What started out as an agreement to allow Beckham to train with Milan in order to maintain his fitness and essentially keep his place with the England national team has evolved (deteriorated?) into a full-on full-time role with Milan at least from January (when the transfer window opens) to March (the start of MLS training camp).
Now Beckham signed a massive deal with the Galaxy that could end up being worth $250 million and keeps him in LA through the 2012 season. It was always tacitly understood that Beckham was to be more than a player with the Galaxy, but a brand for MLS. He was to be the magnet for other fading European stars to close out their careers on these shores, promote the game here and abroad, and elevate MLS to the next level--whatever that may be.
Remember Beckham's first match with the Galaxy against Chelsea? Not only was he injured and played only the final 20 minutes, but viewers in the U.S. barely saw any of the match because the cameras were almost exclusively focused on Beckham.
Well, the furor soon died down as Beckham missed significant time with an injured ankle in '07. This season, he's stayed healthy, but made little difference in the overall product other than forcing coach Ruud Gullit out the door. The Galaxy were among the dregs of MLS and one of the few teams not good enough to qualify for the playoffs. To say the shine is off this experiment does little justice to the concept of tarnish.
And what is Beckham's response? Stay here? Train in the offseason with his teammates? Share his experience, training regimen and game-play acumen with America's Team?
"I'm outta here, mates." Beckham wants out. Clearly. He wants to play on the game's greatest stage, which is Europe and not Columbus, Salt Lake City or Foxboro. He wants back into Serie A or the equivalent. He wants in on the Champions League again. He wants to break the all-time England record for caps -- even if it means making token 20-minute cameo appearances in World Cup qualifiers that are long decided.
Beckham's smile and personable demeanor are disarming. He charms you into believing his sincerity. And perhaps at his base, he's a good man. But jeezus, he owes his employers more, doesn't he? His employers being the Galaxy and MLS. His focus clearly isn't on LA and his teammates know it more than you and I do. Why should he be trusted to commit to the club once MLS kicks off again next spring (nevermind whether he'll be back)?
Beckham is clearly the most important guy in MLS, more so than commissioner Don Garber, and certainly more so than LA coach and general manager Bruce Arena, the guy who is supposed to be Beckham's immediate superior, who admitted as much that he's been in the dark regarding the entire transaction. Arena said:
"On the surface, it sounds like an odd proposition. I don't see where that benefits MLS or the Galaxy. I don't know if there's anything true in the rumor. The first I heard about it was today (Wednesday)... but I would think [given] the position the Galaxy is in and [the fact that] we're rebuilding our team and trying to have a successful year, it would seem very odd to me if we were loaning out our top players at the start of the season. It would seem pretty odd to me to operate that way.''
Arena knows this is a mess, and he's preparing himself and the team for the fact that Beckham likely won't be back come March, especially if Beckham has any degree of success in Italy and Milan is contending for the title or a Champions League spot.
Arena knows that this will be the greater degree of embarrassment for the league and the Galaxy. Beckham will come and go as he pleases, daring MLS and LA to stop him. He's working on an exit strategy--and at the same time, MLS is the biggest loser here. They're a pawn. It's Beckham's world, and they're just paying the bills.