A Closer View of the David Beckham-AC Milan Arrangement

January 8, 2009

When is a professional athlete more than just a player?

When he’s David Beckham.

It has been over two months since Becks was loaned out to AC Milan, and with only three months left on that contract, he still has yet to play a regular season game for his temporary new team. Many have wondered why such a strange transaction was made, and what possible benefit could be procured from it?

Professional soccer clubs typically do not loan out their best players when it would conflict with the start of their own new season. Common sense dictates that having one's best players unavailable for training camp and pre-season matches is simply bad for business.

Nevertheless, the MLS' LA Galaxy has made this exact type of personnel transaction -- twice! First with Becks, then with forward Landon Donovan to Bayern Munich (we'll know more about the nature of the Donovan deal once we observe how Jurgen Klinsman utilizes his talents).

Equally curious is Milan's decision to take Beckham for so short a period. With the extended winter break in the Italian Serie A, Milan can field Beckham for approximately 8 weeks before his contract expires. And that assumes Beckham is match-fit and ready to play when their season resumes next weekend.

Such moves produce a series of obvious questions:

Did Galaxy management and MLS officials have a choice? Was David Beckham calling the shots for the sole purpose of ensuring himself a spot on the England national team? Does AC Milan want Beckham merely for a publicity boost, or do they need help on the field? Does the MLS hope to gain more respect from their European counterparts by showcasing their players around the globe?

To understand, in the words of Galaxy boss Bruce Arena, this “odd proposition,” each of the interested parties must be examined. We must look at what they stand to gain, and in the Galaxy’s case, what they stand to lose.

Did the Los Angeles Galaxy Have a Choice?

No. And neither did the MLS for that matter, since a disgruntled David Beckham does not bode well for the future of the American league.

The reasons for the Galaxy not wanting such an arrangement are numerous.

Aside from the obvious fact of not having Becks available for training camp and the pre-season, Bruce Arena now has to hope that Beckham isn’t injured. Remember that two seasons ago, Beckham spent the first half of his Galaxy season injured on the bench. While he did boost ticket and memorabilia sales over the entire year, his injury certainly did not improve the team’s performance from the prior year, as they failed to make the playoffs.

This past year marked the Galaxy's third straight year in which they failed to make the playoffs, putting immense pressure on Arena to turn things around. The last thing he needs is to have his top gun injured.

Evidence of Arena's lack of say in the matter can be found in the miscommunications between Arena and MLS Commissioner Don Garber when the deal was announced (unlike other professional leagues in the world, the MLS itself controls player rights).

Initially it was thought that the trip to Milan was merely to train, and Arena himself was optimistic that Becks would be fit for the start of a new 2009 campaign. His optimism took a 180 degree turn once he learned that Beckham would not be back until just before the start of the season, in late March of 2009.

“On the surface it sounds like an odd proposition,” said Arenas. “I don’t see where that benefits MLS or the Galaxy. It would seem pretty odd to me to operate that way.”

From his actions, it appears Arena learned of the transaction through the media. Furthermore, one can only agree with him in questioning whether the Galaxy are serious about turning things around and rebuilding the team.

Coaches are hired to win, and any effort is futile when a team revolves around one single player. It becomes that much more futile when the team's best player arrives on the eve of the season. We already could be seeing the beginning of the end for Arenas. A poor start to 2009 could mean another year of missed playoffs, and possibly another coaching exit similar to Frank Yallop and Ruud Guillet.

Does AC Milan Need Beckham's Help?

On the field, no. Not with studs like Ronaldinho, Kaka, Seedorf, Maldini, Pirlo, and Pato already on the roster.

But what about the financial aspect of the deal?

Aside from the obvious added media coverage and boosted shirt and ticket sales, AC Milan actually stands to gain very little financially from such a loan. Sponsors are unlikely to commit to any added long term agreements with AC Milan simply because Beckham is hanging around for a few short months.

More importantly, Beckham-mania could disrupt team chemistry by inflaming the insecurities of the team. Beckham's arrival possibly could brew animosity in the showers should Becks abruptly consume another's playing time, and then just as quickly skip town. As is, most of the Milan roster is of a higher class than Beckham, especially considering his current state of fitness. Thus, it is easy to see how problems could arise, as nobody wants to sit for a less productive newcomer.

The true reason for Milan’s decision can be found in Fabio Capello, the Italian national, and current manager of England's National Team. Capello experienced most of his success both as a player and as a coach at AC Milan, and clearly used his influence to persuade Milan to make the move.

At mid-season, AC Milan are title contenders, and have no glaring injury problems. Because of this, Beckham likely will have a minimally positive impact on the field for Milan, while providing little economic gain.

Does David Beckham Need the Exposure?

When you’re David Beckham, do you really ever need exposure?

What he really needs is some competitive action to improve his chances of being chosen for the 2010 World Cup.

Beckham's increasingly diminished role on the English National Team is softened by Capello’s patience for the 33 year old, as the two have a friendship that dates back to Beckham’s time at Real Madrid. At Real Madrid, Capello often praised Becks, but used him sparingly.

Additional motivating factors for Beckham’s desire to play in Italy are found in Capello's 2008 comments, where he suggested that Beckham could play in South Africa in 2010, but that he needed to be playing at a higher level than the MLS.

Beckham has always been keen on suiting up for his fourth World Cup and Capello's support for him is likely the main reason for his decision to sign with Milan, even if it is for less than three months.

Last week Fabio Capello did in fact honor his end of the tacit agreement by placing David Beckham back on the national team.

So in the end, Beckham’s a happy footballer. However, one might ask, would he still be in Milan if it were not for Fabio Capello? The answer, probably not.

By Adrian Yeung
Staff Reporter for TheDailySportsHerald.com

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