Kaká eyed to replace Beckham, says Galaxy ownership president
"He's aware of our interest in him," Tim Leiweke said of Brazilian star Kaká
Leiweke is the president of AEG, which owns the Cup finalist Los Angeles Galaxy
In 2007, Leiweke stunned many by signing David Beckham to a five-year deal
LOS ANGELES -- The man who landed David Beckham for the Los Angeles Galaxy told SI.com that he wants Beckham's Galaxy replacement to be Kaká, Real Madrid's 30-year-old Brazilian midfielder who won the 2007 FIFA World Player of the Year award.
"We're well aware of Kaká's interest in MLS, and we in turn have made it very clear to him that he's aware of our interest in him," said Tim Leiweke, the president of AEG, which owns the Galaxy. "We have a great relationship with Real Madrid, and just as we worked through a player with them six years ago [Beckham], I'm absolutely convinced we could find the right deal this time, too."
Leiweke's words will reverberate everywhere from the U.S. to Madrid to Rio de Janeiro for a simple reason: When this power broker speaks, you have to listen. In January 2007, Leiweke stunned the sports world by signing Beckham to a five-year contract when the English superstar was still just 31, several years before anyone thought Beckham would come to the United States.
If L.A. could land Kaká (pronounced ka-KAW) at the same age -- he turns 31 next April -- Leiweke and the Galaxy think he has enough in the tank to be a star in MLS for a five-year period as well. Granted, Kaká has dealt with injury issues since moving to Real Madrid on an $84 million transfer in 2009, and he has played in just eight games for José Mourinho's team in all competitions this season. But Kaká also started for Brazil in its last three friendlies, a sign that he may be on his way back to being a full-time contributor on the national team ahead of World Cup 2014 in Brazil.
Leiweke's declared intention to sign Kaká is bad news for Frank Lampard, the longtime Chelsea star who sources say has been interested in joining the Galaxy to fill Beckham's Designated Player slot. Lampard would be available as a free agent next summer when he finishes his Chelsea contract, but he would also be 35 years old and not a long-term solution. Nor would Lampard be as appealing as Kaká to the Latino demographic that Leiweke says is crucial for the Galaxy to win over.
Beckham's departure "leaves us a [Designated Player] slot, and we're going to be very patient on that slot," Leiweke said. "I'm very proud of the fact we have a lot of people that are interested in the Galaxy. By the way, I'm a huge Frank Lampard fan, and I personally have great respect for him. I've gotten to spend some time with him, and he's an unbelievably good guy. Is he the right fit for our team now for what we need?"
Later on in our interview, which took place at AEG's $2.5 billion L.A. Live complex, Leiweke essentially answered his own question by saying that he and Galaxy coach and general manager Bruce Arena agree that Kaká would be a better fit with the Galaxy. One big reason: The Galaxy's new 10-year, $55 million local television deal with Time Warner Cable's regional sports channels, one in English and one in Spanish.
"Bruce and I happen to be on the same page about where we need to go next," Leiweke said. "This next person has to be able to not only fit what Bruce needs on the pitch, but more importantly we're an ever-changing demo in this marketplace, and we have to pay attention to that. It's critical that we do the one thing we have never been able to do yet with the Galaxy, although we've tried. There is a Hispanic Latino population base we have to go conquer, and we haven't."
"I do think we have more of a Hispanic audience than people give us credit for, because they like the style we play and that we win. But that said, we have tried at various times -- [Carlos] Ruiz, [Luis] Hernández, a few different players -- and I don't think we've ever found the right guy who ultimately captivates that marketplace."
"That marketplace is critical because of our Time Warner deal," Leiweke continued. "We now have a Time Warner Latino channel that we are very focused on. It was a major reason that we made the deal with them. And as much as we understand the Lakers are the mothership, on the Hispanic channel the Galaxy has a chance of being an equal partner to the Lakers as to the demand, and we get that. But we'd better build a team that ultimately acknowledges the demos and how they're changing. We're going to be very careful with that [Designated Player] slot."
AEG and the Galaxy will have to be careful in their push for Kaká for a few reasons:
Kaká's Real Madrid contract. Two more seasons remain on Kaká's deal, according to a source close to Real Madrid. While I'm told the Spanish giant would sell him for less money to an MLS team than to a potential Champions League rival like AC Milan, it's unlikely the club would let him go for free. The Galaxy have been willing to pay relatively small transfer fees as it did for Robbie Keane, but the transfer fee could be a sticking point.
Other suitors outside the U.S. are interested in Kaká. The player's best days took place at Milan, which could bring him back, and newly flush Brazilian clubs like Flamengo may also be interested in bringing Kaká back to the country where he started his career.
The New York Red Bulls may want Kaká, too. Kaká publicly expressed his interest in playing for New York before Brazil's recent friendly against Colombia in New Jersey. He owns an apartment in Manhattan, and his brother Digăo plays for the Red Bulls. However, New York already has all three of its DP slots filled (with Thierry Henry, Tim Cahill and Rafa Márquez), so one of them (Márquez?) would have to depart for Kaká to be able to join the team.
Even then, MLS' rules prevent teams like New York and Los Angeles from competing against each other to sign star players from abroad by getting into bidding wars. According to MLS rules, dibs go to the team that files a "discovery claim" first on a player. (See the section on Discovery Signings here.) An MLS source said no team has filed a discovery claim on Kaká yet, adding that if N.Y. and L.A. were to file a claim on Kaká on the same day (at the start of the next discovery window) the league would likely have to get involved to settle things.
One thing is clear, though: Leiweke's stated interest in Kaká is something New York has yet to match publicly, and L.A. actually has a DP slot free with Beckham's departure. To hear Leiweke talk, his main concern is Real Madrid and whether or not the club will try to play hardball on a transfer fee. Patience isn't exactly Leiweke's strong suit, but he understands that may be required here. "As you know, sometimes the summer window is more important than the winter window [in MLS]," he said. "We do know where we're going, and that may mean we've got to be patient.
"It's up to Real Madrid to tell us when they want to engage. But [Kaká] is a player within their system, and because I am a fan and a partner of Real Madrid, we will absolutely follow their lead on whether or not they want to have this conversation and when they want to have it. In the meantime, I'm not going to go out and do anything that ultimately prevents us from having that conversation."
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