A seminal figure in North America when he arrived as Major League Soccer’s first Designated Player in 2007, David Beckham helped the league reach a new level of profile and prestige in his five-and-a-half years with the LA Galaxy.
Now, the former England captain is looking ahead to life as a club owner. His new franchise, confirmed as MLS’ 22nd team in January, announced its Inter Miami name, colors, and logo in September, and is slated to begin play in 2020.
It will be a steep learning curve, so here are five lessons Beckham can take from other MLS clubs.
Hire a progressive coach (Atlanta/San Jose)
Where there was once Owen Coyle and John Carver, there is now Tata Martino and Matias Almeyda. Atlanta United’s appointment of former Barcelona boss Martino as their inaugural head coach was a remarkable coup and has paid off in kind for the Georgian franchise, which has become renowned as the league’s biggest proponents of fast-paced, high-pressure, attacking football. Atlanta’s all-time win percentage of 52.11 is a just reward.
The San Jose Earthquakes, an unfashionable franchise which has missed out on the postseason in eight of the last 11 years, made North America sit up and take notice this month by hiring Martino’s compatriot Almeyda. The 44-year-old has established a reputation for restoring underperforming teams and crowned a three-year stint at Chivas de Guadalajara by winning the CONCACAF Champions League in April. He’s yet to oversee a game in Cali, but has sparked excitement from fans and observers alike.
Utilize Latin American scouting (Atlanta)
A primary reason for Atlanta’s success has been the way in which it has exploited a South American-focused scouting network to build a team around talented, often young, players from the continent. Though the Five Stripes aren’t the only team to have readjusted their focus in this manner, they have led the way with the likes of Josef Martinez, Miguel Almiron, Ezequiel Barco, and Hector Villalba. It’s fair to say Beckham’s side, based in a city with a proportionally massive Hispanic population, will be perfectly placed to follow Atlanta’s lead.
“I imagine that this interest in South American talent has a lot to do with what we did last season,” Martinez said in February. “But it’s also about other teams and other Latin players and what they did, so it’s clear that a good strategy is to mix experienced and young Latinos – something teams are now looking for.” It’s a far cry from the era of attempting to build teams around over-the-hill European stars looking for a final payday, and it’s been a breath of fresh air.
Sign DPs with plenty left in the tank (Toronto)
On that note, there’s a model to follow north of the border. Twelve months after signing 26-year-old United States international Michael Bradley from Roma, Toronto FC added his 25-year-old international teammate Jozy Altidore and then, in the piece de resistance, enticed 27-year-old Juventus forward Sebastian Giovinco. That trio has remained the club’s DP triumvirate since the latter pair’s arrival in 2015 and was perhaps the biggest factor in the Reds’ transformation from perennial basement dwellers to 2017 MLS Cup winners.
Giovinco’s signing, in particular, was arguably as big a watershed moment for MLS as Beckham’s was eight years earlier as it shifted the focus to attracting high-caliber global stars in the prime of their careers. The likes of LAFC’s three-pronged attack of Carlos Vela, Andre Horta, and Diego Rossi; Sporting Kansas City’s Yohan Croizet; and New York City FC’s Jesus Medina are other shining examples to Beckham of the rewards of the revamped approach to DP signings. Maybe it’s worth a phone call to recent World Cup winner Antoine Griezmann?
Build a strong youth academy (New York Red Bulls)
As much as scouting networks and shrewd DP acquisitions are important, so too is building a youth academy from within. The New York Red Bulls are perhaps the leading light in this regard. The New Jersey-based franchise’s use of academy graduates has increased exponentially year on year from 2015 and it offers more senior game time to products of its own youth affiliate than any MLS rival. U.S. international Tyler Adams is the current poster boy.
Related: Red Bulls hoping homegrown talent can reverse playoff failures
Naturally, achieving this level of success from within takes time. A core member of Manchester United’s famed Class of ’92, Beckham knows all about coming through a club’s youth system to star for the first team. He must ensure this focus is not lost amid the wheelings and dealings of attempting to create an immediately competitive MLS squad.
Breed a close-knit fan culture (Seattle, Columbus)
Much of the lore of being an MLS fan stems from a supporters’ culture increasingly based on the European-style “ultra.” While chants and street marches are all well and good, what really drives a team forward is a tight connection between the club, its players, and the fans who pay to turn up every week. The Seattle Sounders’ owners notably took advantage of a city desperately thirsty for a renewed local soccer interest when they established the franchise in 2008, while the most high-profile recent example has been the Columbus Crew, whose supporters’ dedicated and united front appears to have derailed the efforts of MLS and franchise owner Anthony Precourt to rip up the club’s history and relocate to Austin, Texas.
Related: Why Columbus deserves an MLS franchise
Inter Miami have a decent foundation on which to build in this regard, with the pre-existing supporters’ group Southern Legion stemming from the dissolution of the short-lived Miami Fusion in 2001. The Floridian city’s population has long been desperate for the return of a soccer club, and Beckham and Co. must work tirelessly from Day 1 to ensure every fan feels a personal connection to the team, both at the on-field and corporate levels.