When is a loan deal not just a loan deal? When David Beckham is involved.
There is little doubt that it could help Beckham, who is desperate to hold on to his steadily declining role with the England national team, but would spending two or three months away actually help the team that pays his salary?
Galaxy coach Bruce Arena wondered that same thing, expressing doubt about the value of allowing Beckham to play for Milan, even if only for two to three months.
"On the surface, it sounds like an odd proposition," Arena told the Los Angeles Times. "I don't see where that benefits MLS or the Galaxy. I would think that [given] the position the Galaxy is in and [the fact that] we're rebuilding our team and trying to have a successful year, it would seem very odd if we were loaning out our top players at the start of the season."
The statement gave the distinct impression that the Galaxy, Beckham's employer, has little input on a move that might have seemed far less harmful if not for Arena's opposition to it. It was Arena who, just a day earlier, had sounded optimistic about Beckham's potentially joining Milan for a short training stint. Once that training stint turned into a short-term loan move that would likely force Beckham to miss most of the Galaxy's preseason, Arena had every reason to be skeptical.
Beckham's spending a month or so training with Milan would have made much more sense. It would have been no more meaningful than the time he spent training with Arsenal last offseason. There is nothing wrong with a high-level player's spending part of Major League Soccer's long offseason training with a top team to maintain fitness, but leaving on a loan deal that would keep Beckham away from his club's preseason training camp would certainly be questionable.
Consider the Galaxy, a team in disarray and in dire need of a thorough makeover after another failed season. Arena is likely to spend much of the long offseason shaking up his roster and bringing in new players to mold into a squad capable ending the Galaxy's three-year run of futility. It would make sense to have the team's captain and most influential player actually attend spring training in order to help his relatively new coach and his new teammates.
Is Beckham aware of this? Does he care? Is he so blinded by his continued desire to hold onto his diminishing role with the English national team that he can't understand why his current team would want him not to miss the entire preseason?
If anything, the Milan transfer talk has raised serious questions about the state of the Beckham-MLS marriage and whether it is still beneficial for both sides as we move toward year three of a five-year arrangement. There is little doubt that Beckham can still play and be an impact player in MLS, but one can't help but wonder if the Beckham Effect has done all it is going to do for MLS, and, more important, for the Galaxy. A growing question is whether the Galaxy would be better off parting company with Beckham and going about the business of trying to build a winning team rather than continuing to run Major League Soccer's version of a traveling circus.
Rest assured MLS is not ready to part ways with Beckham. The league has too much invested in making sure that Beckham's tenure in MLS is positive and successful for both parties. The league will eventually turn to other international stars to join MLS, and if the Beckham experiment ultimately fails, then it could make it that much more difficult to lure the next soccer superstar to MLS.
That might have been why MLS was originally keen on catering to Beckham's desire for a chance to play for AC Milan, but now that it has become clear that the Galaxy is rightfully concerned about such an arrangement, the league may have no choice but to kill the deal and work on damage control.
"We are in exploratory talks to look at whether the opportunity makes sense for the Galaxy and David," MLS deputy commissioner Ivan Gazidis said of the potential Beckham-Milan loan. "If it does -- and only if it does -- then things will go forward."
If Gazidis' statement is to be believed, and the interests of the Galaxy are being considered, then there is no reason why a Beckham loan to Milan should happen. As much as AC Milan may want to sell a truckload of Beckham jerseys, and as much as MLS may want to keep Beckham happy, ignoring the Galaxy's interests would set a bad precedent and would be a step toward the Galaxy's maintaining its reputation as a circus rather than a respected club.
Ives Galarcep covers MLS for ESPNsoccernet. He also writes a blog, Soccer By Ives. He can be reached at Ivespn79@aol.com.