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May 29, 2017

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Beckham's venture to bring soccer franchise to Miami a big risk: experts

MIAMI -- The worst place in the United States for soccer. The biggest challenge in sport.

Those were the reactions from two high-profile figures in U.S. soccer to David Beckham's widely anticipated announcement on Wednesday that he is to build a club from scratch in Miami.

The former Manchester United and England player, together with an investment group that could yet include Miami Heat basketball icon LeBron James, is forking out a reported US$25 million for the ambitious Major League Soccer franchise.

Beckham, 38, who retired last year after a career that also took him to Real Madrid, LA Galaxy and Paris Saint-Germain, is banking on his star pulling power and growing prominence in the U.S. to create what he called a "global" team that can attract the best players in the world.

The MLS is hoping the ex-England captain and his new team — which is not expected to be playing until 2017 at the earliest — can increase the appetite for soccer in a country that still finds the "beautiful game" something of a turnoff.

Beckham told a press conference that he was under no illusions as to the scale of the task in an area that has already claimed two soccer clubs as victims: the Miami Fusion and the Fort Lauderdale Strikers.

"He's picked the worst possible city for this franchise," said Rodney Marsh, a former Manchester City striker who finished his career and managed in the U.S. in the 1970s-80s.

Marsh, who is still heavily involved in United States soccer, said the Fusion struggled to get enough fans through the gates, despite signing renowned Colombian Carlos Valderrama to attract Miami's large Hispanic community.

Hemorrhaging money, the Fusion folded more than a decade ago, leaving Miami without a top-level soccer team.

Marsh said: "It's a lot more than David Beckham coming in, getting a few players and throwing them together. I hope it's going to work. But it's going to take a lot more work than even David thinks.

"I'm sure he'll attract a lot of people, but people don't come to watch the owner. They come to watch the players. It doesn't matter that David Beckham is the owner."

Marsh told the London-based talkSPORT radio station that he does not believe that soccer is any more popular in the U.S. than it was 30 years ago and says Miami will be particularly hard to crack because it has so many professional sports teams already.

Ray Hudson knows better than anyone what will happen if Beckham's as-yet-unnamed team fails to spark the Miami public's interest beyond an eye-catching press conference at a downtown art museum.

The Englishman was manager of the Fusion shortly before it was dissolved.

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