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Posted: Thursday October 23, 2008 2:33PM; Updated: Thursday October 23, 2008 2:57PM
Gabriele Marcotti Gabriele Marcotti >
INSIDE SOCCER

Becks leaving MLS? Say it ain't so!

Story Highlights

David Beckham is going on loan to AC Milan to keep his England hopes alive

It's in the L.A. Galaxy's best interest to loan their player to a top European club

It's possible Becks would want to stay in Italy, but a lot would need to happen

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David Beckham isn't turning his back on MLS; he's trying to remain in the national-team picture as his career nears its twilight years.
David Beckham isn't turning his back on MLS; he's trying to remain in the national-team picture as his career nears its twilight years.
Simon Bruty/SI
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Trying to make sense of this David Beckham to AC Milan story? Here's a humble attempt at some answers.

Q: So why would Beckham possibly want to leave Los Angeles and his $50 million-a-year deal?

A: Relax. First of all, he doesn't make $50 million from the Galaxy. Nowhere near that, as SI.com's Grant Wahl explained last year: That number is a bit of a sham. He makes a somewhat more reasonable $6.5 million in basic salary. Also, he wouldn't be leaving: It would be a "loan" -- he'd join Milan during the MLS offseason and then go back. Given that he already got permission to train with Milan when the Galaxy's season ends next weekend, this is really just taking things a step further.

Q: But I thought you could only move during the transfer window. Isn't that what Bruce Arena, the L.A. coach and GM, said?

A: He may have said that, but that's not entirely true. Individual FAs can get special dispensation for short-term loans (this already happens in the English lower divisions). If all else fails, Milan could rescind his contract, which would make him a free agent and then he could resign with L.A. These situations are handled on a case-by-case basis.

Q: OK, back to my original question, which you didn't really answer: Why would Beckham want to do this?

A: Well, first of all, he wants to stay fit and competitive. He needs to train with somebody and, if he gets a few decent games under his belt, that will only help him. He desperately wants to keep his England career alive and be a part of the 2010 World Cup. And England coach Fabio Capello made it clear to him that if he goes five months without playing (which is what would happen if he just took time off between Galaxy commitments), it would be harder for him to get back into the team. He'll be 34 next May and he isn't getting any younger.

Q: Aha! And Capello used to coach Milan! Doesn't he have a bit of a conflict of interest? Didn't he orchestrate this whole thing to help his old club?

A: Easy there. Capello left Milan more than 10 years ago, and his relationship with his former club since then hasn't always been good. A more plausible explanation is that Capello simply wants Beckham to play because it's in the interest of England to do so. And he is, after all, the England boss.

Q: But why Milan? Why couldn't Beckham go somewhere else?

A: Well, he had a couple of offers from English clubs. And a couple from elsewhere. But Milan makes sense. They have a great medical staff and a very good set-up -- it's a chance for him to play at a high level with top players. Plus, not many guys can say they've played for Manchester United, Real Madrid and AC Milan. Oh, and the shopping is pretty good on Via della Spiga and Via Montenapoleone.

Q: OK, let's look at it from another perspective. Why would Milan want Beckham when it already has Ronaldinho, Kaká, Andrea Pirlo, Clarence Seedorf, Rino Gattuso, Mathieu Flamini and Massimo Ambrosini?

A: I think it's pretty obvious, no? They like big-name players. This is the club that signed Ronaldinho, Ronaldo and Andriy Shevchenko when everyone thought they were finished. Milan is a showbiz, glitz-and-glamour type outfit. They know how to turn star power into money.

Look at Ronaldinho: He helped them sell an additional 20,000 jerseys and some 40,000 people showed up at his unveiling, where all he did was stand around and juggle a few balls. Beckham would have a similar, if not greater, effect. But yeah, Milan doesn't really need him in a footballing sense. Adriano Galliani, Milan's chief executive, said as much: "He'd be something extra."

To Milan, it's a win-win. The worst-case scenario is that he comes, trains with the team, plays a few games, generates some money (some people say as much as $20 million) and then leaves. The best-case scenario is that he makes a tangible contribution on the pitch and maybe even stays.

Q: But what about the Galaxy? What about his contract?

A: Granted, it's far-fetched. And the plan is for him to return by the time the Galaxy's preseason training camp starts (which is why, incidentally, Victoria and the kids are going to stay in California). But you never know. If he does well and wants to stay and Milan wants to keep him, who's to say they can't hammer out a deal?

Q: So what does this mean for the Galaxy? Can they stop him?

A: He's not a slave -- they can't stop him training. They can stop him from going on loan, of course. And, in fact, my understanding is that first contact between Milan and L.A. was only made on Tuesday, which means they still have plenty to talk about. I don't think this move is going to be as simple as some believe. But, ultimately, I reckon it will happen.

Q: Why?

A: Because when you actually look at it, it's in the Galaxy's interest not to stand in Beckham's way. For a start, L.A. can recoup a little bit of money on him (Milan would have to pay his wages while he's on loan and it can probably hammer out a some kind of deal to allow the loan as well).

Second, I think it actually adds a little bit of prestige to the club and the Beckham brand. When you think about it, when is the last time a top European club took an MLS player on loan? It would show that Beckham is not some over-the-hill circus act stuck in the doldrums of American soccer, but, in fact, has remained a good player despite moving to the States -- something some of his Euro-centric critics are reluctant to admit. So yeah, the Galaxy can get a lot of mileage out of this.

Q: Last question, but easily the most important, since I need to go out and get myself a new Beckham Milan shirt. What number is he going to wear?

A: Good question. At Milan, all the numbers between 1 and 25 are taken, with the exception of 17, 2 and 6. The latter was Franco Baresi's number and it has since been retired, so it's not an option. No. 2 seems rather lame. My guess is he'll join the recent fad among Rossoneri players and pick his birth year as his number, much like Shevchenko (76), Ronaldinho (80) and Flamini (84). Which means you'll want to pre-order No. 75.

 
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