The inevitable ending to David Beckham's "temporary" loan move to AC Milan looks all but certain at this point. Beckham will end up in Milan if the common ruling principles of money and player power hold here as they do in almost every other instance.
At first glance, the move should work for all parties. MLS will reap a decent transfer haul to help the bottom line. The league should also feel satisfied with the accomplishment of luring Beckham in the first place and allowing him the chance for one last top-level swansong. AC Milan adds yet another quasi-required world superstar to its lineup to sell replica kits. Beckham will place himself in a position where England coach Fabio Capello can hardly afford to ignore him in the buildup to the 2010 World Cup.
But the way the whole move has occurred
leaves a sour taste in the mouth even if the parting was inevitable and both sides appear relatively blameless.
It's tough to blame the Los Angeles organization for collectively acting like a jilted lover. Beckham signed on for five years and stayed less than two. The loan move to Milan was engineered as an exit, not as a temporary fitness jaunt in Beckham's quest to top Bobby Moore's England caps record for an outfield player. The prophet made his profit and went back to Europe without leaving Los Angeles with a viable replacement for his marketing dollars or his gilded right boot.
Not that Beckham deserves blame for his desires either. He couldn't have expected the Galaxy to struggle as much as they did over the past two seasons. Nor could Beckham anticipate that the second-best player on his team would try to engineer his own move to Europe. When Beckham signed on with MLS, Beckham's wish of continuing for England or featuring in the highest reaches of European club football looked like a dream, not an achievable reality. Asking a competitive and talented player to toil in relative obscurity for a bad football team when greater glories await remains a fool's errand, even if the player is more than well compensated.
Even without blame, the time has arrived for Beckham's departure. When mentioning the parties who will benefit, I left the Galaxy out on purpose even though this move will benefit them most of all. The Friday Five explains why Arena and the Galaxy organization might as well send Beckham off with a note of gratitude and a hearty handshake.
1. Becks didn't deliver as advertised on the field
There was one David Beckham who sold jerseys and smiled for cameras and quite another who didn't deliver consistently on the field. That was the side of Beckham no one wanted to see. David Beckham, the world superstar who didn't look like he gave a toss half the time. David Beckham, the free-kick maestro who proved surprisingly ineffective from set pieces last season. David Beckham, the competitive right midfielder who at times left makeshift right back Chris Klein exposed enough to invoke obscenity laws. David Beckham, the outwardly frustrated figure who moaned at referees and chided incapable teammates when left without the proper service. In the end, Beckham fostered impossible on-field expectations and fell well short of them despite his ability.
2. The Galaxy won't have to play meaningless and harmful friendlies any more
Even the top European clubs didn't play as many money-grubbing friendlies in far flung places as the Galaxy did over the past eighteen months. Last year's three-week preseason trip with a Los Angeles-Honolulu-Seoul-Shanghai-Los Angeles itinerary couldn't have served the team well as the season progressed. And that doesn't even account for a jaunt to Edmonton to play a puzzling midweek game in May. The grueling schedule suggested the Galaxy preferred to cash checks instead of giving the team the possible best chance to succeed in MLS play. Then again, one could argue the Galaxy just followed the league's example after MLS arranged the Galaxy's patently ridiculous barnstorming fixture list in the second half of 2007 to drum up ticket sales across the league while hanging L.A.'s playoff chances out to dry.
3. Becks' departure leads to freedom from cap tyranny
With Beckham on his way and Landon Donovan likely to follow, Arena will have the necessary cap space to improve the overall talent level while hurting its top end. Those who track the transaction wire will notice Arena has already started the process by acquiring the middle-class players the Galaxy simply couldn't afford last season: Dema Kovalenko ($200,000 in 2008, likely considerably less in 2009), Stefani Miglioranzi ($76,200 in 2008) and Todd Dunivant ($105,000 in 2008). The situation requires more than one player to fix the problem and Beckham's departure will help facilitate an improved squad in 2009, even though Beckham and Donovan's irreplaceable qualities will certainly be missed.
4. The Galaxy can now make moves without one lingering eye on their European perception
Too often, the Galaxy appeared to make Beckham-related decisions with an eye towards making a splash on Sky Sports News. The disastrous appointment of the ill-suited Ruud Gullit serves as the shining example. Anyone who watched the Metrostars churn through Bora Milutinovic, Carlos Quieroz and Carlos Alberto Parreira knew how Gullit's tenure would work out. Without Beckham, the scrutiny will dwindle and the Galaxy can start to make soccer-related decisions without one eye towards perception.
5. The focus will return finally to soccer
It's a wonder how the Galaxy players could suit up and take the field every week with the media crush that surrounded them. The tabloids and the entertainment shows wanted Beckham to talk about anything but soccer and those who focused on the play on the field continually derided the Galaxy's lack of quality and laughed at their salaries. Without Beckham, Arena can stop answering questions about him and focus on improving the team without the withering media scrutiny. The players will benefit from the removal of the permanent traveling circus and the return of on-field success as the top priority.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.