STEVE BRENNER IN MIAMI
There was no name. No badge. Not even a mention of a stadium. Yet just the mere presence of David Beckham was enough to get the MLS party started in Miami.
“It is with tremendous pride that we welcome Miami to Major League Soccer,” Commissioner Don Garber said.
And with that, the 300 members of the Southern Legion, a very excitable fan group who’ve been dreaming about this moment ever since Beckham first went public with his intentions on February 5th 2014, boomed out their delight, serenading the former England captain and members of his ownership group. In 2020, they will finally see this team take to the field.
Beckham took to the stand and spoke emotionally. He’s waited four years for this and wasn’t about let the moment pass.
This glitzy affair which included video messages from the likes of Usain Bolt, Jennifer Lopez, Hollywood superstar Will Smithand Neymar”>Neymar, had all the kind of razzmatazz a global icon like Beckham is sure to bring to the table. A lot of questions, however, remain.
Questions about the state of the project, when it will begin and when it will end were swatted away by Garber afterwards. There have been legal challenges to the way the land was sold too with litigation on-going.
“I am confident we will have a stadium on that site,” Garber said. A name, crest and staff appointments will all happen in due course, the MLS stressed with the fans set to enjoy input into the decision making.
“This is a positive story,” he said. “I want to make people happy.”
One way the former Real Madrid midfielder aims to do that is by creating a state-of-the-art academy which will see local youngsters thrive and realise their sporting ambitions like never before.
Beckham, of course, knows all about watching players explode through the ranks. The famous ‘Class of ‘92’ at Manchester United, a group of which he was part of, are a testament to what can be achieved with kids – no matter what Alan Hansen thought at the time.
Of course, MLS and Miami needs star names. Garber made the point that 13 franchises and 14 new stadia have been created since 2007, the year Beckham arrived at the LA Galaxy from Real Madrid.
Big names sell tickets and get the marketing men exited. Cristiano Ronaldo’s name was put to him but Beckham wasn’t giving anything away other than confirming best friend Gary Neville would not be his manager.
“He talks too much,” smiled Beckham.
What he did say however will strike hope into the hearts of all young players in Miami and beyond.
“I have already had so many calls from top players and of course you need to bring some superstars in,” Beckham admitted. “There are so many names I would love to bring in. We want to reach for the stars. Miami needs a star and that’s what we plan on doing.
“Cristiano Ronaldo? You’d have to ask him but my dream is to create a state-of-the art academy where we have a hotbed of talent and bring kids through just like we did at United. That will make us so proud. We were a unique group of kids who saved United so much money over the years.
“We all came in during 1992 and were very successful. We were only successful because of the players we came in with – Roy Keane, Eric Cantona etc. as well as a manager like Alex Ferguson.
“That’s where my experience comes in. I understand the academies where you save money – I am talking like an owner now! – and where you bring these talented kid through. If you can do that it would be incredible.
“The ownership group have made it clear, my role is to look for the right manager. It’s doesn’t have to be a big name, I am not saying it’s not going to be but I want to focus on the philosophy of the club and the team. That’s what I want to build towards.”
Naturally, Beckham will forever be associated with Old Trafford and though his eyes were firmly on his Miami prize, it was impossible for him to escape events closer to home.
Alexis Sanchez’s move from Arsenal certainly caught him on the hop.
“A player of his stature and calibre has obviously come from a big club like Arsenal and then to move to a massive club like Manchester United, that for me makes me proud to be a Manchester United player because we want great players and exciting players,” he said.
“It’s great to see him run a United shirt and I’m sure he’s going to be successful. I still find it hard to believe it’s actually happened. It’s amazing.”
You could say the same thing about soccer in Miami.