Beckham's Milan move benefits all parties
David Beckham says he is torn between the 'dream' of making his loan deal to AC Milan permanent and honouring the contract he has with Major League Soccer. He need not be, for such a move would be advantageous to all parties involved.
Turning out for a club that would be more than happy to have him, Beckham would benefit from playing in Serie A as he seeks to extend his international career towards next year's World Cup. England coach Fabio Capello will see a key member of his squad playing in one of Europe's top leagues and not require him to make trans-Atlantic flights several times each year.
MLS, meanwhile, will be just fine without Beckham, despite what any naysayers may suggest. Indeed, his departure would allow the league to readjust its focus back to the steady evolution that, flirtations with world superstars aside, has been a hallmark of its thirteen years of existence.
Beckham's career in the public eye has taught him to avoid controversy and his responses, when asked about his future, have reflected this. However, although he has been careful not to burn any bridges, as time has gone along, it has become ever clearer that he sees his future away from MLS, the league he pledged to take to 'another level' when announcing his move to the Los Angeles Galaxy in January 2007.
Walking away from a challenge is not something that Beckham has been guilty of during his career. Sent off in the 1998 World Cup, he suffered vitriolic abuse - beginning with effigies hanging in pub doorways and degenerating further to the dénouement, which came at Euro 2000 when a section chanted their wish for his wife and children to die from cancer - from his own country's fans for years before ascending to the England captaincy and subsequently scoring the goal that clinched qualification for the 2002 World Cup.
Several years later, after being made a scapegoat by Steve McClaren for previous England shortcomings, Beckham's return to prominence with his country, which began when a shamed McClaren recalled him in the summer of 2007 and has accelerated under Capello, has convinced him that appearing in his fourth World Cup next year is not the forlorn dream it appeared to be, two years ago, when he pledged his future to the Galaxy.
One of the immediate effects of that announcement was the subsequent declaration from Fabio Capello, the coach of Real Madrid at the time, that Beckham was finished as a player at the club. Granted, injuries and the lack of form of others were also mitigating factors but Beckham's impressive response saw him win over his coach, who recalled him to his staring line-up, whereupon Beckham showed the kind of form towards the end of the season that was a key factor in los Merengues' eventual La Liga triumph.
The positive impact that Beckham's reaction to his virtual ostracism at the Bernabeu had on Capello should not be understated and is a key reason why, since being named England manager, the Italian - who was in attendance at the San Siro to see Beckham score against Genoa on Wednesday - has retained the player in his squad, despite him playing in a league, the standard of which is some way below that in which his England teammates participate.
However, it was clear to Beckham that his international career stood a greater chance of being extended if he was playing in one of the world's top leagues. At any time before his loan deal at Milan began, were Capello to have told him that his international career was over, then there would have been no Serie A flirtation and the closing years of a great career would have been played out, in world football terms, in the relative anonymity of MLS.
Capello continues to see the value of Beckham, however. Hence his move to a club, with whom Capello won Serie A as a player and later coached to four league wins and a Champions League title in 1994. Was his chosen destination a sycophantic way to ingratiate himself further with his national coach? Maybe. Whether it was or it wasn't, it has proved to be a smart move.
Milan are certainly delighted with the newest member of their aging (Pato aside) all-star team and Beckham's arrival has been mutually beneficial to both parties. Carlo Ancelotti's side are unbeaten in the four games Beckham has played and there is no greater endorsement of his impact than the fact that, less than a month into the original loan agreement, the Rossoneri are already prepared to pay a multi-million dollar fee for a player who turns 34 in May.
Just last month, there were some smirks when, as he was presented to the San Siro crowd, Beckham was flanked by dozens of children resplendent in their number 32 jerseys. However, far from being a glorified shirt salesman for Milan, Beckham has settled in immediately. Two goals in four games have grabbed the headlines and, overall, his form on the right of midfield has been such that, with Clarence Seedorf pushing further forward, Ronaldinho has been relegated to the bench.
Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, though its marketing department may be upset, MLS does not appear desperate to keep Beckham, whose impact on football in the USA, for all the hoopla that was engendered by his signing, has been minimal in terms of breaking the sport into the mainstream landscape. Indeed, the court of public opinion appears apathetic to the whole affair, with the overriding sentiment in many opinions expressed in online blogs and polls being one of indifference.
The league is not motivated by the transfer fee it could recoup to the extent that it cannot resist Milan's current advances and so Beckham could be told to stay in Los Angeles for the 2009 season, at the end of which he can opt out of the two remaining years of his contract. However, should MLS choose to cash in, the reported $6.4m on offer would offer some serious financial options in what is, after all, a difficult economic time.
Furthermore, the current Collective Bargaining Agreement - a contract between the league and its players' union - expires on 31 January 2010 and there has been talk that agreement over a new deal remains some way off. Reinvesting any money recouped from a Beckham transfer fee into the next CBA might help smooth that process and quell any fears that exist of a players' strike.
The league's commissioner, Don Garber, told reporters on Tuesday that, though the wish would be for Beckham to stay, 'if it's something that makes sense for him and the Galaxy we'll certainly be supportive of that'. In truth, despite some reports which have claimed that Beckham is as good as a Milan player, the noises emanating from the Home Depot Center, thus far, have restated the line that this is nothing more than a loan deal.
Tim Leiweke, president of the Galaxy-owning AEG and the man who masterminded the Beckham signing in the first place, told the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday that 'David has no interest in going', adding that 'he's going to return to the Galaxy'. Beckham's recent non-committal comments regarding his future may appear to contradict those assertions but it does seem that, for now, the owners of the Galaxy are keen to retain their most valuable asset.
However, it can be argued that cutting ties with Beckham would not cause much unrest in the Galaxy dressing room. It's nothing personal, it's just that, in footballing terms, the move simply has not worked out. Since Beckham joined Los Angeles in July 2007, in terms of performance, the Galaxy have been a virtual laughing stock. In neither season with him on the team has the club reached the MLS playoffs, while the club's front office moves have seen three different coaches in charge during that time.
Furthermore, Alexi Lalas, the general manager whose lofty predictions for the club and MLS as a whole were heard across the globe when Beckham arrived, is also no longer employed by the club. Above all, what is needed at the Galaxy now is stability and a team that is developed from the ground up. Beckham's departure would help to accelerate that process.
Like Beckham, LA's other star, Landon Donovan, is seeking to make a permanent move away from MLS. The USA international is currently on loan at Bayern Munich and the salary cap space which the duo's departure would free - $400,000 of each player's annual wage counts against the overall $2m which pays the entire 24-man squad - would offer myriad rebuilding opportunities.
Current Galaxy coach, Bruce Arena, has a pragmatic coaching philosophy and has shown little appetite for indulging superstars in the past. Although he is on record this week as saying he expects Beckham to return, he has had little patience for the distractions brought about by having the most famous face in football in the sqaud..
Arena was frustrated last season by Beckham's channel-hopping to play for England and, though his commitment when wearing a Galaxy shirt (with accompanying captain's armband) was unquestioned, that his priority was undoubtedly his international career was something that, not surprisingly, did not sit well with his club coach.
There is no doubt that Beckham's presence has not been easy on his peers at times. It is not hard to see why some of the younger players, who earn as much in a year as he does in a day, have struggled to adapt to playing alongside him but more surprising are the stories that have circulated about Beckham's prickly relationship with Donovan.
Sharing a dressing room with an abundance of stars is easier than mixing with just one other, who could be placed on a similar billing. At Milan Beckham is just another player, as was emphasised when his early games for the club were almost completely overshadowed by the 'will he, won't he' debate surrounding Kaká's proposed move to Manchester City.
Thus, with Milan ready to pay the asking price and the league apparently not about to stand in his way, the final decision regarding Beckham's future will likely lay with Leiweke and his boss, Philip Anschutz. If the blessing for Beckham's departure is forthcoming from the man who owns AEG and who, as such, is responsible for paying the majority of his salary ($6.1m in 2008), then the deal will be a formality.
Assuming he signs with Milan permanently, there is nothing to say that Beckham's career in America is over forever. Perhaps he will return to MLS after the World Cup, a move that, in truth, makes more sense than the one he made two years ago. That is a debate for another day, however. For now, what is certain is that the American dream appears to have been forsaken, in favour of an Italian renaissance.