David Beckham on Inter Miami offseason reboot: ‘The building has changed overnight’

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Michelle Kaufman
·5 min read
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Inter Miami’s second season doesn’t officially kick off until mid-April, but already there is a palpable change in the atmosphere and mood around the club’s training facility.

Not only is there new coach Phil Neville and new chief soccer officer Chris Henderson, but, most striking, co-owner David Beckham, who was not around in the debut season due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, has been on site every day since Christmas and energized the club from top to bottom.

Beckham often arrives as early as 7:30 a.m. and has met individually with every player, coach and staff member, from the trainers to the kitchen staff to nutritionists to sport scientists. He has also taken time to speak with youth academy players and their parents, watched their training sessions and their games.

Beckham even runs laps with players. He likes what he sees so far.

“This building has changed overnight since Phil and Chris came in,” Beckham said Saturday morning during a wide-ranging interview with local media. “There’s a unity there that wasn’t there. That was important. People would say, ‘What’s your system’? What are you playing? 4-4-2?’ The important part is not that. It’s the details. How fit are the players? What are they doing on and off the pitch? Phil has made a huge difference so far with that. There’s a real plan. We can see that with the training the players have done so far. And there is no disconnect between the U13s, the U17s, our USL team and our first team. There is a synergy.”

Neville is known for his organizational and people skills, keeps detailed calendars and follows analytics. Henderson, who was instrumental in the Seattle Sounders’ success, specializes in scouting and player development.

In addition to Neville’s and Henderson’s contributions, the presence of Beckham, a global icon, has made a big difference, said co-owner Jorge Mas.

Beckham, Mas, Neville and Henderson spent two hours with the local media on Saturday morning — socially distanced — fielding questions on everything from Beckham’s involvement to Neville’s MLS knowledge to player acquisitions (two more coming, including a left back) to Miami Freedom Park (hoping for lease agreement in March) to expected attendance allowed at games (3,000 to 8,000) to a jersey sponsorship (expected by opening day).

From left to right: David Beckham, Phil Neville, Jorge Mas and Chris Henderson speak to the press during an Inter Miami preseason event at Inter Miami CF Stadium in Fort Lauderdale on Saturday, February 27, 2021.
From left to right: David Beckham, Phil Neville, Jorge Mas and Chris Henderson speak to the press during an Inter Miami preseason event at Inter Miami CF Stadium in Fort Lauderdale on Saturday, February 27, 2021.

“David’s been here every morning, every day,” Mas said. “That sets a tone. It sets an aspiration and expectation level from ownership. The fact he’s out there running with the players, that is a great marker for our professional players. David Beckham’s career, his mark, was always that he was the hardest working player on the team, irrespective of his icon status, David Beckham the image. He was a hard-working player, gave it all. We want to have the hardest working team, a very difficult team. We want to be feared and respected. David has taken this as a priority and legacy item, and I hope the players take advantage of that.”

Seems they have, as most of the squad returned to training three to four weeks ago, even though preseason camp doesn’t officially open until March 8.

Neville, Beckham’s Manchester United teammate, has no MLS experience, but he has been following the league closely since Beckham joined in 2007. Last season, he watched Inter Miami matches, was impressed with the talent and is eager to improve on what he saw.

“I’ve surrounded myself with experienced people who have been in MLS for a long time,” Neville said. “I’m not the type of coach that takes four or five staff with him everywhere he goes. I like to go to a place and immerse myself in the place with specialists in that area. I am only bringing two people and surrounding myself with MLS experience, people who understand the travel, challenges, the rules. With the right people around me that’s where we will gel.”

The club allowed some season-ticket holders to the stadium on Saturday for a behind-the-scenes tour and the reveal of the secondary “La Palma” jersey. Ownership expects to have limited fans for its season opener the weekend of April 17. Mas said it won’t be anywhere near capacity of 19,000, but likely between 3,000 and 8,000. He hopes they can have more fans in the summer and fall.

Asked about the status of the Miami Freedom Park stadium project, Mas said: “It’s been almost three years of negotiations with the city. Frankly, I think over the last three or four weeks — there were a lot of issues with COVID and a multitude of law firms involved in the negotiations — but I am very optimistic we will have an agreement on a lease in March and I look forward to a vote in front of the City of Miami commission in late-March, early April. I am very optimistic we are very close to finally bringing a project that our residents approved and pushed for and hopefully get the green light from the commission in the next 45 days.”

In other club business news, Mas revealed that the team is hiring FC Barcelona’s Xavi Asensi as a financial/business consultant and that he hopes to have “a major jersey sponsorship” deal sealed before the season opener.

The only bad news was that defender Ian Fray, a promising talent who had just been promoted from the academy to the first team, tore his ACL last week and had to undergo surgery.