Friday, November 28, 2008

A Tale of Two Footballers

As everyone knows, the story goes like this: David Beckham came to America with much fanfare in 2007. He was sent to save “soccer.” He was promptly injured and missed most of the season. In 2008, he stayed mostly healthy but posted mediocre results for a man whose annual income (more than $6 million) exceeds the payrolls of most entire MLS franchises.

Meanwhile, another 30-something foreign soccer legend came to the U.S. at around the same time, making about one twelfth the salary, with no celebrity endorsements, no Posh Spice wife, no entourage and no breathless commentators analyzing his every move.

The Columbus Crew’s Guillermo Barros Schelotto is everything David Beckham is not.

Both men were born in the early ‘70s, enjoyed storied careers in their native countries and are making a last stand in the United States in the twilight of their careers. Both are midfielders, team leaders and play makers known for their ability on set pieces.

But the similarities end there. In short, Schelotto is an honorable man destined for greatness, grounded in the essence of the beautiful game, humble, with an exemplary work ethic and now the double MVP for 2008’s indisputable best team in the U.S., the Supporter’s Shield and MLS Cup winning Columbus Crew.

Beckham is a washed up has been, a poser who pretends to care about the game when all he really cares about is (to paraphrase Johnny Rotten) his self, his beautiful self.

Schelotto is a worker. Beckham is a member of the ruling class.

Beckham lives in swanky L.A. with his celebrity wife and three children being raised by paid help. Schelotto lives in New Albany, Ohio, by himself, as his wife looks after their three sons in their native Argentina while he completes this temporary adventure in America. Schelotto is a family man who makes frequent trips home to be with the boys and is known on the Crew as a teetotaler with no interest in “partying.”

Beckham globetrots preens, poses, changes hairstyles and has his own blog. People magazine writes articles about Beckham spending the Thanksgiving holiday with Tom Cruise and his family.

When Beckham comes to MLS stadiums, the home teams sell special three-game package deals to hordes of mindless bourgeoisie from the suburbs who normally couldn’t care less about “soccer” but show up wearing LA Galaxy gear, packing the stands like Catholics who show up to church only for Easter.

Schelotto doesn’t have a blog. He has not a single friend who has jumped on Oprah’s couch. He can walk unrecognized down the streets of Columbus. He shows up to all the tedious promotional events he is asked to. He is the real deal.

Schelotto's results on the field are impressive. Beckham's are average. Schelotto had 7 goals and a league-leading 19 assists and was voted by sports-writers and coaches as the best player in the league. Beckham had 5 goals and 10 assists and led his Galaxy to a tie for last place in the league with expansion San Jose.

Schelotto made some of the most artistic plays of 2008, including the final goal of the 2008 MLS season, a wizardly flea-flicker chip to the head of Frankie Hejduk to seal the deal on the MLS Cup final.

But the past week tells the real story. As the Crew prepared to face the New York Red Bulls in Beckham’s home stadium, a true American soccer fan might assume that the British saviour of Football would be doing wall-to-wall commentary in and around the stadium, using the occasion of America’s closest thing to a soccer Super Bowl to promote the game in the hopes that one day the MLS Cup might at least approximate the Super Bowl. Well, not exactly. Beckham did not attend the premier U.S. soccer event taking place in his own back yard. No, he flew to Las Vegas for a boxing match, then was spotted that night back in LA, not at the MLS Cup but at the LA Lakers game.

Here’s the moral of the story: A great man came from a foreign land in 2007 to save American soccer. That man was not David Beckham.

He lives a humble existence among the toiling masses. He is authentic. He led his team to the pinnacle of success, has fallen in love with soccer in America, and has announced his intention to stay next season.

His name is Guillermo Barros Schelotto. And he makes David Beckham look like the wanker that he is.

1 comment:

Hill City Josh said...

Great blog post. I couldn't have described GBS in a more accurate manner myself.