If David Beckham goes to AC Milan on loan, Bruce Arena will have failed his first major test as Galaxy impresario.
True, the Gals failed to make the playoffs; had a team creaky up front and leaky at the back squeezed into a postseason slot only execs at MLS and ESPN offices would have celebrated. As Arena quickly found out, LA is at least five players short of a decent starting XI, and a postseason appearance might have hampered his efforts to convince management that, We're terrible, and next year, we'll be worse.
In a must-win game at Houston, by the midpoint of the first half, the Galaxy trailed 3-0. Game over. In too many games this year, LA wasn't competitive, and you have to be really bad in MLS to not be competitive.
Arena is supposed to bail out, and then re-start the engines and steer, this sinking ship. Whether or not Landon Donovan leaves MLS this winter, one of the few weapons currently under Arena' aegis is Beckham, who tailed off in the final one-third of the season after rather religiously applying himself through some arduous preseason excursions and the first portion of the 2008 campaign.
Now Arena is trying to convince the press and the fans, and perhaps himself, that Beckham playing three months in Milan will fine-tune him for the MLS season. League executives have strenuously insisted that Beckham won't stay for the balance of the European season, as some outlets have "reported", but will come back in late March, and they trumpet this as a grand triumph.
No, the triumph would be for Arena, and MLS, to just say no, to tell Becks he's entitled to fly across the Atlantic, or whichever body of water is involved, to play for England when summoned, but is not empowered to be ensconced in Italy, savoring the wines and cuisines and fashions, and ducking the paparazzi of Milan while Arena tries to rework three years of shambolic seasons into something respectable.
Truth be told, if Becks is bored, that's his problem. It's one thing to sulk and pout through long stretches of critical games, or bicker at refs instead of castigating slug-like teammates, but bailing on his employers so he can set an all-time English caps record is deplorable.
Becks sputtered this season in the last two months. It's ridiculous, and illogical, to assume that after a tougher "preseason" spent with Milan playing both in Serie A and the UEFA Cup, he'll stay the course more surely in 2009. He's 33, not 23, and those legs aren't getting any springier. Younger players can play 10 or 11 months out of 12 and not succumb to wear and tear. Becks ain't nearly young enough.
Perhaps, he'd be refreshed mentally and psychologically by returning, albeit briefly, to the European stage. Yet coming back to MLS would surely deflate and dispirit him, and he can't possibly give his best to the Galaxy with his attention split between Arena and Capello, or Columbus and Kazakhstan, or Peter Crouch and Pete Vagenas.
The stance of AEG and MLS is even seedier, if possible. While decrying the very idea, Arena -- never one to ignore the call of cash -- also admitted that if there were bundles of money to flow into certain coffers, the deal makes sense.
A millionaire asks a woman if she'll sleep with him for $100,000, and she says yes. Then he suggests the fee be $10, and the woman says, "Of course not, what do you think I am?", to which the man responds, "We've already established that, now we're haggling about the price."
Those that bought Becks for marketing riches are willing to rent him so a mega-powerful club can glow even brighter. So in effect the caretakers of American professional soccer are saying, "Yes, we'll look like sniveling weenies by giving into this, but they're paying us for it!"
By kowtowing to Beckham, MLS and AEG are flushing down the toilet a great deal of what he brought to the league in the first place: attention and notice, if not respectability and prestige. A fixation to cash checks from whatever source has spread throughout MLS in its rush to collect expansion fees, and its readiness to sell a Maurice Edu for $5 million in midseason despite his importance to Toronto's playoff chase, a quest that without him fell short.
What Becks needs is not a loan deal, nor to bask -- tuxedoed and tanned - in the shadow of La Scala, nor the few scraps of substitute minutes Capello will toss him. Becks needs a fresh set of priorities but with nobody there to say no, nobody stronger than the headstrong child, it's not going to happen.