3/22/08

Beckham about to score a landmark

James McKeigue / forbes.com

LONDON - Before he graced the covers of Vanity Fair and modelled for Armani, David Beckham was playing soccer for England. Soon enough, that particular gig will be reaching a milestone as he makes his 100th appearance for the national team.

The LA Galaxy star has been named in England manager Fabio Cappello’s provisional 30-man team to face France in a friendly match on March 26th. If Beckham survives the cut to be in the final squad, he could become only the fifth man in history to join the "100 cap club."
Playing for a national team like England is vital for a soccer player's marketing appeal, especially in Europe. “If he gets picked for England, that will boost his marketing appeal immensely," said Gethin Evans of G2, a sports management group. "A lot of people thought he was past it when he did not get picked for the Switzerland game--this would prove that he is still a top footballer.”

Beckham, who is married to former Spice Girl Victoria, has a few things in common with the four men who have played for England 100 times. British soccer legend Billy Wright married one of the Beverly Sisters, a 1950's singing trio, well before dating a pop star became almost mandatory for England soccer players. Bobby Moore, who captained the England team when it won the 1966 World Cup, also played in America, in the ill-fated North American Soccer League, while Bobby Charlton, who played for England throughout the 60's and 70's, opened a number of soccer schools academies, as Beckham has recently done.

Yet while these other elite soccer players enjoyed the perks that come with being a national sporting hero, none of them have managed to cash in on their image in the way that Beckham has. The soccer star currently has a $250 million, five-year deal with LA Galaxy--but the contract is not just for his playing services. It's also for his commercial work, and marketing the club.

Beckham has lucrative deals with Armani, NBC, Gillette, Motorola, PepsiCo and Adidas, which last year earned him a total $33 million (See: "The World’s Top Earning Athletes") His move to LA Galaxy also shot him to 15th place, from 43rd, on Forbes’ list of the World's Most Powerful Celebrities.

Not only will Cappello's selection help Beckham reinforce his presence in Europe, it could also provide a fillip for Major League Soccer. Ageing stars have been coming to America to cash in, on what Europeans regard as a soft league, since Pele came out of retirement to play for the New York Cosmos in 1975.

Yet Pele was 35 and regarded as past his prime when he joined the Cosmos. If Beckham can still shine for England, it could pave the way for younger European stars to play in America.

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