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MLS and AC Milan are locked in a public relations tussle over David Beckham's future. Goal.com's Kyle McCarthy thinks the Americans are holding their own.

By Kyle McCarthy

At first glance, challenging David Beckham to a public relations war seems like a daft move by MLS, AEG and the Los Angeles Galaxy.

It's like challenging Michael Jordan to a game of H-O-R-S-E or Bill Gates to a computer programming contest. Sure, you can try to beat one of the world's best at his own game, but the odds are stacked heavily against you. So much so that the eager British bookmakers likely wouldn't even lay odds on the contest.

But in a high stakes game of chicken, MLS is just about holding its own with Becks and AC Milan. By keeping Beckham and Milan on their toes, the league is generating valuable press coverage and establishing itself as a worthy off-the-field adversary on the world stage.

The public relations tussle started in earnest when MLS commish Don Garber decided to institute a unilateral drop dead date for Beckham's permanent transfer to AC Milan. Prior to that point, both Beckham and AC Milan had dropped hints about a permanent deal and started to lead the eager Italian press towards the notion that Beckham's Milan move was inevitable. Beckham had to move, the theory went, so he could play top level football and stay in Fabio Capello's England plans.

Garber – and whomever he consulted before the public statement – decided to apply a little bit of pressure to contradict this groundswell. The sponsors and fans apparently demanded to know whether Beckham would return, even though there is more than a month before the first kick and the Galaxy had barely kicked a ball in anger during preseason. Milan had to seal a transfer before last Friday in order to secure Beckham's permanent signature. Otherwise, Beckham would return to Southern California.

The move apparently flummoxed the Italians and Beckham. Milan figured it could swoop in, offer a piddling amount and the Galaxy would accept with one eye on the out clause in place for the end of the 2009 MLS season. For any other player, Milan's tactics would have made sense. But Beckham generates revenues that far exceed any on-field production, even, as it has been since his Milan debut, when the production is significant. The deadline showed Milan that MLS wouldn't give Beckham up easily.

Not that Milan or Beckham would let the opening gambit decide the matter. The deadline came and went, as most would have predicted. Milan couldn't budge right now, not with so much time left before the end of the loan and certainly not to Garber's whim.

Of course, Milan's inaction gave the Galaxy a chance to seize the initiative once again. AEG head honcho Tim Leiweke ranted to the Los Angeles Times, transmitting the vibe that Milan hadn't taken the negotiations seriously and showing palpable anger towards the situation. Undoubtedly, this was a real emotion; Leiweke heads one of the world's largest live entertainment companies and isn't used to being treated like a neophyte. Beckham would now stay and the discussions were off once and forever, according to Leiweke.

The matter was apparently settled, but only if one couldn't look through the window dressing and realize that there was no way MLS would call the shots to end this tug-of-war.

On Saturday, Milan chief executive Adriano Galliani rightly dismissed the deadline as a “tactic” and said his club wouldn't be put off by the deadline. Milan manager Carlo Ancelotti reminded the press that there were still 20 days left before the end of Beckham's loan. Leaks throughout the British press said Beckham's advisers were confident a deal would get done soon.

Then the trump card himself decided to venture onto the stage after the Milan derby on Sunday.

“I know it will be difficult to go back after everything that's happened,” Beckham told the assembled media throng after Inter all but sealed the Scudetto with a 2-1 win. “I've said I want to stay at Milan and I haven't changed my mind, but it's out of my hands.”

Beckham is right, after all. He wants to play for Milan, not the Galaxy. In the end, that's generally what rules the day. And if Beckham was just another good player, that might be enough to earn him a move to Milan.

The considerations are far different here. What can be divined from the endless public relations struggle of the past week is that the Galaxy and MLS will not just let Beckham go because Beckham wants to go. There is a price figure in their minds – likely something close to the revenues he would generate over the course of a season, which isn't an insignificant number and could reach into the low eight figures – and MLS and the Galaxy won't let Beckham go unless its price is met. MLS likely knows that it is best for Beckham to make the move now rather than play unhappily and opt out of his contract at the end of the season, but it won't be played for a rube in its transfer dealings.

Want more proof that MLS is taking this seriously? Look at this leak to the Washington Post on Sunday evening. Milan lowballed MLS with a $3 million offer, sources claim. Furthermore, a deal won't get done quickly this week because most of the MLS hierarchy is off on vacation, according to those in the know. Take that, Milan. Your cheapness and the American indifference to the move will be plastered all over the British tabloids by Monday morning.

For now, the battle wages on with March 8 the only end in sight. Maybe MLS will keep Beckham here against his will and it will all work out in the end. Maybe MLS keeps Becks and disaster ensues. Maybe Beckham will get his wish and all parties end up happy.

But the fact that there isn't a consensus that the move will happen might just mean MLS can hold its own at this level after all.

Positive Claudio effect” helps Wizards land Hirsig

Kansas City flew under the radar this week to seal perhaps the most impressive deal of the offseason when it landed Santiago Hirsig from Argentine powerhouse San Lorenzo on Wednesday. Hirsig, 31, made 77 appearances for San Lorenzo over the past three seasons, most of them as a starter before featuring primarily as a substitute during the 2008 Apertura season.

Wizards technical director Peter Vermes said in a phone interview on Friday that Hirsig can play centrally or out wide on the right hand side. The slender Hirsig is a box-to-box midfielder who is willing to attack defenders one versus one, according to Vermes.

We have a goal in mind to build a consistently competitive franchise,” Vermes said. “As we build towards that goal, it helps to get guys of this caliber.”

The last time Vermes signed a player with this type of experience, Claudio Lopez became the team's first Designated Player. The Wizards' ability to sign Lopez last offseason helped to pave the way for Hirsig's arrival, Vermes said.

I think there is a positive Claudio effect,” Vermes said. “This is something we had in mind when he signed Claudio.”

Inking Lopez wouldn't mean much if the former Argentina and Valencia star wasn't happy with his time in Kansas City. Vermes argues that Lopez's return in 2009 shows that the right foreign player can settle into the area and benefit both the Wizards and MLS.


We realize Kansas City isn't New York or Los Angeles,” Vermes said. “It's a different place. We have to prove that we can get players here and that they will be happy here. [Lopez] signing on for another year shows that.”

Around the League

- The quote of the week comes from Seattle head coach Sigi Schmid after Sounders FC dealt Khano Smith to New York for allocation money on Thursday. “I didn't draft him, so you'd have to ask Adrian [Hanauer, Seattle general manager],” Schmid told the Seattle Times. “But he thought other teams would be interested in him, and I thought he'd be too inconsistent for us, so as it turns out, we were both right.”

- Teams looking for a central midfielder would be wise to scope out San Jose's training camp. Former Columbus and Fulham midfielder Simon Elliott has been training with the team since camp opened, though it's hard to see where he fits on the roster unless Ramiro Corrales switches to left back. Former Real Sociedad, Derby County and Southampton midfielder Inigo Idiakez joined him in time for a pair of friendlies this weekend. Southampton released Idiakez, 35, after a relatively indifferent 2007-2008 campaign with the Saints in the English Championship. The veteran attacking midfielder is now available on a free transfer after failing to find a club since the end of last season.

- Chicago defender Bakary Soumare earned his first cap for Mali in its 4-0 win over Angola in midweek.

- Two humorous tidbits out of D.C. this week and Ben Olsen is prominently involved in both: (1) Kiss Cam at a recent Capitals game and (2) Olsen wearing a Christian Gomez Rapids jersey to help welcome the former and current United playmaker back to R.F.K. Stadium.

- Soccer Unites Utah, with the help of donations from across MLS and U.S. soccer, is holding a jersey auction to benefit Marcia and Andy Williams. Click here to keep up with the jerseys already up for sale and check back daily as new items are added.

Kyle McCarthy writes the Monday MLS Breakdown and frequently writes opinion pieces during the week for Goal.com. He also covers the New England Revolution for the Boston Herald and MLSnet.com. Contact him with your questions or comments at kylemccarthy@gmail.com.

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