Lots of soccer media channels like ESPN Soccernet and Fox Soccer Channel are reporting that AC Milan is close to a deal with the L.A. Galaxy to bring in David Beckham on loan for the rest of their season. This loan is being done, according to the report, so that Becks can stay match fit for the World Cup Qualifiers for England, and so he can continue to play first-team soccer in the offseason. Fabio Capello, the England manager, has stated that he will not choose anyone that is not playing competitive soccer. With the MLS offseason starting this weekend and next season not starting until April, this is not the time for Becks to be sitting.
If this loan deal to AC Milan goes through, I think it’s a winner for Becks. The underlying question is: has America seen the last of David Beckham? That I’m not so sure. The loan deal would keep Beckham in Milan until June, which means he would miss the first 2 months (at least) of the MLS season. Also, I’m sure if he goes and performs well for Milan (and there’s no doubt in my mind that he will be a great asset), Milan will want to purchase him and keep him there. They definitely have the money to bring him on full-time, as AC is one of Europe’s biggest clubs. Plus, the squad they are trying to develop there could be epic. With Ronaldinho, Kaka, Pato, Gattuso, Dida, Nesta, Zambrotta, Shevchenko, and Pirlo already making up the squad, Beckham could be the missing piece they need, one that will be a force on set pieces, for pace on the right and for serving balls in the box on attacks.
Now, if the loan deal becomes, as many believe it will, a permanent move, then what does this say about Beckham’s time in MLS? Is it a failure? Well, yes and no. It’s yes because they rushed him into playing when he wasn’t ready, and as a result, his play suffered. Also, the chemistry of the Galaxy suffered. They didn’t make the playoffs in either 2007 or this year, when they had a completely healthy Beckham. At the beginning of ’08, they were on fire. He and Landon Donovan were a great combo, adding Edson Buddle to the mix. However, when they had the drama with their GM, Alexi Lalas and their coach, Ruud Gullit, resigning/getting fired the same day, the team just tanked. They went from 1st to dead last by losing some 10-12 games in a row. It’s also yes because it was never about Becks even playing in the mind of MLS. They wanted to trump him around the country like a celebrity. Having 12 of the first 13 games with Beckham be on the road so that every single team could see him play on their pitch was sure stupidity as far as the playing was concerned. I’m sure he felt an obligation to try and play for the tens of thousands of fans that turned out not to see MLS soccer, but see him play. This further injured his ankle, which lead to his terrible stretch of play. It would assuredly be viewed as a 1.5 season-long publicity tour that ended with Beckham returning to Europe to play some competitive soccer.
On the other hand, it can be viewed as a great success for MLS. First, Becks came here and shook up the MLS scene. It became cool to go to MLS games again (not that they ever weren’t cool, but the mentality among casual soccer fans increased). The LA Galaxy are now a worldwide brand…everyone’s heard of them because of Beckham, and you can’t go to a corner of the world without seeing an LA Galaxy jersey with “Beckham 23” on the back. His Galaxy shirt last year was the most popular soccer jersey on earth, and it wasn’t even close. Also, the aforementioned road trip that the Galaxy was subjected to in the first couple months of Beckham’s time here brought fans to MLS stadiums in huge droves. Sellouts everywhere, including 56,000+ at RFK (Beckham’s first MLS game) and over 70,000 at Giants Stadium to see Beckham play the Red Bulls. MLS teams as a whole experienced attendance increases as people were driven by the lure of Beckham and ended up enjoying the product on the field enough to come back. It has attracted other big-name talent to MLS who have made big contributions to their teams, like Luciano Emilio (DC), Juan Pablo Angel (NYRB), and Cuahtemoc Blanco (CHI). Finally, soccer has entered the mainstream sports media. They have always had soccer broadcasts, but now they have it on all the time, which is great for the game.
In the end, this is a great move for Beckham, and it could prove to be a good move for MLS as a whole. You can now start to showcase your talent better and keep the millions of fans around the world that have tuned in to watch because of Beckham and have stayed following the league. Sure, the publicity will take a hit with the departure of the world’s most popular athlete, but the league has to turn this into a positive so that they don’t return to soccer obscurity.