The David Beckham saga took another twist tonight when Los Angeles Galaxy coach Bruce Arena insists the England midfielder is expected back in the United States next week.
But Beckham's team mates don't seem to share their coach's certainty that he'll return to LA when his AC Milan loan spell expires.
Despite speculation that an agreement was close between the Galaxy and AC Milan to allow Beckham to stay on loan with the Italian club until mid-July, the former Manchester United player was named in the Major League Soccer club's 24-man roster for the forthcoming season, which starts later this month.
Beckham, who wants to stay in Italy's Serie A, is due back in LA when his two-month loan agreement with Milan expires and Arena told the Los Angeles Times today that nothing had altered as far as he was concerned.
"There's nothing that's been stated publicly that he's leaving,'' Arena said. "No-one has said he's leaving. We've been consistent from the start. We have players out on loan. We expect them to be back on March 9.
"We expect Landon Donovan to be back March 9 (from a loan spell with Bayern Munich). We expect David Beckham to be back. If something changes, we'll react to that the proper way.''
Arena said the wrangling over the services of the 33-year-old player, with Milan failing to meet the Galaxy's valuation of the midfielder, had distracted him rather than his players as they prepared for the new season.
"More to me than the team,'' he said. "They're going on with the business of pre-season, trying to earn positions on the team and getting better. Players on loan have nothing to do with what they're doing. They haven't asked me one question.
"Where did we have Landon Donovan going 60 days ago? We had him gone as well. You simply can't worry about it. It is what it is. If you want to track back the last 60 days in this exercise you could fill a mental hospital.''
Several players told the Galaxy website they were resigned to being without their captain until midway through the season.
"I think the best thing we can do is prepare as we have been,'' said midfielder Chris Klein. "Go with the guys we have right now. That's kind of how we've looked at it the whole pre-season. We'll continue to do that and prepare for the regular season the best we can.''
Midfielder Dema Kovalenko said the Galaxy players understood Beckham's wish to stay in Milan, however bad the effect would be on their own team.
"At the end of the day, the guy has to do what's best for him and what makes sense for him,'' Kovalenko said. "Right now we have to understand that. To be honest, it would be nice to have him here because he's a great player, but all we can do is get ready for the season.''