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Saturday, Oct. 25, 2008

PREMIER REPORT

Move to Milan may be end of Beckham's stay in L.A.


LONDON — From the worst team in Major League Soccer to a side crammed with superstars, World Cup and Champions League winners — who writes David Beckham's scripts?

Christopher Davies

The football wastelands of San Jose will be swapped for San Siro when the Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder joins AC Milan on loan for a short spell in the New Year. As they say in the United States, the deal makes cents — millions of them.

Milan is aware of the marketing and commercial value of the world's most famous player even on a short-term basis.

"Big stars fill out the stadiums," said Milan vice president Adriano Galliani. "Football is all about a packed out arena, big audiences and wealthy sponsors. With him, Kaka and Ronaldinho it will be a dream team."

Or as one observer put it, galactico lite.

Which number Beckham will be given will be intriguing and a significant marketing decision. Pato has the No. 7 jersey, Clarence Seedorf No. 10 and Massimo Ambrosini the No. 23 jersey Beckham wears in Los Angeles.

No. 75 — the year of Beckham's birth — is favorite.

On the field Milan has no natural right winger, its crosses from that side coming from full-back Luca Antonini. For all Beckham's fame he is a down-to-earth, popular character who will not rock the ego boat in the Milan dressing-room.

News photo
Interesting move: David Beckham's potential loan from the Los Angeles Galaxy to AC Milan raises many questions. AP PHOTO

England manager Fabio Capello, a Milan legend, will be delighted Beckham will be involved in some serious action during the winter.

If the 33-year-old is to equal (he needs one more appearance) and then pass Bobby Moore's England record of 108 caps for an outfield player, Beckham will be better off playing in Turin than training somewhere.

And Mrs. Beckham, aka Posh, will no doubt disregard the credit crunch to become a welcome customer in the city which calls itself the fashion center of the world.

All of this is assuming the deal goes through. Incredibly, the last people to learn about the proposed move were the Galaxy, who understandably were not pleased to be told of their star player's plans via the media.

There was silent embarrassment from the Galaxy front office staff when the media asked about Beckham who, surprise surprise did not make himself available to the media at the Galaxy training headquarters as they prepared for the final, meaningless MLS game against Dallas FC on Sunday.

Galaxy coach and general manager Bruce Arena admitted: "The first I heard about it was from the media . . . but I would think, given the position the Galaxy is in and the fact that we're rebuilding our team and trying to have a successful year, it would seem very odd to me if we were loaning out our top players at the start of the season. It would seem pretty odd to me to operate that way. Not that it seemed to bother Arena.

"I've spent not a second of my day even thinking about it, to be honest," he said. "On the surface, it sounds like an odd proposition. I don't see where that benefits MLS or the Galaxy."

The only word from the Beckham camp came from Simon Oliveira of 19 Entertainment.

"David's intention is to maintain his fitness and keep himself eligible for England selection," said Oliveira, which would have gone down well with the Galaxy, which pays him about $5 million a year to be fit and eligible for selection for them.

Perhaps realizing this Oliveira added: "He very much remains a Galaxy player and he would be in Los Angeles for the start of the 2009 MLS season [in April]."

However, Arena said that as far as he understands, a player-loan has to cover the entire period between two transfer windows, in this case from January to June, meaning that Beckham would miss the first three months of the 2009 Major League Soccer season.

Galaxy season ticket holders would not be best pleased to turn up and find the main attraction is playing against Lazio rather than in Los Angeles.

Beckham signed a five-year contract with the Galaxy last year and he needs their permission to play for Milan. While the Galaxy sells out every home game and the Beckham effect guarantees similar attendances on the road, Los Angeles have had a dreadful season with Beckham scoring five times in 29 MLS games.

There is a growing feeling that the Galaxy is a little more than a marketing tool for Team Beckham and the bold move to bring him to California has backfired. The temporary move to Europe may yet become permanent.

* * * * *

IT IS DIFFICULT to say anything positive about Joey Barton.

The Newcastle midfielder is the least popular player in England after, among other things, stubbing a cigar out in a teammate's eye, beating up an innocent bystander in a drunken rage for which he was jailed, plus being given a four-month suspended sentence for causing actual bodily harm to former Manchester City defender Ousamane Dabo.

Barton is not the guy you would want your daughter to marry. Or even go out with on a date.

He is set to play against Sunderland in the Tyne-Wear derby on Saturday having served his six-game Football Association ban for the Dabo incident. Barton played in a reserve game earlier in the week and afterward spoke to the media, aware that it is better to put his side of the story rather than the press simply writing what they think.

This was a profoundly sensible decision, and while Barton will never lose his image as a thug, maybe, just maybe he has learned his lesson.

He's done the crime, served his time and claimed he has not had a drink since Dec. 27 last year. Those with a drink problem always know the date, probably the time and place, too, of their last indulgence.

Maybe, just maybe the penny has finally dropped, though the jury will remain out for quite a while.

"I'm not asking for anyone to feel sorry for me," he said. "If anything, I deserve every bit of criticism leveled at me. I can't stand here and try to defend myself because I'm indefensible. And I'm the first to acknowledge that. I am indefensible.

"But I'm a human being. I have made mistakes, probably a lot more than others, but people are quick to condemn me. If you don't make mistakes you don't give them the chance to start throwing stones.

"All I would say is that I have hopefully learned from my mistakes and I'm trying to put things right and get my football career and my life back on track.

"I let a lot of people down and now I'm just hoping to repay them. I know a lot of people don't think I deserve another chance but I'm very, very fortunate I've got one, and now I have to make the most of it.

"There are people who have been in jail longer than me. I was watching the boxing the other night and saw Bernard Hopkins who was in jail for four years and he managed to turn his life around. I just have to try to take inspiration from that.

"I'm not the first person to mess up, and I've messed up on more than one occasion, but nothing sobers you up like the reality of going to prison. That's it. I know it's the last-chance saloon. I'm just thankful I've got that opportunity."

Christopher Davies covers the Premier League for the London Daily Telegraph.


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