As is the case in sport, life is full of dilemmas, without having the merest iota as to which road to take. We take risks and gambles, even when the fate of such decisions lies out of our hands, and their ‘correct-ness’ is in the hands of others.
Take two football stars, decades apart, who made similar decisions with opposite results. While not in the same league as players, I would argue that Pele of 1975 and David Beckham of 2007 were stars of equal regard in the USA. They were famous enough to permeate through American society in a market where football is not a leading sport. Both tried to change that; one was moderately successful, the other not so much.
When he joined the Los Angeles Galaxy four years ago, David Beckham was looking to use his stardom to make the MLS a modern-day NASL. The extinguished league of the 1970s and 1980s made soccer big in the US, particularly in New York, because of one team – the Cosmos – and their main man. With Pele starting up front, the Cosmos sold out large stadiums across the country. Their games were live on network television in a time when even the World Cup Final was. Warner Brothers, who owned the team, assembled a plethora of stars but it was Pele, who mattered and who put bums in seats.
Beckham tried to emulate him, but despite their best efforts the Galaxy were not to be a twenty-first century Cosmos. There are many reasons for this – he didn’t score as many goals, he was playing in a time when US fans could easily see that Major League Soccer was not the best league in the world. However, his move could have worked. He took a gamble (in spite of circumstances which perhaps meant he had to) which failed, while Pele’s gamble succeeded. Pele will always be remembered for his success with Santos and Brazil, but unlike David Beckham, his American foray put a pleasant postscript onto his career. I suspect the same will happen to Robbie Keane.
Both decisions could have been successful. Both could have failed. They’re similar gambles, though in different eras. However, Beckham’s career (while never that of an all-time elite player) is now tarnished because his decision was the wrong one, at least in a sporting sense.
These are the decisions we all face, all the time. Some are big, some small, but all have consequences, many of which are out of our control. I can understand why David Beckham’s motives in going L.A. Money aside, he wished to leave a mark and wanted to be remembered as more than just another very good footballer. Would he have been better off staying in Europe? No one will ever know, but that’s the thing about these decisions. We never know. We never know if they are right or wrong. They are what they are. Dilemmas, confusing, frustrating.
When faced with these options, when you have no way of knowing what is the right thing to do and what will ultimately be wrong, it’s tough. It’s difficult, and there are no right answers, at least not now.
That doubt is the worst bit of all. Trust me.