LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - David Beckham’s extravagant arrival in Los Angeles 10 years ago was both a gift and a curse for the Galaxy, transforming the club into a global brand while leaving it dependent on star power as a blueprint for success.
When Beckham joined Los Angeles in 2007, amid flashing camera bulbs and a record media crush, he brought worldwide interest to the Major League Soccer (MLS) franchise.
The Galaxy sold more than 250,000 of Beckham’s No. 23 shirts before the Englishman even took the field. And with each sale, the Galaxy bought in to a philosophy built upon the names on the backs of their jerseys sustaining the one on the front.
“David Beckham was that tool that enabled us to open up the brand globally,” former Galaxy general manager Alexi Lalas told Reuters.
”We knew we had the opportunity for a ‘plant your flag’ moment in order to build this brand that is the Galaxy not just domestically but internationally.
“We wanted the first club that you thought of when you thought about Major League Soccer to be the Galaxy. In one fell swoop we established that.”
The Galaxy have certainly reaped the rewards of becoming the league’s glamour team, winning a record five MLS Cup titles and getting the league to accommodate their roster ambitions through ‘Designated Player’ rules that allow star players to be paid mostly from outside the salary cap.
The club’s courtship of headliners has permanently shaped the league and prompted a chain reaction of big-name players drawn to the North American league. Beckham was the first Designated Player on an MLS club; in 2016, there were 50 on MLS rosters.
But just as Beckham’s six-year run with the Galaxy, which featured consecutive MLS Cup triumphs in 2011 and 2012, provoked questions about his worth, there remain doubts about whether a star-based approach delivers sustained success or merely short-term buzz. As perhaps the world’s most famous athlete, blessed with movie star looks and a celebrity wife, Beckham tested the old saying that no man is bigger than the team.
After a glittering career with Manchester United and Real Madrid, the then 32-year-old arrived in the U.S. to a king’s welcome, took residence at a Beverly Hills mansion and was a fixture at star-studded Los Angeles Lakers games.
The reception from his team mates, however, was not initially quite so warm, as he was sidelined by injury and then skipped several Galaxy games to play on loan with AC Milan in Italy. American Landon Donovan relinquished his captain’s armband to Beckham immediately, but would later question his leadership and work ethic.
“I know we weren’t prepared for that type of hurricane (of attention), nor could we have been,” Lalas said. “Ultimately, it was incredibly successful.”
The Galaxy’s two-year title run in 2011 and 2012, when the club added Irish goal scorer Robbie Keane to form a deadly trio with Beckham and Donovan, set a standard for interest and excitement that the franchise will long be chasing.
The Galaxy still know how to lure big talent -- adding the likes of Nigel de Jong and Giovani dos Santos -- ahead of the 2016 campaign, but the club’s spotlight has gradually faded since Beckham departed after the 2012 season.
Keane and Steven Gerrard recently left, while long-time coach and general manager Bruce Arena departed in November to become the coach of the U.S. men’s national team.
The Galaxy will soon have to compete for market share with Los Angeles Football Club, a new expansion team that will join the MLS in 2018 at a $250 million stadium complex.
But mostly the Galaxy are forever contending with their franchise-changing signing of Beckham, an acquisition that put them on the map, but set a precedent that makes it difficult to stay there.
Editing by Andrew Both