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Recruit It Like Beckham?

Posted by Colin Kingsbury

Jan 7, 2007 11:13:00 AM

Perhaps it was the fact that more important things are going on at the time but I am surprised to see a near-complete lack of recruitosphere commentary on soccer super-celeb David Backham's 5-year, $137,000 per day contract to play for the Los Angeles Galaxy.

As a case study in recruiting and talent management it is an interesting move for both Beckham and the Galaxy. I'm just guessing here, but I'd bet a round at the local pub that Backham's annual $50m could pay the annual salary of an awfully large part of the entire US soccer league as we know it. It has to be a bet-the-pot move for the team, and to some extent professional soccer in the US at large.

It is an equally dramatic move for "Becks and Posh," who are moving to a country where what everyone else calls football arguably ranks withprofessional bass fishing and Texas Hold 'Em in popularity. Granted, they're moving to the global capitol of the cult of celebrity devotion and not someplace like Boston, where some Japanese guy no one ever heard of until a few months ago could well outshine them, especially if he delivers. Beckham now needs to show whether he can re-create the personal brand that made him a household name in countries that use the metric system.

Therein lies one of the most interesting details in the whole story from an HRM perspective. After an enormously successful run with Manchester United, Beckham moved in 2003 to Real Madrid with much fanfare and thence proceeded to stink up the joint. He's been starting most games on the bench, which is the sporting equivalent of having an employee who is invited to meetings on the condition he doesn't speak unless spoken to. When you spend tens of millions you expect a bit more.

If companies are just beginning to think beyond the culture of superstar employees, it's a long-known fact in pro sports that past performance does not guarantee future results. Superstars build up great individual stats as their teams flounder, while clubs full of middling players sometimes find magical harmony and wallop better-pedigreed competitors.

But for the Galaxy, recruiting Beckham is arguably less about winning on the field than it is about attracting interest. I live in a largely Latin American neighborhood and I trust a Brazilian to know when he says that many of the American teams are quite decent. The problem is that no one aside from those Brazilians is watching. So while Beckham's ability as a player is hardly tangential, his greatest asset is the tabloid-friendly lifestyle that made him the only soccer star who stands a chance of being recognized on the street in most of the US, and that's largely due to his wife, whomanaged to cross the Atlantic successfully a decade ago.

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