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FROM THIS EPISODE

This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.

It was only two years ago that European soccer superstar David Beckham arrived here in Los Angeles on an apparent magic carpet. The fanfare, Becks and his glam wife Posh Spice splashy poolside in their new multi-millionaire L.A. digs, couldn't have been more Hollywood. Becks in his sexy underwear commercials. Becks in the fashion mags. Becks courtside at the Lakers. Those of us removed from the world soccer scene couldn't fathom the reach of this guy's fame across the pond. One London art museum featured a video of Becks taking a nap. It's true. Fans would stand and reverently watch the chap's chest gently rise and fall as he slept soundly in a hotel room before a match.

We had grasped onto the mystique of Joe Willie. And Ali. And Johnny Mac. But we know football. And boxing. And tennis. This time we were babes in the woods, naive and willing to embrace this Becks as the savior of American soccer. Pele hadn't done it. Franz Beckenbauer hadn't done it. But David Beckham was going to be the one who deftly kicked U.S. soccer onto the global stage. And he was going to be our own, right here in Los Angeles, shoulder to shoulder icon with Magic and Kobe and Coach Wooden.

Becks was injured his first season but, heck, we were so smitten with his halo of fame that just having him show up for a few minutes and flash that handsome smile seemed worth at least a chunk of that $250 million Galaxy contract he was supposedly going to be paid over the next five years. By the way, that salary amortizes out in playing time to about a million dollars a week.

Fair enough, the man was injured the first season. The second season, fearing he would lose his standing on the English National Team if he didn't play with a European club in the American off-season, Becks requested the Galaxy loan him to AC Milan. They were generous and agreed. Beckham was to play these winter months for Milan and then be back in his Galaxy uniform March 9.

But now the story has shifted. When he came to the U.S. two years ago, his skills were supposedly eroding. At 31, he was no longer the fireball of the Real Madrid team for whom he had shone. The theory was that, even past his prime, he would be a God-send to the American brand. But after scoring for AC Milan a couple of days ago, after mixing it up once again with the best in the world, Beckham now forlornly and perhaps realistically says American soccer will most likely be another ten years away from joining the real party of the Europeans and South Americans.

You can't blame an athlete for wanting to play among the best while his body can still perform at that level. And you can't blame an athlete for signing for life-changing money and taking on the mantle of the superpower who puts a League on the world map. But you can hold him accountable when he knows both can't be done at once.

If he doesn't return in March, or if he bails with his contract out-clause in October, there are those here who will shrug him off, claiming he never made an effort to sell either himself or his sport, rightly pointing out that he was entirely inaccessible to local media.

Me? I'm with the other contingent who fears soccer will take a blow when he bails out. What louder alarm could be sounded that soccer in this country isn't even strong enough to attract a fading European star with a $250 million contract.

By the way, a co-ed soccer game was stopped in Tehran, Iran, this week and coaches and managers were fined heavily. Iranian women are not allowed even to attend sporting events where male teams play, much less run down the field with them. Give Becks a couple of years in Milan and perhaps he and Posh will act out the swan song of his career in Tehran, rather than L.A.

This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that's The Score.

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