David Beckham's contretemps with a group of angry LA Galaxy fans has seen the ailing of his Stateside move brought into sharper focus. Two games into his return to soccer in the USA and his fraying temper has been on public show. Hollywood scripts are not supposed to end this way.
While his post-match comments following a row in which he “called out” a fan were dipped in his usual PR sheen, the signs are that only a title-winning campaign can save his West Coast reputation once he departs the Galaxy - as he surely will in November.
On leaving the USA, he will likely join The Jam, Robbie Williams and many a British actor in failing to replicate the popularity Stateside that he enjoys in his home country. In a town where style over substance is often the message, Beckham’s failure to deliver on-field success while Major League Soccer dwindles has still made him a target for anger and ridicule.
That Beckham actually returned to MLS at all has clearly come as a surprise to Landon Donovan, judging by his contribution to Sports Illustrated writer Grant Wahl's recent book "The Beckham Experiment". Donovan's none-too complimentary comments about Beckham have caused the Englishman to call his team-mate "unprofessional" in return.
Wahl's account highlights one of the problems at the heart of Galaxy's failure to progress as a team. A monstrous and spoiled ego that wanted everything its own way...Landon Donovan does not come out of the book at all well. Donovan was seemingly used to being a big fish in a small pond until Beckham made him into a tiddler. Once David arrived, Landon struggled with second billing at the Home Depot Arena.
From this point on, and despite an early swanky meal with respective spouses, the pair's relationship never blossomed beyond anything but a professional respect which was eventually dashed on the rocks of Beckham's desire to return to the European leagues as the Galaxy became an MLS whipping boy.
A rare piece of amicable jocular joshing comes when Donovan catches sight of Beckham leaving a drive-thru burger bar and calls him a "fat f***er". The quality of footballers’ witty banter is clearly the same the world over. Beckham’s recent statement that "you have to be friends with the people that you want to be successful with" is as candid as it gets from him yet manages to say it all about his relationship with his American team’s other star name.
Donovan clearly gave Wahl the type of access he could never get to Beckham though the writer claims to have interviewed the former England captain "more than any other American journalist". Beckham is personified as being cocooned from the rest of the team because of his lifestyle and status, with much talk of him flying first class on planes while his colleagues sit in "coach". It is Donovan who seems most annoyed about this and a small victory is claimed when “Landycakes” gets to sit in the posh seats again.
The Californian half of the odd couple eventually let rip to Wahl, especially during an interview that followed Beckham's loan to AC Milan being announced. As Donovan tucks into a lamb pizza and a chilled pinot grigot, he tells the journalist that Beckham thinks life in the MLS is "a joke".
That Donovan himself was heading for a sabbatical at Bayern Munich, one noticeably less successful than Beckham's in Serie A, gets a passing mention, perhaps because the book ends somewhat suddenly, with the whole story not yet told. Beckham is now back in LA for half a season that will surely write the real final chapter.
For the English reader, Wahl reveals some of the problems of the MLS system. Many have called for the use of a salary cap across the football spectrum but it seems to cause tension throughout this account, not least because Wahl keeps comparing how much each players gets paid; he even lists their wages season by season.
One of Donovan's complaints about Beckham is his failure to pay for everyone's meal as the team convened at a steak restaurant, yet he stops short of "calling out" the megastar who will soon take the captaincy of the Galaxy from him. Did he really expect Beckham to pay for everything because he earns more? Does that truly make him a cheapskate? Some of their team-mates, all of whom were incidentally also out-earned by Donovan, clearly disagreed, with defender/midfielder Chris Klein rightly pointing out that Beckham cannot be “one of the guys“ if he pays for everything. Some simply seem to have revelled in playing alongside the game’s biggest name. Not so, Donovan.
In airing his feelings in a published book on a very much open matter, Donovan has revealed his naivety and perhaps shown why he has failed to adapt in three attempts to make it in the European game. Their personal relationship may have failed yet Donovan may be advised to heed the lessons of Beckham’s career. When the chips have been down and Beckham has been forced to prove himself, he has made an art form of silencing the doubters through sheer determination.
The two put on a united front as Galaxy beat New York Red Bulls last week, yet the sparse crowd at Giants Stadium reflected that neither are enough of a draw to the floating voter that the MLS requires to thrive. The experiment has not worked and will not be in session for much longer.
Perhaps there is a Hollywood ending to come, with Landon and Dave putting aside their differences to lead Galaxy to glory in a classic buddy movie. Or perhaps this will end up as one of those flicks in which glamour, glitter and the high life crash down as ego and excess take their corroding hold.