On several previous occasions, Galaxy coach Bruce Arena had refused to speculate on what he'd do if Beckham didn't return and insisted the midfielder figured into his plans for the 2009 MLS season. Leiweke's comments indicate no longer is AEG so bullish on getting him back, yet it also intends to extract a hefty price.
"Clearly, if David's in a position where he wants to finish the season in Milan, and Milan in turn compensates the Galaxy so that we can suffer no damages to our fans or to our team, then we'll take a look at it," said Leiweke, who lobbied MLS adopt a method by which to sign high-priced talent -- subsequently dubbed the Designated Player option -- after Beckham and Real Madrid drew a sellout crowd for a friendly against the Galaxy in 2005.
"But we have made it very clear to them that we expect David back here March 9," he continued. "They agree and understand we own the contract. They understand the only way we do this is if, when this is all said and done, the Galaxy benefits."
Neither side has confirmed what Milan offered. Galliani told Sky Italia the two sides are far apart. The intent of AEG to gouge Milan, and indirectly Beckham, may be tempered by a clause in Beckham's contract that allows him to leave at the end of the MLS season.
If that clause is an opt-out, rather than a buyout, AEG runs of the risk of fielding a disgruntled player who it will lose for nothing in eight months.
"There's a long distance between what we've offered and what they want," Galliani said. "Therefore we need to talk. For now we are a long way off, but there is a still a month to go."
Projected originally to shore up the Milan midfield, Beckham has instead started all six games since the start of his loan, scored two goals, and set up several others with pinpoint serves "He's doing very well and has an incredible desire," Galliani said. "Beckham is educated, he looks after his own money, he cleans his own boots. He is an old type of player, that I like."
And only money can free Beckham from Milan at this point but as an MLS source said, "If he wants to stay, and Milan is willing to write a check, how can AEG say no?"
AEG originally signed Beckham to a ballyhooed, $250 million, five-year contract, of which $32.5 million consisted of salary and related bonuses, and the balance tied to merchandise sales, sponsorships, marketing deals, international tours, and other revenue-generating projects. Jerseys flew off the shelves, ticket sales around the league skyrocketed, and a media feeding frenzy ensued, but all that dissipated after a year or so. Pepsi and Beckham severed their decade-long alliance last December.
"We need to end the distractions, the circus and the zoo," Leiweke said. "We just received an offer. It was rejected."
Leiweke could barely contain his anger at the joy expressed by Beckham since arriving in Milan. Beckham and his representatives clandestinely agreed to the loan, which then received sanction, if not approval, by AEG and MLS.
"We understand his infatuation with playing on the world's most popular club team right now, and we understand his trying to mentally get around the idea of coming back to play with a team that didn't make the playoffs in MLS last year," Leiweke said.
Some outlets reported the rejected bid was $10 million; other outlets have estimated the Galaxy is asking between $10 million and $20 million. If Beckham can opt out at the end of the season, and Milan is already on the hook to pay $1 million during the duration of the loan, it could logically start the bidding at $5.5 million, which is the balance remaining on his 2009 salary.
The fact that MLS owns all player contracts, including that of Beckham, hasn't surfaced as yet amid the Milan-AEG crossfire. Yet MLS does not deal directly in Designated Player negotiations; such deals are subject to review and approval by the Board of Governors but are not controlled by the league office.
AEG can cite whatever figure it wants, using all three years remaining on the contract, lost ticket and sponsorship revenues, canceled tours and sponsorship deals, etc. Its price will drop in direct proportion to Beckham's resistance to come back. Leiweke, indirectly, challenged Beckham's proclamations that he wants to stay in Milan.
"If David ultimately is an asset for this team, we want him back," Leiweke said. "If David ultimately has a hunger and a desire to come help us make the impact on the pitch that we wanted to make with him but haven't done yet, then he's an important member of this team and our intention is to bring him back.
"Last time I checked, we're the ones that have the contract. So the decision as to where David's going to play this year is as much ours as anyone's. If David comes back, it will be because there were decisions made by all involved and he'll accept that. I don't think he'll be as disgruntled as the media makes it out to be."
England coach Fabio Capello has named Beckham to the 23-man squad for a friendly against Euro 2008 champion Spain on Wednesday. He did not pick Beckham for England's last match, a 2-1 defeat of Germany in Berlin, after he'd played in four previous qualifiers, all victories, as a substitute.
"Beckham is a very important player," Capello said. "His form is OK now. I followed him in Milan. Now he's fit. You know every player who wants to be in the squad has to play, not only training. It's important to David, it's important for us."