More stars needed to lift U.S. soccer, says Wenger
LONDON -- David Beckham alone won't transform soccer in the United States. It will take an influx of other European stars to make a real impact.
That's the view of Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, one of the most successful coaches in the English Premier League.
Beckham agreed to the biggest deal in soccer history Thursday and will join the Los Angeles Galaxy of Major League Soccer after his current contract with Spanish club Real Madrid ends in June.
"Football will only take off [in America] if Beckham's not the only one," Wenger said Friday. "You need a few. Is that the opening road for more to come? If you want a real influx of big stars that's what will be needed if you want to create a big lift for American football. One player will not be enough."
The next could be Dutch star Edgar Davids, who has lost his place in the starting Tottenham lineup in England and is holding talks with FC Dallas.
Beckham's estimated $250 million five-year deal could prompt other 30-something European-based stars to consider moving to the MLS now that the salary cap rule has been relaxed.
According to Wenger, that's the only way the MLS can stand a chance of matching the big European soccer leagues and attract young Americans away from baseball, basketball and football.
The Arsenal manager, who has made his reputation nurturing young talent rather than making big money signings, said that Beckham had dropped down a level in soccer terms.
"On the other hand it can give a big boost to American football because they now have a basis," he said. "They had no elite and to have great players like David Beckham in the professional league can give a big boost."
Big-name players such as Ronaldo, Pavel Nedved and Alessandro del Piero might be tempted to go to the U.S. Although Zinedine Zidane has retired, a big-money deal in the United States could persuade him to make a comeback, especially after his finale at the World Cup ended with a headbutt and a red card.
Beckham's move to the Galaxy bucks a trend of top American players coming to Europe. The latest is Clint Dempsey, whose transfer from the New England Revolution makes him the 13th American in the top flight of English soccer.
"It looked until now like the players were coming from the States to Europe to play," Wenger said. "The major thing was that the top level football is played in Europe. The secondary thing was they could not pay the wages we can pay here in Europe. And suddenly, in this individual case, it looks like it's going the other way.
"It needs to be followed by other examples, incite other people in the United States to do the same with other teams. They have salary caps until now, but the salary cap exploded in this case."
Dallas coach Steve Morrow said his club has been in talks with Davids for two weeks.
"We were excited to hear about his availability, so we spoke to his agents and have been told he is available," said Morrow, a former Arsenal midfielder who played 39 times for Northern Ireland.
Davids, who wears protective glasses on the field because he has glaucoma, has won domestic and European club titles with Ajax Amsterdam, Juventus and Barcelona. He is nicknamed the "Pit Bull" because of his aggressive style.
If Davids moves to Dallas, he is unlikely to receive anything close to the huge deal negotiated by Beckham, who makes much of his money from commercial sponsorships and image rights.
Married to "Posh Spice" Victoria of the former Spice Girls, Beckham has become a brand name as well as a soccer star. With many lucrative endorsements, he has become one of the most marketable sportsmen in history.