I mean, who could have foreseen a 33-year-old who labored with injuries and fatigue through his first season and a half in MLS and cut a backdoor deal to embarrass his current employers might pull up trying to keep pace in one of the world's toughest leagues?
Such a scenario certainly was postulated in this column and other places. He's not the spry young buck he thinks he is, capable of extensive club contributions while holding down a place in the England team. He's certainly in his element at AC Milan, where despite injuries that opened up a starting spot for him he's still surrounded by some fantastic players, which has always been the place for him to flourish.
"He's never been the best player on his own team," pointed out D.C. United general manager Kevin Payne a few months ago of his play for Manchester United, Real Madrid, England, and the Galaxy. "He's not the best player on his team now and he won't be at AC Milan, either."
Unfortunately, the supporting cast in Los Angeles didn't include more than one or two players capable of stopping the other team, and so frustrated he became that clandestine contacts with AC Milan were initiated and consummated without any prior knowledge of the Galaxy and MLS.
Regardless, let's hope he heals quickly and gets right back onto the field so MLS can sell him before the price drops to zero. Call that $1 million Milan is paying during the loan spell a down payment on an asset plummeting in value.
Before he signed with MLS two years ago, I wrote a story headlined "Becks Will Be A Bust in MLS," yet still, once the deal went down, I wanted it to work, for the sake of MLS and the image of American soccer. For a while it did, but now, MLS looks like a humdrum nonentity with Becks back on a big stage.
MLS tries to present itself as one of the top 10 leagues in the world, using average attendances and, of course, the presence of Beckham to buttress its claim. Time for a new poster child, I guess.
He's already left MLS and the Galaxy mentally and psychologically, assuming he was ever present in any manner other than physically, and certainly financially. His enthusiasm and zeal the past few weeks wearing the red-and-black only occasionally emerged while wearing the Galaxy colors -- other than a prickly disdain for match officials -- and since he can opt out of his five-year contract at the end of the MLS season anyway, the time to sell is now.
Clearly, he can still play at a high level, when healthy, if he wants to. He also wants to be in Milan. Case closed. Who's going to change his mind?
Even without the opt-out clause, at the end of the MLS season he'd have been able to buy out the remaining years of his contract, under a provision adopted by FIFA in the aftermath of Scottish player Andy Webster. After being prevented from discussing a transfer deal with Rangers and then benched, Webster won a FIFA ruling by which he secured his release. The rule permits players to leave a club three years after he signs a contract if he is younger than 28, and after two years if he is 28 or older. Webster joined English Premier League club Wigan Athletic and then went on loan to Bristol City.
The Webster Rule, in theory, can force a club and a player to agree on a transfer or at least a severance agreement. When a player's contract expires, he is free to negotiate his own deal, yet in most cases his international transfer certificate (ITC) is retained by his previous club. MLS still controls Beckham's rights but that situation lapses in October, so really, the only decision is how much the fee should be.
There's no way to calculate how much his departure will cost the Galaxy in terms of season-ticket sales, sponsorship deals, revenue-sharing projects, and offseason barnstorming tours, and those numbers probably wouldn't be germane to FIFA if MLS and AC Milan reached an impasse in negotiations.
If they wish, MLS and the Galaxy could go to court and claim Beckham's self-serving maneuverings constitute a breach of contract that cost them a ton of dough. But more likely any termination agreement will include a clause that the parties agree not to sue each other. FIFA is also notoriously averse to legal proceedings.
Most transfer prices are based on the remaining portion of the player's contract, which would be $5.5 million for 2009. Given the circumstances, MLS and AEG should accept twice that figure, which is about what Beckham earned in salary the past two seasons, say all the right things, shake hands, and move on.
Compared to the goose egg he'll be worth to MLS in October, that deal works for me.