Andy Mead/Icon SMI
Raise your hand if you're tired of even hearing the name David Beckham. Over the past couple weeks, the headlines have been dominated by the constant will-he-or-won't-he-stay of Goldenballs' loan deal to AC Milan. On Wednesday, the man himself spelled it out: He wants out of Major League Soccer, and wants his current club, the Los Angeles Galaxy, to work out a deal with Milan to release him from his five-year, $32.5 million contract.
Whether you're a fan of Beckham or not, one thing has become painfully clear: There's no reason to make him stick around. Even if the Galaxy decide to play hardball, he won't be a pleasant figure to have around L.A. this upcoming season. After a torrid start last year, Beckham had a nasty habit of disappearing as it became obvious to him just how "inferior" the talent around him was. (This is all relative, mind you -- shame on him if he expected world-class teammates in a league with a strict salary cap.)
For that reason alone, it makes sense to grant him his wish. But for the first time in MLS history, the Galaxy have huge leveraging power over one of the preeminent soccer clubs in the entire world. They may have no choice but to let Beckham go, but they also have a unique opportunity to hold him hostage until they get something from Milan -- something beyond the eight-figure cash offer that inevitably will be throw their way.
This is a chance they cannot screw up. Beckham's contributions on the field can be replaced easily. His marketing power and fan draw cannot. There's no way the Galaxy can go gallivanting around the world for lucrative friendlies without the most visible athlete in the game. Here are three bargaining chips the Galaxy can demand from Milan in negotiating Beckham's escape from L.A.:
1. A suitable replacement player
Several current Milan players reportedly would be interested in a move to L.A. Now's the time to make the ridiculous request for the one guy who might be a close second to Beckham's iconic status: Ronaldinho. The Brazilian's megastar has fizzled somewhat since moving to Milan from Barcelona last summer. But that toothy grin and those ridiculous skills on the ball will put the rears in the seats. Miles between him and the European press might be just what the two-time FIFA World Player of the Year needs. And what could be better than the marketing gold of uniting L.A.'s real biggest star, Kobe Bryant, with his own favorite athlete?
2. A visit from Milan
MLS has lined up some great opponents to face its All-Star team over the past several years, including Chelsea and Glasgow Celtic. Milan has more world-renowned stars than both those teams combined. The Galaxy and MLS can demand the Rossoneri make the trip for the affair and hold the game at the Home Depot Center. Picture how great that'd be: MLS fans would get the chance to boo Beckham in his first visit in a Milan jersey.
3. A beneficial partnership
Many MLS clubs have arrangements with top European clubs to share resources like scouting, player pooling and facilities. Real Salt Lake has such an agreement with Real Madrid, the Colorado Rapids with Arsenal. If the Galaxy set up such a deal with Milan, they could send their squad to the enormous Milanello -- one of the best training facilities in the world -- for preseason practices and perhaps play the Milan reserves to tune up.
Remember, the Galaxy are in the driver's seat here -- not Beckham, not AC Milan. If AEG, the team's owners, are the savvy businessmen they claim to be, they won't let their prize possession walk quietly.