer because they’re not in the starting lineup anymore, etc. The Galaxy got him back off a Best XI performance last year with only a 1 year contract. And he’s played quite well this year. No one ever suggested that the Galaxy sit him in favor of Michael Stephens or Sarvas. He wasn’t dominant, but he picked his spots, passes really well, is still deadly on set-pieces, seems to be a good teammate, etc.

  2. danielofthedale - Nov 25, 2012 at 2:39 PM

    I think what he has done the last few season on the field is being glossed over a bit. He has excellent last year on best team in the league and won the double with them (Supporters Shield and MLS Cup). This season while he a few injury concerns I think he still played at an above average MLS level.

    I mean from my little corner of the MLS world he was far more successful on the field than off (in terms of MLS growth). No one I know that started watching MLS has done so because of the presence of David Beckham and the friend and family that talked Beckham did so more in celebrity area and never in anything soccer related. The fact that after an awful start to his MLS days that he has the chance to leave as a back to back Champion, that is real legacy I think.

  3. donjuego - Nov 25, 2012 at 6:51 PM

    I’m thinking of all the LAG games I watched this year and what Beckham was doing and trying to picture him as a holding MF ….. and it is not working. I need more convincing on that one. If an attacking player withdraws further from the front in order to get the ball it doesn’t change what he is. Juninho seems to be the holding MF. Beckham moves forward without regard to the defensive shape left behind. This is not what a holding MF does — hence the name “holding.” Beckham plays as an attacking MF who plays the game in an unorthodox way but is well suited to his strengths. Still a player who makes everyone else on the field more dangerous through his ability to find them at any time.

  4. joeyt360 - Nov 26, 2012 at 6:29 PM

    I think once fans have decided that a player ‘didn’t live up to the hype’, they have trouble seeing the rest of it. Even where it’s true, that’s often not all there is to say.

    I think Beckham has fallen off a bit this year, to the point where he’s making the right choice to leave. But a year or two ago, he was giving the Galaxy a dimension that was very unusual in MLS and hard to defend–it was like having 75% of the playmaking ability of a top-notch A-Mid, even though he was playing so deep that to try to go out and defend him meant stretching your team out of shape. His style made many a good MLS d-mid basically irrelevant, marking space LA just didn’t need to use.

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