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Analyzing the Garber proclamation
by Ridge Mahoney, February 12th, 2009 7AM
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[MLS]Bluff or bluster, or plenty of both? By issuing a statement that AEG and Milan must reach a transfer agreement regarding David Beckham by Friday or MLS won't approve the deal, league Commissioner Don Garber has jumped into the fray with both feet and studs showing.

"It is absolutely imperative that we bring this issue to closure by this Friday, February 13th, so we can move forward with finalizing plans for the 2009 MLS Season," Garber said in a letter sent to AEG on Tuesday. "We 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. However, if the issue is not resolved by the end of the week, it will be difficult, if not impossible, for us to go forward with the transfer."

Most ultimatums don't refer to "difficult," so Garber has wisely left some cushion in case negotiations continue, as they most likely will, beyond Friday. Whether Garber could actually enforce such a proclamation is another issue.

As a single-entity league, MLS does own and control player contracts, but Beckham and Milan effectively launched a loan arrangement without the knowledge or prior approval of both MLS and AEG. Embarrassingly, when word of the discussions first leaked out in the fall, MLS referred questions about the matter to AEG, whose officials were just as flummoxed as those in the league office.

As has been in the case in many of its projects, AEG has invested heavily in Brand Beckham, and with several elements of its soccer portfolio - Red Bull New York, Colorado Rapids, D.C. United, Chicago Fire - it has sold at the appropriate time.

Milan didn't get to be one of the most powerful soccer clubs in the world by bowing to pressure or hastily invented deadlines, and AEG's bold, aggressive business practices have established it as a major player in sports, entertainment, and facility management in the United States, Europe, and Asia.

Not clear is if a specified date - Beckham is due to be back with the Galaxy March 9 if no transfer is consummated - is stipulated in the loan agreement, or has been mutually agreed upon by Milan and AEG. Since MLS was privy to that loan agreement, and signed off on it, its right to arbitrarily intercede with a different timeline could be challenged by the other parties.

"They don't have until March 9," Garber said at a press conference in Columbus Wednesday prior to the USA-Mexico Hexagonal opener. "They need approval from us on a transfer. That's our timetable, not Milan's timetable. So if Milan believes they have until March 9, then I'm basically correcting that assumption. They have until this Friday. On this Friday, we need to know whether they want to buy David Beckham or not."

Garber is doing a bit of wordmongering here and wisely aiming his remarks at Milan, rather than AEG, though his meaning is clear. Milan has already stated it wants Beckham, and grudgingly, AEG president Tim Leiweke has agreed, at least publicly, to sell him at the right price.

Under FIFA statutes, Beckham could come back to the Galaxy March 9 and Milan and AEG could still discuss a transfer, though he wouldn't be free to rejoin Milan until the European transfer re-opens in the summer. Since he is already registered to play for Milan, he can stay with the team and continue playing if the loan is converted into a transfer.

But if he returns to the Galaxy, his international transfer certificate (also known as a player pass) reverts to MLS and he can play only for the Galaxy. Theoretically, he could come back as late as April 15, when the U.S. transfer window closes, but AEG has set an earlier date to have him available for the start of the MLS season and, just perhaps, revive season-ticket and merchandising sales that are lagging because of an economic crisis as well as uncertainty over Beckham.

"AEG and the Galaxy have friendly games that they have planned and other things that they have on the schedule," said Garber, getting down the business nuts and bolts of why MLS and AEG wooed Beckham in the first place. "There's no reason it should be taking so long. It either makes sense for them or it doesn't."

The bottom line for AC Milan is that the bottom line has to make sense. And right now, if AEG has indeed set a price of $22 million -- as one English tabloid with no particular record of accuracy has stated -- it doesn't. But while it may make business sense to drag Beckham back, common sense suggests otherwise.



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