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Oct 22, 2008

Brand Beckham on the move?

The sight of another ageing player heading through the doors at the San Siro is something that will not fill the Rossoneri fans with a great deal of joy. Except for the fact that, this time, it appears that it will be David Beckham who arrives.

Eighty thousand turned out to see Ronaldinho paraded in front of the media last summer. Should the former England captain finalise his loan-move in January, you can expect that figure to be doubled.

But questions have already been raised as to the motives behind the move. The world's most marketable player turning up at a club struggling financially? Another big-name player signed to appease fans who did not see a trophy last term, have not won Serie A since 2004 and missed out on Champions League football this season? At least for the player it is easy to understand why he would be keen on the switch.

The 33-year-old is under contract with the L.A. Galaxy but their regular season finishes after Sunday's clash against Dallas and there is the possibility that he won't play another club game until next April.

The Galaxy head out to New Zealand and Australia in December for a two-match tour, but these are hardly the kind of games that are going to get the former skipper back into the England side.

From Beckham's point of view, a loan move appears to be the only way he can continue his England career through the late winter period. Mooted to be returning to England last week, the midfielder has tunnel vision when it comes to breaking the 108-cap outfield record of World Cup-winning captain Bobby Moore, which he will equal if he makes an appearance in the friendly against Germany in Berlin on November 19.

And rightly so. He has a burning desire to play for his country and wants to be in the squad for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, which would surely be the swansong to his international career.

Fabio Capello has said in the past that he wants players who are playing regular football and Beckham will still be hurting from the fact he was one of the first casualties of the Italian's first England squad, the friendly against Switzerland in February 2007. The coach has already ruled Beckham out of the friendly next February should he not return to Europe.

Already on the record as saying "If he is not playing, he will not be in the squad", Capello has virtually rubber-stamped his loan move personally, although it may not prove to be the resurrection that the midfielder hopes for.

Despite being a marked step-up in quality from the talent on show in the MLS, Beckham should heed the warning of Milan's other major signings this summer - Ronaldinho and Andrei Shevchenko.

Neither have been in great form at the start of the Serie A season and have attracted a lot of the blame for Milan's slow start. Ronaldinho may have netted two in the 3-0 win over Sampdoria, but the Brazilian has been a shadow of the player that once set the world alight. Shevchenko, too, has made little impact since his return to the San Siro and in signing experienced players who have had their day in the sun, Milan are crushing the hopes of their youth team.

Both went to the club in the hope of kick-starting their careers and, similarly, Beckham's inclusion in a midfield that already boasts Kaka, Clarence Seedorf, Andrea Pirlo, Gennaro Gattuso, Mathieu Flamini, Massimo Ambrosini and Emerson seems unnecessary. Already full of star names, it is hard to see what the Englishman can bring to the squad.

Certainly the team are not in need of experience. Dead-ball duties are already controlled by either the excellent Kaka or Pirlo and Beckham's lack of pace means he won't be able to make the kind of impact coming off the bench that would justify his selection otherwise.

While the Italian game is a lot slower than others around Europe, tactically he may struggle to occupy the same space as Pirlo. Both players like to play in a similar way and Milan do not exactly have the kind of powerful frontman to benefit from his crosses even if he does revert to a right-wing role.

Therefore the cynics will point to the move, from the club's point of view, as one that puts marketing reasons above sporting ones.

'Brand Beckham' will certainly sell shirts (although Massimo Ambrosini may not give up the #23 easily), while the prospect of having a footballing fashion icon complete with celebrity wife dropping into the one of the world's most fashion-conscious cities can only increase the fervour surrounding his arrival.

It is no secret that Milan have been struggling financially in recent years and Beckham's arrival would certainly help the club out of the red. The signing of Ronaldinho was seen by many as an attempt to boost their commercial standing, but Beckham (who reportedly made Real Madrid around $600 million in his four years at the club) is in a league of his own in this respect.

By now you would not expect money to be an issue for the super-rich midfielder, so his pay packet may not come into the equation - especially as the Galaxy may continue to pay his wages - and it just seems too good an opportunity to miss for Milan.

Still, the club's focus on buying experienced players this summer has already dented their title aspirations and their best performing player (22-year-old French midfielder Yoann Gourcuff, currently on loan at Bordeuax) may never play for the club again due to a lack of first-team opportunities.

While the move makes sense for Beckham in terms of getting himself back into England contention, Milan are walking a dangerous line in terms of building for the future and the signing of the midfielder, even on loan, may suggest that their priorities lie away from the football pitch.

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