David Beckham was nervous and moody. Crunch day – yet another one – had arrived for his hopes of creating an MLS franchise in Miami.
Three years of struggle, red tape, legal arguments and public anger had seen the Manchester United legend’s hopes nearly extinguished. Yet last Tuesday, a glimmer of light peeped through the gloom. As I walked into a packed chamber room at Miami City Hall, the tension was palpable.
TV cameras were in position to see if city officials would allow Beckham to buy the remaining $9 million adjacent plot of land to go with the $19 million purchase last year. The former truck depot has become contaminated.
An unused eyesore. While the residents of Overtown – the run-down area of downtown Miami – have recently held their hands up and admitted there’s no choice but to go through with the plans for a 25,000 capacity stadium, the people of Spring Garden the adjoining neighbourhood – had one last chance to throw a spanner in the works.
The final vote went 9-4 in favour of Beckham United, though the former England captain was made to sweat. One by one, angry residents were invited up to the stage. “You’re not thinking about my kids,” said one. “How is she going to be able to do her homework with all that noise coming from a match or concert.”
Others pleaded for county officials to think of the implications. “We aren’t eating Beckham’s baloney,” said another. “We could eat for a month. Why not invest in the arts?” I’m sure, if there was a globally recognised superstar ready to pump in excess of $200 million into the area to create a wonderful, all-purpose, state-of-the-art gallery complex with adjoining activity centres for kids, that could be an option.
It would certainly be a better move than one suggestion of installing a ‘Home Depot’ or ‘Costco Supermarket’ instead.
Of course, a massive retail store with huge trucks unloading day in and day out would inject far more into a fractured community than an embryonic soccer team which can infiltrate all parts of society – both in the Overtown area as well as spreading deep into the vast Miami and South Florida catchment zones.
The stadium will also be a concert venue, staging around 40 events a year. Beckham United officials stressed the nature of the music would be taken into account. There won’t be two weeks of death metal or pumping house music. “It’s not a great deal, but it’s not bad either,” said Miami Dade county commissioner Audrey Edmonson.
“It will also be to the advantage of the residents of Overtown.” This is a poor part of the city which has been dealt a bad hand by local authorities. Overtown itself used to be a bustling area with local businesses at the fore. Now, you wouldn’t walk through there after dark. Yet, the bottom-line is money talks.
While residents’ worries are understandable, the positives of having MLS on the doorstep can not be discounted. Beckham must spend at least $175 million on the stadium. Jobs will be created – around 50 initially with 26 guaranteed to bring in $27,000 per year – with more to follow.
Life will be pumped into the area. Links with schools are being forged. Yes, affordable housing is needed, but the city has known that for years and not done anything. There will be no parking.
Instead, fans will be ferried in from various parts of the city while being urged to walk up to the stadium in an effort to create a European-style atmosphere. With fans traipsing around the streets, local business will be invigorated.
There will be money making options for those desperately struggling to make ends meet. MLS need to approve the stadium plans and investor group while the city itself also must ratify plans. A ball will not be kicked until 2020 at the earliest but the wheels are finally in motion.
Tim Leiweke, the sports entrepreneur who helped bring the Englishman to LA Galaxy from Real Madrid in 2007, told me: “David has been constantly on the phone and he’s been grouchy. “He wants to get on with it but is happy now we have control of the situation instead of the situation taking control of us.”
South Korea have two Barcelona players in their squad but all the attention when the FIFA U20 World Cup kicks off on Saturday will be on the “Korean Messi”, Lee Seung-Woo.
Midfielder Paik Seung-Ho is highly-rated but Lee, who plays for Barcelona’s Under-19 team known as Juvenil A, is the one who has the national media giving daily updates on his fashion style and choice of hairbands.
The original Lionel Messi won the “Golden Ball” as the tournament’s best player in 2005 along with the “Golden Shoe” as top scorer in 2005 and has been the inspiration for Lee ever since he was spotted by the Spanish club giants in 2010 and recruited the following year.
It is not just the dribbling, the pace and the confidence that Lee, 19, possesses that remind of the Argentine star but his goalscoring exploits at Barcelona. At the age of 13, he was breaking Messi’s club records.
Diego Maradona was in Seoul in March for the official draw for the tournament. “I have heard a lot about Lee,” said Maradona, another Argentine winner of the tournament MVP award in 1979.
Korea have been drawn with the South Americans in Group A along with England and opening day opponent Guinea.
Sixteen of the 24 teams that start the tournament will progress to the second round, the top two teams from each of the six groups and four of the best-performing third-place finishers.
“A football team has 11 players on the pitch, but in decisive moments, key players like Lee and Paik need to step up and make things happen,” said Choi Kang-Hee, coach of 2016 AFC Champions League winner Jeonbuk Motors.
“Lee has the ability to change a game and has the makings of an excellent player.”
The young Taeguk Warriors reached the last four back in 1984 and the last eight twice in the last four tournaments and need Lee to be on top form if there is to be a chance of, at least, matching those past performances.
At the moment, the player is looking good. In Friday’s warm-up with South American champion Uruguay, Lee scored the first goal in a 2-0 win.
“Uruguay are a very strong team and it is good to score against them and good for us to get the win,” said Lee.
1. Lee Seung-woo, 19 ans, Corée du Sud, FC Barcelone B, ailier.— Ⓜ️arin Cusset ⚜ (@MarinCusset) May 16, 2017
Surnommé le "Messi d'Asie". pic.twitter.com/8nyWY9CWtl
“We are focused on the first game of the tournament with Guinea. They have had good results in Africa and we know they are skilful and physically strong. It will be a tough game.”
He does not however have a personal target of goals for the tournament. “If we can stay long in the tournament, then I should have many opportunities to score… if we give our best effort and run more than our opponents, there will be good results. “We want to go all the way and show what we are made of.”
Lee has been one of the biggest stars in Korean football since earning rave reviews for Barcelona.
He also shone in 2014 as South Korea reached the final of Asia’s U16 Championship. He came to attention to the wider world as Barcelona’s recruitment of Lee led FIFA to hit the club with a two-year transfer ban after for breaching regulations for the transfer of minors.
Lee was subsequently unable to play competitively for the club until he turned 18 in January 2016.
That is all in the past. Lee has a chance to show fans around the world, and especially those in South Korea, how accurate his nickname is.
“Since I joined Barcelona Juvenil A, my goal has been to make it to the senior national team and Barcelona FC,” said Lee. “I want to challenge myself further after leading the team to a win at the U20 World Cup.”
Provided by AFP Sport
China’s football authority said Wednesday it is investigating Brazilian star Hulk’s alleged altercation with a rival club’s staffer, but it saw “no malicious intent” in a separate racially-charged row involving Argentina’s Ezequiel Lavezzi.
Both South American players, who are among the growing crop of highly paid foreign stars in China’s cash-rich Super League, have been embroiled in race-related incidents in recent weeks.
The Chinese Football Association said its disciplinary committee held a hearing last Friday with Hulk, who plays for Shanghai SIPG, and the assistant coach of Guizhou Zhicheng.
The hearing came after Guizhou Zhicheng’s then head coach Li Bing accused the muscular Brazilian of punching his assistant, Yu Ming, at half-time during SIPG’s 3-0 victory earlier this month.
Li had suggested Hulk had a racial motive for the alleged attack, saying that the Brazilian star “cannot be here and despise Chinese people,” though he later appeared to back off those comments.
Hulk and the Shanghai club have rejected the accusations. CFA spokeswoman Huang Shiwei said in a statement that the association “has zero tolerance towards any behaviour that is not (in line with) sport ethics in the pitch, no matter who that person is. There is no exception.”
News of the investigation comes a week after a CFA official, Li Peng, said there was “no evidence” that Hulk had violated any regulations.
But Li Bing, who remains Guizhou’s general manager, said on his official Weibo microblog account that he would keep pursuing the charges even though his club said both sides “has reached agreement” in how to handle the incident.
Days after the Hulk incident, the Super League faced another controversy when promotional photos emerged of Lavezzi smiling and pulling the corners of his eyes back.
Lavezzi’s club, Hebei China Fortune, issued a statement on Sunday saying that the 32-year-old had apologised and insisted he meant no racial offence.
“We believe the footballer and the photographer did not have any malicious intent when they were shooting. (We) hope media don’t read too much into this,” the CFA said on Wednesday.
“Due to the differences of national conditions and cultures, different hand gestures or expressions have different meanings.”
According to Football Leaks, Ezequiel Lavezzi is the highest-paid footballer in the world—£798,000 a week 👀 pic.twitter.com/ZLeKoS84wh— B/R Football (@brfootball) May 12, 2017
But the CFA urged Lavezzi “to regulate his words and actions more” as a public figure.
Lavezzi’s slant-eyed pose has caused outrage on Chinese social media.
Hebei China Fortune said some photos in the Lavezzi promotional shoot were meant to be in a “light-hearted” and “wacky” vein.
But the team nonetheless conceded it had not been vigilant enough in the matter and would “draw lessons” from it, vowing to prevent anything similar occurring again.
The episode illustrates the potential culture clashes that can arise as Chinese teams spend big on foreign players.