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David Beckham launches MLS team in Miami

David Beckham was celebrating last night after his MLS franchise plans were finally given the green light. But the doubters were left with more questions than answers.

The former England captain talked emotionally at a glitzy press conference about becoming the owner of a team he hopes to help become ‘one of the best in the world’.

A video flashed good luck messages from the likes of Usain Bolt and Neymar, but the confirmation that a team in Miami will become the 25th franchise and begin playing in 2020 failed to highlight a number of issues which have dogged the plans ever since it was announced in February 2014. 

David Beckham has officially launched his MLS franchise after years of waiting to take charge of a club in the United States

In front of a packed news conference which included 300 fans, Beckham's Miami franchise was officially given the green light

In front of a packed news conference which included 300 fans, Beckham’s Miami franchise was officially given the green light

Beckham enjoys his moment on stage during the announcement as he is joined by Marcelo Claure (left) Don Graber (second right) and Jose Mas (right)

Beckham enjoys his moment on stage during the announcement as he is joined by Marcelo Claure (left) Don Graber (second right) and Jose Mas (right)

No team name was announced and it wasn’t mentioned that the controversial stadium site in Overtown (a deprived part of downtown Miami) has left residents furious at the planned building of a 25,000 multi-purpose arena.

The problems had left the 42-year-old fearing the worst, particularly as legal action has been launched over the sale of the site.

‘It’s been painful at times,’ Beckham admitted.

However, he could hardly conceal his joy at finally sealing the deal and stressed his desire of creating an academy system that Miami would be proud of.   

An emotional Beckham said: ‘I promised my son Brooklyn that I wouldn’t get emotional but it is going to be tough.

‘This is something that has been a dream for many years. I want to thank Mayor (Carlos) Gimenez and we talked about this, thanks for believing in us and for your support.

‘I joined the Galaxy in 2007 because I saw the potential in the league. I went from Real Madrid, a pretty big club, to a league that wasn’t fully established.

‘It was a big move but commissioner Don Garber explained where he wanted to take the league and I was in from day one.

‘I promise the team we will bring in will be one of the, if not the, best. There was only one city for me. Diversity, the culture, the weather, the beaches, the people. ‘ 

Fans and media gathered at the Adrienne Arsht Center for Performing Arts in Miami ahead of the announcement

Fans and media gathered at the Adrienne Arsht Center for Performing Arts in Miami ahead of the announcement

 Beckham wants to recreate the famous Class of ’92 at Old Trafford, but he ruled out appointing best friend Gary Neville.

He said: ‘My dream is to create an academy where we have a hotbed of talent and bring kids through just like we did at United.

‘That’s where my experience comes in. I understand the academies where you save money and where you bring these talented kids through.

‘Is Gary Neville in my mindset? No. He talks too much.’

When Beckham, 42, first announced his intentions on February 5th 2014 to bring MLS soccer back to South Florida following the Miami Fusion’s demise 17 years ago, not even the most pessimistic of observers thought so much time would pass before his plans came to fruition.

A number of failed attempts to find a suitable site for a soccer specific 25,000-capacity stadium held back plans while local politicians, wary of the backlash from Miami residents following the controversy of building the unpopular Marlins Park baseball arena — which will ultimately cost the taxpayer in excess of $2 billion — dragged their feet.

But with Miami Beckham United (MBU) identifying a plot in Overtown, a neglected area of downtown Miami, and creating a locally based investment team thanks to the inclusion of Jorge and Jose Mas, the South Florida construction magnates, Garber was satisfied that every criteria was fulfilled.

Beckham added: ‘It was very difficult at times, we sat back at times and thought this dream would never happen.

‘But I don’t give up. Nothing in my career or life have been easy. I was told I would never play for England because I was too small and too skinny. I ended up having a good career but what I try to teach my children is the things get difficult at times, never give in, never give up. 

Supporters gathered ahead of the official announcement on Monday afternoon, many wearing sky blue scarves

Supporters gathered ahead of the official announcement on Monday afternoon, many wearing sky blue scarves

There was a sense of great excitement before the press conference when Beckham finally unveiled his plans 

There was a sense of great excitement before the press conference when Beckham finally unveiled his plans 

‘I had people say “let it go”. The fans just kept me going. They are the reason this is happening today. This isn’t just dream for us , but for the fans too and that’s the most important thing.

‘Our fans support has been relentless and that’s what our club will be built on. Something to be proud of.

‘I have had calls from so many players, top players saying, I am in. Yes we want to bring in top players from all over the world but we are most interested in home grown players. We want to build an academy, to bring players through, young kids from the area. To watch them develop as players. That’s when we will sit back and say “job done”. That we are proud of this time. We have to invest into the hotbed of talent in this city.

‘We didn’t have the right local partners, passion for the sport, city and people. After just 30 seconds of meeting the Mas brothers I knew this would happen. 

‘People say this is a city built on dreams. Today you made my dreams come true.’

Building in Overtown has caused huge disquiet in the area with residents furious about the local government’s decision to erect a multi-purpose arena instead of investing in new housing and amenities.

Bruce Matheson, a wealthy activist who owns land near the Overtown site, has already seen a lawsuit levelled against Dade County following their $9m sale of one part of the former truck depot rejected by the courts.

Matheson firmly believes the lack of a bidding process makes the deal void while accusing politicians of failing to stand up for the taxpaying public. 

Former Manchester United star Beckham promised in 2014 that he would build a club that would be 'loved by millions'

Former Manchester United star Beckham promised in 2014 that he would build a club that would be ‘loved by millions’

He plans to appeal and although a result isn’t expected until June, protests against the decision will continue.

Garber added:’These are the days which warm our hearts and make us so proud. Great things come to those who wait and to the fans who have been sending me emails for 10 years and everyone involved, I thank you for your patience.

‘This is a historic day for Miami and soccer. It’s exploding in North America and MLS is driving the sport at all levels. Special things happen to those who persevere. That’s what happened when I first met David . He said I want to own a team and help grow the game in the US. He said Miami was the place where he wanted to do it.’

The delays have infuriated fans and Beckham’s team. Just 10 weeks before the initial 2014 announcement, Orlando City were also granted a franchise and in the time elapsed since, a new 25,000 stadium, described by Garber as a ‘blueprint for the future’, has been built.

Orlando have just completed their third season in MLS and have a burgeoning fan base.

This was the first time Beckham has appeared before the media in Miami since 2014 when all the talk was of a sparkling, hi-tech arena in the port area of the city.

Those plans were quickly rejected by the cruise industry while new moves to build next to Marlins Park also failed to materialise ensuring the three times MBU went public with their proposals, nothing came to pass. 

Beckham has been working towards an opportunity to be part of an MLS franchise ever since retiring as a footballer

Beckham has been working towards an opportunity to be part of an MLS franchise ever since retiring as a footballer

 A new team in Los Angeles — LAFC — will make their MLS bow next season while last month, Nashville became the 24th franchise. Cincinnati, Sacramento and Detroit are all in the hunt to join Miami and become the 26th of an ever-expanding League.

As MLS has doubled in size during the last decade and added three clubs in Canada, the popularity of soccer has reached an all-time high in North America.

A recent Gallup poll stated that soccer ranks second in popularity as a spectator sport among people 18-34 (tied with basketball) in the US, behind only American Football.

The NFL monster will never be overtaken but don’t underestimate Beckham’s influence in helping the game grow here even faster than before.

Beckham, 42, is a big name in the States after playing for Los Angleles Galaxy in MLS between 2007 and 2012

Beckham, 42, is a big name in the States after playing for Los Angleles Galaxy in MLS between 2007 and 2012

DAVID BECKHAM’S MLS PURSUIT 

2007

Beckham joins MLS side Los Angeles Galaxy from Real Madrid in July. One of the clauses in his $250million deal is the option to purchase an MLS expansion franchise in any market except for New York City at the fixed price of $25m whenever he stopped playing in the league. The league’s owners had never given this allowance to a player before.

November 2012

Giving his annual state of the league press conference, MLS commissioner Don Garber confirmed that the MLS were interested in placing an expansion franchise in Miami. He said: ‘We continue to believe Florida needs an MLS team. At some point, I think, it would make sense for a team in Miami.

‘I don’t know when that is; it’s certainly not now. That market continues to change, continues to evolve demographically… and continues to be an intriguing market for us.’

Miami had been without an MLS team since the short-lived Miami Fusion, which existed from 1997 until 2001.

December 2012

Beckham plays his final match for the LA Galaxy, helping them retain the MLS Cup with a 3-1 win over the Houston Dynamo at their own Home Depot Centre. Beckham had announced in advance this would be his final match and received a standing ovation from the home fans. Beckham played 118 times for the Galaxy, scored 20 goals and helped them to back-to-back league titles in 2011 and 2012.

January 2013

Beckham joins Paris Saint-Germain, signing a five-month deal until the conclusion of the Ligue 1 season. He helps them win the league title – the fourth different country where he has achieved this feat.

May 2013

Beckham announces that he would retire from football at the end of the season. His final match is a 3-1 home win over Brest, where he captains the team and receives a standing ovation from fans when subbed off after 80 minutes.

Soon after hanging up his boots, Beckham held preliminary discussions with the league about their expansion targets, including Miami.

December 2013

In his state of the league address, Garber identified Beckham and his manager Simon Fuller as potential owners of a Miami franchise.

Later that month, Miami-Dade County commissioners voted unanimously to allow the mayor Carlos A Gimenez to negotiate with the Beckham group over a new stadium in downtown Miami.

February 2014

Beckham exercised his option for a franchise and the team would be based in Miami assuming that financing for a stadium and its location in the city could be agreed upon.

Beckham attends a news conference at Biscayne Bay to announce that he wants to front an MLS franchise. 300 people and about the same number of press watch on.

Supporters from the Southern Legion fan group, founded when the Fusion were around, sing Beckham’s name and present him with a scarf.

‘Miami is a vibrant city with a lot of passion,’ Beckham said. ‘I know this city is ready for football — soccer — this time around. I know this is going to be successful.’

The original idea was to situate the stadium on Dodge Island at PortMiami, but opposition from local businesses shut this down.

March 2014

The Beckham group admitted that the club would not come into existence until 2018 at the earliest, as opposed to initial hopes to start in 2016 or 2017.

They also said the team might have to play its first season in a temporary stadium, possibly Marlins Park, home of the Miami Marlins MLB team, or the Florida International University (FIU) Stadium.

May 2014

The investment group, known as Miami Beckham United, presented new plans for a largely privately financed 20,000-seater stadium on the waterfront in Downtown Miami at Museum Park.

However, this plan was blocked by the objections of local residents.

2015

A plan to build the stadium next to Marlins Park fell through, before the owners announced they had acquired land in the Overtown neighbourhood of Downtown Miami. MLS officials approved this nine acre site in December 2015.

May 2015

Miami FC are founded. They are co-owned by Italian legend Paolo Maldini and coached initially by Alessandro Nesta. They take up residence at the FIU Stadium and enter the North American Soccer League (NASL).

In 2017, they won both the spring and fall NASL leagues but lost in the semi-finals of the play-offs. It remains to be seen how the club will be affected by the proposed Beckham franchise.

March 2016

Miami Beckham United began the process of acquiring the six acres out of the nine in Overtown that was privately-owned. This further delayed matters as deals had to be brokered and raised fears the team may not start until 2019.

June 2017

The sale of the last bit of land needed for the proposed stadium was approved.

Words by Adam Shergold 



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