After weeks of posturing and pleading, idle threats and public deadlines, the David Beckham/AC Milan loan saga finally reached a resolution on Sunday. Beckham will stay in Italy, as expected, and will return to Major League Soccer and the Los Angeles Galaxy in July in a unique deal whose full impact won't be known until the end of the 2009 MLS season.
Consider what Los Angeles was able to secure in the deal. The Galaxy not only scored a multimillion-dollar compensation package consisting of cash from AC Milan and sacrificed salary from Beckham, the club also will host a high-profile friendly versus AC Milan on July 19.
Also, in what might be the most important yet overlooked aspect of the agreement, Beckham has given up the ability to leave MLS for free after the 2009 season and now would have to pay a sizable fee to get out of his MLS contract, which still has two years remaining on it after 2009.
"I think the European football community continues to underestimate the resolve that our ownership has to ensure that we're managing the league in a way that will help grow the sport and establish it solidly for the future," MLS commissioner Don Garber said. "We were not just going to give into Milan's demands or David's desire to leave the league without doing a deal that made sense."
"Would I rather have not gone through the process that we went through? Absolutely," Garber said. "So I think we have a very positive solution to a very difficult situation."
Garber, Galaxy coach Bruce Arena and Beckham all were careful to try to quell any suggestions that Beckham was not completely behind the deal, or that he was being forced to return this summer against his will.
"He wants to be in L.A.; he wants to take on this challenge," Arena said in a teleconference call. "Despite public statements that have been made over the last couple of months, we are getting back a player who wants to be here and is motivated to do well. I want to make that clear.
Beckham's desire to return to MLS is vital to making this arrangement work. If he really isn't that crazy about coming back, it surely will show in his play, and this entire deal will go quickly from being a good business decision to being a failure.
"[Beckham] is excited about the resolution of the deal, really is committed to doing what he can to continue to build this league, and will come back as a committed member of the L.A. Galaxy," Garber said. "If David didn't want to come back, he and AC Milan would have found a way to do a deal that would have had him remaining at Milan for the next number of years."
"I'm grateful to both clubs for allowing this dream to come true," Beckham said. "It will enable me to play for Milan and the Galaxy in the same season, with the possibility of being able to keep up my commitments with Major League Soccer and the development of soccer in the United States, something which I'm very passionate about."
So how were the Galaxy able to force Milan's hand in this deal? It boils down to Beckham's stellar play for the Italian club and Milan's desperate need to secure a berth in next year's UEFA Champions League. Failing to qualify for the Champions League would cost AC Milan untold millions, and keeping Beckham gives the club a better chance to land that valuable berth. Beckham showed that on Sunday, helping Milan record a crucial victory that pushed the team six points clear in the race for a Champions League berth.
Although the agreement reached by the Galaxy and AC Milan is as good as the Galaxy and MLS could have hoped for from a business standpoint, the on-the-field impact to the Galaxy has yet to be measured. Now, rather than having Beckham from the start of the season, the Galaxy will be without one of the league's most influential players for half the season.
As it turns out, the Galaxy have spent the past few months preparing for that very possibility, which is why the club believes a Beckham midseason arrival will go much more smoothly than it did in 2007, when Beckham first joined MLS.
"David has played in this league now for two years, and he understands some of the intricacies of playing in MLS, so I think from his side it will be an easier transition," Galaxy midfielder Chris Klein said. "For us, this is our team, so if David Beckham or anyone else is going to be added to that in midseason, they're going to have to integrate into our team, and I think David is going to have to do that when he comes back, and we have to make sure that's the way this is going to happen.
"The last time when [Beckham] came, it was a new experience for him, and it was definitely for the players here, and there was sort of that waiting for six months until July when David Beckham was going to come and then the whole world was going to change, which didn't happen," Klein said.
"I think the players, the coaching staff and the Galaxy organization as a whole have a responsibility to not let it be the same as it was last time."
That "last time" Klein is referring to is the summer of 2007, when Beckham's arrival became an overbearing distraction that ultimately had a negative effect on the Galaxy, which failed to make the playoffs that season. One of just four players still around from the 2007 Galaxy, Klein sees the current Galaxy organization and squad as being much better equipped to deal with the distraction.
How will Beckham be received by his teammates in July? According to Klein, Beckham's impeccable reputation among his teammates and his unmatched work ethic should make for a smooth transition.
"David really is a good professional," Klein said. "He's a good guy who the guys in the locker room that have been around him care about him as a person, so when he comes back, there won't be that getting-to-know-you stage, where we're trying to figure out who this guy is that we've seen in magazines and on TV.
"We know him, and we know what kind of man he is, and we all enjoy that. So to have him come back in July can really be a plus for us."
Beckham will need to do more than simply integrate into the new-look Galaxy when he returns to MLS in July. He also will have to do some fence-mending with MLS and L.A. Galaxy fan bases that surely have come away from the past few weeks feeling some resentment toward Beckham for his reluctance to return to MLS. For this deal to be a complete victory, Beckham will need to succeed in winning back some of those same fans he might have turned off in recent weeks.
"Clearly, he's got some work to do to continue to build his relationship with the fans of the L.A. Galaxy," Garber said. "but I have no doubt when he comes into town for the first game in July, there will be a lot of excited people."
Ives Galarcep covers MLS for ESPNsoccernet. He also writes a blog, Soccer By Ives. He can be reached at Ivespn79@aol.com.