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Mr Hollywood hits the road
David Beckham makes his exit from LA Galaxy for fresh pastures. As a footballer his options are limited but his commercial appeal remains undiminshed, making him a hot prospect for clubs looking to get a slice of the Becks pie.
David Beckham may be preparing for his last hurrah around Hollywood, but as the athlete fades, his image-makers are keeping many balls in play. In truth, his worth as a team player was on its way down when he left Real Madrid for the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2007. What he has been selling ever since is Brand Beckham. The official statement that Beckham, now 37, seeks one more soccer challenge has set off a gold rush in Australia, China, England and possibly even in New York, with the Red Bulls of Major League Soccer;all are linked to a deal that trades the last legs of Beckham for the dollars yet to be wrung out of his celebrity.
Good luck to whoever gets him, though;with his wife, Victoria and their kids ensconced in the California lifestyle, don't bet on the tenure abroad lasting too long. He will go where the brand is best served, but like it said in his departure note, he may come back to the United States as an owner.
Certainly, he is rich enough.
His game might not be. In two places, Spain and America, his legacy changed the fiscal rules around soccer.
When Real Madrid signed him in 2003, the Spanish government was in the process of drafting a decree that changed the rules regarding the taxation of foreign workers in Spain. In effect, it let wealthy foreigners pay less in taxes than Spanish citizens and became known as the Beckham Law.
From that time until now, when the ongoing economic problems forced a rethinking of that decree, countless players and other highly paid VIP's got away with paying a tax rate in Spain of only 24. 75 percent. That rate is scheduled to jump to 52 percent, though Cristiano Ronaldo and others will doubtless not have to pay a cent if the employers cover it. Cristiano may still net his 10 million euros, or $13 million, but Real Madrid may have to double its outlay to keep him happy.
The pouting, rather than celebrating, after Ronaldo scored a goal a couple of months back was in part because of the wrangling over a new contract for him, beyond the current one that runs to 2015. However, this is not so much about the current Madrid star. He has enough on his plate with a Champions League match against Manchester City on Wednesday evening.
Back to the Beckham effect. When Anschutz Entertainment Group, the owner of the Galaxy, wanted to take him to Los Angeles, it first had to persuade the Major League Soccer to break its salary cap.
For a second time, the Beckham name became attached to a change of financial allowances. The MLS agreed to a "designated player rule" that, in effect, allowed Beckham, and then a few others, to be paid more than the rest of their teammates combined.
A hallowed principle in many sports in the United States, the salary cap, was altered.
By how much? That has been between the Galaxy and the Beckhams, but suffice to say, the soccer family easily afforded their $18. 2 million home in Beverly Hills, close to their friend, Tom Cruise. Come to think of it, Beckham also has a house in Dubai, so maybe the list of potential new grounds for his last hurrah as a player must embrace the Middle East as well.
We will hear soon enough whether all the talk Down Under really does mean David's ears are open to a stint there, perhaps for the 10 games that would remain of the Australian season by the time he would be available. Melbourne Heart and Central Coast Mariners have jumped aboard the speculation train, while the media are wondering whether Western Sydney Wanderers could rustle up the cash to sign Beckham as a rival attraction to Alessandro Del Piero, the Italian player who joined Sydney FC this year.
Beckham's signing off from the Galaxy, after the MLS Cup match on Dec. 1, means the league, and the endorsement companies, must find another face to carry them through the future. It might require some deep thinking because, while there have always been better players in the world than Beckham, none has his instant marketing appeal.
Even when Beckham was a part-time player, carried by Landon Donovan and the other Los Angeles players, his management group could sell him in the United States like no other soccer star. The same management, incidentally, just landed another coup in the United States after its new client, Lewis Hamilton, won the inaugural Formula One race on Sunday in Austin, Texas.
Meanwhile, back in Europe, where Beckham left his youth, the powers the players now wield are facing several new challenges. One is the attempt to put financial restraints on a sport that, from its top clubs down, pays as much as 70 percent of its annual income straight into the pockets of players.
Michel Platini, the former star player who now is running Europe's soccer authority, UEFA, is intent on bringing what he calls financial fair play to the sport. By that, he means clubs should not spend, as some of them ruinously do, more on player fees and salaries than they earn through the game tickets and broadcasting rights. Platini's rule should kick in starting next season. Some of the biggest clubs, owned by overseas billionaires, are hard at work inventing new ways of presenting their balance sheets.
In Spain, where Barcelona and Real Madrid command television fees way above all the rest, there is a gathering crisis at the gates. Even if people can afford the entrance price, there is now audible complaining about the salaries of the super-rich players.
Like Dickens's Oliver Twist, the players want more, more, more.
And some of them give less, less, less.
"It's not a good time to be a coach right now, " opined Mauricio Pellegrino, who took the coaching role at Valencia in the Spanish league last summer. Pellegrino, an Argentine who played for the club, added: "The players have more influence than the coach. Players have a value in the market for the clubs that the coach just does not. "
There might be exceptions to that. Pep Guardiola is halfway through his intended yearlong sabbatical in New York after leaving Barcelona, and the word is that Chelsea wants him to deal with player unrest in London.
Player power? Surely not.
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