So we have a view of Garber the hard man doing what commissioners always find it difficult to do -- telling their bosses how to behave. Or that's how it appears. In what has to be one of the most clumsily-worded statements he'll ever make, Garber says "We [i.e. MLS] are prepared to be supportive of transferring David to AC Milan for a transfer fee that acknowledges the value of his services to the Galaxy and the League."
There are those -- I feel I might be among them -- who would suggest that if the fee is to be linked to Beckham's value to the Galaxy as a player, then the Galaxy should be paying Milan to take him. But "value" here, I suppose, includes all those marketing deals. Beckham, like all MLS players, is actually under contract to MLS, which pays his basic salary. One might think that it should be MLS that is dealing with Milan -- but evidently not when it's Designated Player Beckham, and that other, vast, world of sponsorships and endorsements comes into it.
This then, is the situation: Garber is leaving the negotiations to the Galaxy. And they have made it clear that, if the money's right, they won't hesitate to send Beckham on his way. But Milan and the Galaxy are miles apart (as much as $8 million according to some speculations) on how much Milan should pay to the Galaxy. Not be outdone by Garber's mis-wording, AEG's Tim Leiweke offers this obscure thought: "If David ultimately is an asset for this team, we want him back."
That's a pretty strange "if" - and anyway, surely Leiweke himself is the very one who should know the answer to that question.
Well, maybe that is the situation. We got a reminder last week -- also from the Galaxy -- that we journalists are really a pretty clueless bunch. Bruce Arena, reverting to his scornfully dismissive attitude to the press (which I'd hoped he'd outgrown) told journalists that he found what they were writing was "kind of humorous when you understand what's going on behind the scenes."
OK, guilty, I'm not behind the scenes. But I can speculate. How about this. AEG has made one mighty mess of the whole Beckham extravaganza. Now it's backed into a corner, desperate to sell him -- but only for a sum that at least says they weren't financially duped. Milan knows that, so it dithers and delays, making AEG even more nervous. So it gets Garber to add his weight to the affair. Between them they agree that Garber must deliver an ultimatum to AEG -- but they know that it is really intended for Milan. AEG can now claim that its hands are tied and Milan must cough up or shut up. And Garber looks good, the iron-man getting one of his clubs to toe the line.
Arena may well find my version humorous. I have news for him, it's meant to be. Then again, maybe not. In the meantime, I'm looking at Arena's efforts to turn the Galaxy into a decent team, and I'd have to say I find those rather humorous, too. But it's difficult not to sympathize with Arena, who has inherited this shambles, with his two outstanding players strenuously trying to get signed by other clubs.
If Landon Donovan stays in Europe, it is certainly a big loss for MLS. But you can make the case that his success there would have a positive side because it would indicate that this country can produce skillful players, and it would reflect well on the caliber of play in MLS.
Exactly the opposite applies to Beckham. He is so obviously fleeing from MLS, and every statement he makes, when he seems to think he's praising American soccer, comes out as a patronizing slur on both the league and on the caliber of American players. If he returns, it will be as though he's being dragged back here. I suppose that would, at least, give Beckham a last chance for some memorable performances on the field, which would go some way toward rebuilding his shattered image with American fans.
But you have to feel that performing as a reluctant star is not Beckham's game, and anyway the brutal truth is that neither the Galaxy nor MLS will greatly miss him if he bows out.
A deal that allows Beckham to become a Milan player is the best way out of this screw-up. It is the solution that does least damage to all the parties involved, not one of whom, as Doomsday approaches, can feel too delighted with the way things have panned out.