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The old bumper sticker saying goes, "America, love it or leave it." Well, David Beckham certainly doesn't love it. And he would love to leave it. But if the Galaxy stand in his way, they would be making a bigger mistake than when they signed him.
Last week the Galaxy announced that Beckham would return to Los Angeles on March 9 and honor his MLS contract after Tim Leiweke, CEO of Galaxy investor-operator AEG, said AC Milan failed to make a satisfactory offer for Beckham before a MLS-imposed deadline.
"They clearly were looking at this as a football decision, and we were looking at it as a football and business decision," Leiweke said. "I'm not sure they ever quite understood the magnitude of the losses the Galaxy and the league would have had to bear this season."
Anyone who has ever followed the ever-evolving world of soccer transfers knows that it was just another domino falling in the long, meandering road that would eventually lead to Beckham staying in Milan.
AC Milan director Umberto Gandini is scheduled to fly out to Los Angeles on Thursday, and there's no way he's leaving without Beckham. In fact, Beckham has become so desperate to avoid returning to Los Angeles that he has reportedly agreed to buy out his Galaxy contract at a cost of around $30 million, with Milan paying a portion of that.
Forcing Beckham to return at this point would be ridiculous and totally go against the league's goal of making him an ambassador for the sport. How successful can a global ambassador be when he's telling everyone around the world that American soccer is subpar and that he wants to leave?
Milan is hoping to lock up Beckham for the next two years. As far as they're concerned, he can still return to MLS in a few years when he doesn't have the itch to play top-flight soccer. Most of this ugliness will have been forgotten by then and Beckham can once again pull the old ambassador card, maybe play a couple more years before retiring to a front office role. There had been talk he was in line to own an MLS team, and that's probably the best role for him at this point.
Beckham, as a player, is a nice novelty act for MLS, but he clearly hasn't done anything to improve the Galaxy, nor has he made the world think any differently of MLS or make American fans think of Becks as anything more than a pop-culture icon that happens to play soccer in his free time. The Galaxy have missed the playoffs the past three seasons, had the worst record in the league in 2008 and haven't scored on a set-piece with Beckham in the lineup in, well ... I can't remember.
Interestingly enough, Landon Donovan, arguably the face of the MLS and American soccer for nearly a decade, also went on loan the same time Beckham did. Yet, while AC Milan is sending officials to Los Angeles to pry to the 33-year-old away in a multimillion-dollar transfer, the 26-year-old Donovan is basically being told by Bayern Munich not to forget his passport on the way to the airport when his transfer runs out in March.
It may be unfair to compare Beckham and Donovan, but it's the greatest example of what MLS is and probably always will be: a league for homegrown soccer stars -- not international soccer superstars.