David Beckham stood quietly in the darkness beside the stage, waiting to be introduced at the MLS 25th Season Celebration Media Day.

A man sitting near me caught my eye.

"I thought he would be bigger," he said, nodding in Beckham's direction.


First, the definition: "Rated or valued too highly; having a higher opinion of something than is deserved."

Now the word: Overrated.

As a soccer player, some felt David Beckham was overrated. He was fast, they said, but he wasn't that fast. He dribbled well, they said, but he rarely took on defenders. His right foot was magical, they said, but his left foot was average. 

Or the easiest criticism of all: They said he was more celebrity than soccer player.

The last point might seem hard to argue. Beckham was on the leading edge of influencer culture and personal branding, recognizing the value -- and, in time, setting a standard for how to maximize its value -- long before building a personal brand became not only accepted, but expected. 

Those at the forefront of cultural shifts tend to be criticized, but Beckham ignored that criticism (publicly, if not privately) and focused on the long game.

Today he's one of a handful of retired professional athletes who remains globally relevant without the benefit and exposure of a subsequent media career. 

Beckham's talent as a soccer player is easier to argue. He ignored (publicly, if not privately) the criticism and focused on the long game, becoming one of the few players to win championships in four major professional leagues. A runner-up for both the Ballon d'Or and FIFA World Player of the Year awards. Captain of the England national team and ranking third on the list of most appearances for his country. 

And while widely regarded as a free kick specialist, the attention he received off the field obscured his selflessness on the field. He made his teammates better: Putting the ball where they wanted it. Putting them in positions to succeed. Like all great team players, he saw their success as his success -- and he worked tirelessly to develop the skills to make that possible.

Add up his on- and off-field talents, and along the way something odd happened. 

Assuming David Beckham was overrated, whether as a player or a businessperson, caused many people to underrate him.


This Sunday, an event will take place many thought would never occur: Internacional de Fútbol Miami (Inter Miami CF), one of two new MLS expansion franchises, will play its season-opening match against Los Angeles FC.

Inter's on-field debut is years in the making. As part of his 2007 contract to come to the MLS, Beckham negotiated an option to buy a franchise for $25 million when his playing career ended.

At the time, $25 million for an MLS franchise was more or less market-rate; while Toronto paid $10 million that same year, Philadelphia paid $30 million in 2010.

But Beckham was playing the long game. "When I came to MLS," Beckham says, "people criticized me for moving to the league, but something about MLS intrigued me. I wanted to be successful as a player first; on the field was the priority. But my commitment was also to growing the sport. I saw huge changes ahead, and knew it would grow."

He was right. Attendance is up. Ratings are up. Sponsorships and partnerships are up. So is the value of a franchise: Nashville, the other team debuting this year, paid $150 million in franchise fees.

So in 2013, months after retiring, he announced his plan to establish a franchise in Miami. "I assumed that in two years we would be up and running and playing in our own stadium," he says.

That didn't happen. Finding a site for a new stadium turned out to be a huge undertaking. Five sites were proposed and then either rejected by local officials or eventually abandoned by Beckham's ownership group.

"I always knew it would be a challenge," Beckham says, "but I didn't realize how big of a challenge. At times I thought it might not happen, but I wasn't going to give up. There wasn't a moment when I thought to walk away. I'm committed to Miami, and I'm committed to this league."

In the process he realized that while his name could open doors, that didn't meant it would automatically close deals. "I'm obviously not from Miami," he says, laughing, "and me going in to buy land, talking to politicians--it wasn't getting us anywhere."

So he was thrilled when longtime Miami businessmen Jorge and Jose Mas inquired about becoming a part of the ownership group. "That was the dream partnership for us," Beckham says. "That was the game changer. The respect their family has in Miami is incredible."

The latest plan is two-fold. Inter Miami built Lockhart Stadium, a new 18,000-seat facility in Fort Lauderdale, in just 10 months. The team will play home games there for the next two or possibly three years until the proposed Miami Freedom Park, a stadium, shopping, hotel, and restaurant complex is built. Lockhart Stadium will then become a multi-use facility and training ground for Inter Miami.

So it's "temporary," but not.

Building two stadiums is an unconventional move, yet it's all part of a longer game, one Beckham has proved he can play. 

That long game is already working. Inter Miami is one of the most talked-about clubs in world football even before playing a game. Partly that's because of the rise in popularity of MLS, but it's also because of Beckham's global brand.

"Sometimes the best things in life were the most difficult," Beckham says. "For every moment I doubted, this weekend is our reward for the perseverance, the stubbornness, and the tenacity to continue to know it was the right thing to do.

"I'm not in it for the short term. I want my kids to someday be able to say, 'My dad helped build this club.'"

But the real success will be when the fact that David Beckham is an owner of Inter Miami fades into the background: When Inter Miami is no longer thought of as "David Beckham's team," but just Inter Miami.

That might take a while, but that's okay -- because underrated, overrated, or properly rated, David Beckham is used to playing the long game.