David Beckham, he of the platinum foot -- and, on occasion, platinum hair -- will be introduced as the newest member of Major League Soccer's Los Angeles Galaxy this afternoon, capping what for the league has been a 12-year slow burn toward national prominence.
Beckham's rip-roaring rise to the forefront of soccer and celebrity happens once in a generation. Called up to Manchester United as a teen, "Becks" was the best known athlete in the world by the time he turned 27.
He comes to America now in a dual role -- the kind he's known, but on an even larger scale, for the past decade -- one part athlete with a responsibility to a team, another part marketing colossus. The cursed conventional wisdom, which promised fans that soccer would become a major American spectator sport by the early 1980s, slots Beckham into the sports-celebrity cult as the guy with a big something to offer everyone.
The expectations are massive. And in the short term, there's good reason to believe they will, in fact, be fulfilled.
"There's no question he'll put some well-toned butts in the seats, and he's built for ESPN highlights, " said David Hirshey, soccer journalist for Deadspin.com and executive editor of HarperCollins. "It's like an NFL quarterback who sits back and throws an 80-yard touchdown pass. They're going to show that even if he throws a couple interceptions."
In his role with HarperCollins, Hirshey published Beckham's autobiography. He swears to the star's charm.
"Becks is a well-mannered lad who loves the game and whose enthusiasm is infectious. He's genuine even if his hair color isn't," Hirshey said. "The question now is whether the American audience will appreciate his more casual elegance on the field."
What goes without question is that Beckham will appear in a ton of commercials and on a ton of billboards. He'll be photographed everywhere he goes -- certainly everywhere he goes with Posh. He will not, however, go to Les Deux and vomit on himself. David Beckham is not a train wreck. Please don't be disappointed.
As for concerns that age has depleted his near legendary physical stamina, evidence to the contrary might be found on the cover of this week's W Magazine. The racy photo shoot features Becks and Posh, in various states of undress, and is proof in itself that Beckham has not let himself go as he enters his fourth decade.
The England midfielder, as few nonsoccer fans have cared enough to learn, is still a fantastic athlete. Never a sprinting champion, he runs around, in the words of Mark Irwin of Britain's Sun newspaper, "like a wild man" during a game. His speed on the ball (translation: when he is moving into space, or running to meet a pass) will be on par with the best in the MLS. His habit of kicking a soccer ball into precisely the place he wants will make him a "SportsCenter" star. Beckham, as they also say in his home country, is class.
That class, both on and off the field, and a self-deprecating streak -- a mark of charisma in its own right -- will be a hallmark of Beckham's stay.
Elevating American pro soccer into the economic and social class of the National Football League or Major League Baseball likely will not.
Still, the idea of breaking into what remains of the old school "mainstream" is not applicable or even necessarily desirable in the current market. As any marketing consultant worth their BlackBerry will tell you, the game these days is to find the niche crowd and drill it like an oil field.