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Sep 9, 2007

Beckham loan move is implausible

The world gets a little smaller every day, and the soccer universe is no different.

We long have had talented athletes crisscrossing continents in search of greater fame, a fatter paycheck, enhanced adventure, an elongated career or whatever.

Today, the burgeoning interest in MLS throughout the rest of the world (well done, David Beckham!) means our little American corner of the soccer world can be affected by ... yikes! The British tabs?

Yep. It's true. It happened this past week as rumor spread anew that Beckham had requested a chitchat with Galaxy GM Alexi Lalas, ostensibly to discuss a loan agreement that would ferry him off to England this winter.

Read carefully now: It's a bunch of British tabloid hooey.

It is not going to happen.

Los Angeles Galaxy officials are no more interested in loaning their greatest asset to another team than you would be in loaning your $30,000 SUV to the kid down the street with a suspended license. Nor should they be. Lalas repeatedly has said that a loan is out of the question.

"This is pure speculation," the Galaxy GM said Friday via e-mail. "We have not discussed nor contemplated any type of loan arrangement involving David."

He also had this to say on the club's Web site: "David is an important part of our organization for now and for the future. Any talk of loans and transfers and all that kind of stuff is pure speculation and rumor. ... He has been playing at a very high-pressured level for a long time now and he needs to get healthy. We have this period now where he is going to get physically fit."

So, how did such nonsense gain a media and public toehold in the first place? It's all about a different journalistic standard, aided by one careless scribe from across the Atlantic and abetted by a certain American naivete when it comes to the British press.

The story sprang up Sunday from the Daily Express, the self-proclaimed "world's greatest newspaper." Surely, the standard bearer of modesty, too.

London remains a teeming city, alight with fiercely competitive newspaper wars. (For the young readers, a "newspaper war" is a quaint relic of American history, in which people actually would get icky black stuff on their hands while rifling through two or three newspapers from a given city to keep abreast of local and national happenings.)

New York probably has a U.S.-high of four relevant newspapers. By comparison, London has roughly nine (depending on how far you are willing to lower your standards in defining "newspaper," aka "scandal sheet").

So, the London tabloids and broadsheets battle for about 4.5 million daily readers, wooing with a menu that includes low-brow contests, Page Two tarts and the latest pop star scandals. Obviously, there are some respected publications that haven't acquiesced to what Rupert Murdoch calls "the black art of journalism."

Well, the Daily Express isn't one of them. While it isn't the most mischievous of the rascally dailies, no one ever will confuse it with respected publications such as The Times or The Guardian.

On Sunday, Colin Mafham of the Daily Express wrote that Beckham would consider "putting his American dream on hold" and was seeking talks with Galaxy management about "a possible return to England on loan in January." It was pure speculation, although written to appear otherwise by a man who probably couldn't point to Carson, Calif., on a map. According to Los Angeles Galaxy officials, Mafham never has graced Victoria Street, site of the Home Depot Center.

Mafham propped up his conjecture-in-disguise with a Lalas quote, albeit one ripped wholly out of context. In fact, this one belongs in the Hall of Fame of misplaced context, words spoken about three months ago as Lalas discussed Beckham's desire to return to English national team duty. No one asked about loans back then, so Lalas didn't address the subject.

Such pieces play to the populist sentiment in England that all things U.S. soccer amount to rubbish, every bit as worthless as spit on a door handle. It's all born of fear, of course, anxiety that someone over here might actually be good at their beloved game.

(Steven Wells recently wrote splendidly of this in The Guardian: "There's no shortage of stuck-up limey soccer snobs who still think it's frightfully funny the ghastly Yanks play the round ball game at all.")

Obviously, a Beckham loan makes zero sense for the Galaxy. First, Major League Soccer and the Galaxy are handsomely paying No. 23. They still want to exploit his enormous popularity with a postseason tour. Beckham, on an earnest mission to promote his new club and new league, is surely happy to comply.

The illustrious midfielder knows as well as anybody that MLS hasn't exactly gotten the greatest bang for the Beckham buck just yet.

Plus, the man needs rest. A series of one-and-done friendlies with the Galaxy world travelers is one thing. The taxing hurly-burly of Premiership is quite another.

Beckham did get a short break following the latest La Liga campaign. But his previous extended rest came after Real Madrid's 2004-05 season. He failed to get much summer R&R the next go-round due to World Cup 2006. So, he now has had a torrent of non-stop Beckham-ness for the better part of two years.

Who really can say if Beckham's ankle and knee injuries have had anything to do with the lack of an extended break? But, it is safe to say that it has not helped.

Back to the source of the latest Beckham brouhaha, the Daily Express piece: Perhaps a little "consider the source" is in order here. The same column also included this out-of-left-field gem from Mafham:

"I understand that Beckham is unlikely to consider any offer of becoming player-manager of Galaxy, in place of under-fire boss Frank Yallop, while he still harbors England ambitions."

Really now? Well, as long as we're making up things, just throwing a bunch of garbage out there willy-nilly with no attribution, no sources, let me try my own hand at it. Ahem:

"I understand that Beckham is unlikely to consider any offer of replacing Alberto Gonzalez as attorney general of the United States."

I must say, that was a real hoot. I must do it more often.

Steve Davis is a Dallas-based freelance writer who covers MLS for ESPNsoccernet. He can be reached at BigTexSoccer@yahoo.com.