David Beckham expressed his hope that Major League Soccer, which kicks off its 25th season on Saturday, can challenge the supremacy of the European leagues within the next decade.
The former England captain was brimming with optimism at the league’s kickoff event on Wednesday in midtown Manhattan, three days before his Inter Miami play their inaugural match at LAFC’s Banc of California Stadium.
“When I first moved to LA in 2007, the excitement of playing in a different team, playing in a league that had only been around for not many years, was a challenge and excitement for me,” Beckham said. “To be welcomed the way we got welcomed was incredible. But the league, without a doubt, has gone on to a whole different level from that moment to now.”
He added: “Do I think in the next 10 years it will challenge the European leagues? It’s what we all hope for. It’s what we will strive to commit to. … This should never be a league where players from Europe come to retire. That’s not where you want to be. It’s not where we want to be as owners, it’s not where we want to be as investors.”
Jorge Mas, one of Beckham’s four co-owners, was also bullish, saying he believes MLS is positioned to challenge the European titans as soon as 2045.
“I think MLS will be one of the top sports leagues in the United States,” Mas said. “I think it will be on par or exceed the best leagues in the world, the Premier League or Serie A or La Liga worldwide. I think that the MLS 25 years from now will be Premier League-ish if we want to call it that on the metrics that leagues are measured by.”
It’s been 13 years since Beckham’s surprise move to the LA Galaxy, which included an option of purchasing an expansion MLS franchise at a discounted rate after he retired.
What’s followed in the seven years since Beckham ended his playing career can only be described as a rocky gestation, including a protracted struggle over stadium construction, outsized demands from private landowners, the discovery of arsenic contamination at the golf course where the 25,000-seat Miami Freedom Park will be built and, most recently, an ongoing trademark infringement battle with Internazionale, which have claimed the term ‘Inter’ is synonymous with the Serie A club, which also goes by Inter Milan.
“I didn’t realize how big a challenge it was going to be,” Beckham said on Wednesday. “Sometimes the hardest things in life are the most difficult to get going, and that’s how I look at this. I know that every moment where I’ve doubted whether it’s going to happen or not, this weekend is our reward for the perseverance, the stubbornness, as my wife calls it, and the tenacity to continue to know that this was the right thing to do.”
The addition of Beckham’s Inter Miami and Nashville expands MLS’s membership to 26 clubs for the 2020 season. Austin and Charlotte are in line to join next year with St Louis and Sacramento to be added for the 2022 campaign.
MLS commissioner Don Garber said the league remains in contact with Detroit, Las Vegas, Phoenix and San Diego. There are no current plans to expand beyond a 30-team league, but Beckham did address the prospect of a multi-league structure including promotion and relegation down the road.
“That’s one thing that I’ve thankfully never experienced, being relegated,” Beckham said. “Luckily, I was always fighting to win leagues and to win championships. But it’s something that I’ve been used to, over the years, being part of leagues where there is a relegation system. It makes it exciting. But when you’re talking about a league that’s only been around for 25 years, there needs to be a real stability in the league before you get to that point.”
He added: “I think the fact that we’re at a stage now where there will be more franchises and more teams coming into this league, more stadiums are being built specifically for the game, that’s a great place to be in. Who knows what happens in the future. But we’re excited about what’s happening right now.”
Beckham’s long-deferred Miami dream, only days from taking flight, has received one final boost with the addition of Mexican national team star Rodolfo Pizarro on a reported $12m transfer from Monterrey, which has only added to the buzz on the final run-up.
“We’re very excited to have a talented young player in the prime of his career playing in our team,” Beckham said. “But we still want to continue to grow this club and grow this team. That’s one thing that I learned from Sir Alex Ferguson: it’s not sometimes all about bringing the biggest names, the biggest players to a club. They have to be the right players. They have to be the right players that fit into our culture, that fit into our team and integrate within the team that we’ve created already.
“We feel that we are creating attention for this club globally and that’s what we’re excited about. To be statistically one of the most talked about clubs in football at the moment, without even kicking a football, that’s something that we’re very proud of.”