Welcome to Miami? The bruising story of David Beckham's battle to become football's first superstar owner
But underestimate Beckham’s resilience at your peril. It can be easy to forget the moments throughout his career when his position has looked untenable, such has been Becks’s ability to endure.
The tour of vitriol he suffered at Premier League stadiums after his 1998 World Cup sending-off against Argentina ended with him guiding Manchester United to an unprecedented Treble the following season. Cast adrift at Real Madrid following the announcement of his move to LA, meanwhile, he fought his way back into Fabio Capello’s line-up and ensured he bid farewell to the Bernabeu with his first and only La Liga title winner’s medal.
Even in America, when he was subjected to boos by LA Galaxy supporters after trying to make his 2009 loan move to Milan permanent (AEG forced him to honour his MLS contract), Beckham dug in and fought back to rebuild his reputation and secure two MLS titles with the Californian club.
And now, with a stadium site finally secured (at least barring final legal challenges) in Miami’s Overton, Beckham’s Miami team was confirmed as a reality this January. More backers are on board, and the team will kick off in the 2020 campaign.
In some ways, perhaps, the most dangerous part of the project for Beckham personally is done and dusted. The anonymous business of land scouting, financing, political negotiations and appeasement has almost been completed. Now Beckham is thrust back into a familiar role as a public asset, there to embody the envisioned glamour of the project and to attract talent and further investment to it.
Now to build with a Miami flavour. The twin engines of MLS growth in the last 10 years have been millennials and Latinos, and certainly the latter are a prominent target demographic, particularly given the sizeable South American influence on South Florida. Downtown Miami has also been revitalised with youth-led creative industries. Culturally, the Miami Basel art fair is now an annual fixture of the international art calendar, whose travelling circus has trailed significant investment from wealthy collectors. Real estate speculation is almost a sport in its own right there.
In that light, the more feverish transfer rumours suggesting Cristiano Ronaldo as the ideal marquee signing for the expansion team make a certain sense. In 2020, he will be of an age (35) where a last big move may appeal, with enough miles still in the tank to become the type of foundational presence David Villa has become for NYCFC in their first years.
The Portuguese’s preening presence would unquestionably be in its natural habitat in South Beach, if not Overton. As with Becks himself, Miami would seem on the surface like the cultural fit. Thinking along those lines, you could easily extrapolate an image and profile of the new team to make the right splashdown, and you suspect Beckham will put few feet wrong on that front.
The lingering questions are the prosaic but essential ones that make clubs bed in and sustain, however, so that’s where Beckham’s tenacity and attention to detail must come into play as never before.
The legal disputes over the Overton stadium site may be resolvable, for example, but reflect some local disquiet about the tight nine-acre location for the ground. Do Beckham and his team have the type of granular sensitivity required to keep the community onside?
There are questions, too, about how loyal Miami supporters will be when the novelty wears off. Even in LeBron James’s heyday in the city, the Heat didn’t always attract the type of sustained support they may have expected, and there’s a lot of weight on Beckham to deliver as the centre of gravity for a start-up team. Especially somewhere where lifestyles of conspicuous consumption do not necessarily translate to conspicuous loyalty.
Then there’s the passing of the Designated Player era that Beckham himself ushered in. When he arrived in the strictly salary-capped MLS, the rules had to be changed to pay his wages, and for a brief period his Galaxy team were the model for top-heavy sides built around the talents of the three Designated Players each MLS side was permitted.
However, with rule changes to salary cap and discretionary spending allowances changing the balance of teams, and with the academies forming an increasingly important part of top team strategies, current best practice in MLS is less about star power than smart investment and sustainability. It’s a sober mode that doesn’t necessarily tally with Beckham’s unique selling points.
And on an even bigger-picture sustainability note, the low-lying city of Miami is on the global warming frontline and routinely tormented by high tides over-running the storm drains. The forward-thinking of 2007 might have to be reassessed in 2027 if it transpires that even David Beckham can’t turn back the tides.
That’s for others to figure out, though. Right now, Beckham is focusing on what he can control. History suggests that we’d be foolish to bet against him.
This feature originally appeared in the August 2018 issue of FourFourTwo. Subscribe!