The wheels of soccer politicking are turning at high speed as David Beckham seeks a permanent move to AC Milan.
Some of the biggest names in the sport – Beckham, Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti, England manager Fabio Capello and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi – are being whisked along in the slipstream as the saga reaches its most critical juncture.
However, as the end of the January transfer window and D-Day edges ever closer, there is one person who can not be overlooked in the whole process.
Victoria Beckham, the England midfielder's wife of nearly 10 years and mother of his three children, could be the Los Angeles Galaxy's best hope of holding on to their most famous player as the tides of his career flow increasingly toward a permanent rest in Italy.
The former member of the Spice Girls could have a crucial bearing on whether David returns to the Galaxy for the start of the Major League Soccer campaign.
David Beckham wants to stay where he is now. On loan with Milan since the start of the year, he has had a taste of the elite soccer he turned his back on by leaving Real Madrid for Major League Soccer in 2007. And he likes it.
The noble mission to popularize soccer in the United States lost some of its luster thanks to the Galaxy's internal strife and pathetic performances over the past two seasons.
"David is under contract to the Galaxy and … he loves it in L.A.," Galaxy chief executive Tim Leiweke insisted to the Los Angeles Times. "He wants a better Galaxy team, we're going to have a better team and David has no interest in going."
Even though new coach Bruce Arena is determined to usher in a fresh era at the Home Depot Center, the prospect of a return to California can't compare to the thrill of suiting up in Milan's red-and-black colors each week in Serie A. Every time Beckham pulls on that fabled jersey and takes his place alongside Kaka, Ronaldinho, Paolo Maldini and rising star Alexandre Pato, it is justification for him, a reminder that he can still produce at this level, and a snub to his critics.
There has been little consideration for the Galaxy's wishes in this entire process. Beckham's comments that he wanted to go on loan because the MLS offseason was too long stretched the truth. He simply wanted to cling to his international career and this was the best way to attempt it.
Milan vice president Adriano Galliani is prepared to splash out a transfer fee of up to $10 million if Beckham can secure a contractual release from the Galaxy.
"If he manages to free himself from his contract then we will be waiting for him with open arms," Galliani said. "The player wants to stay with us, but he knows he has to return. We will buy him if he frees himself. Beckham will be happy as he has returned to play in a big club."
Milan has found Beckham to be a pleasant bonus. Not only has his arrival sparked the expected marketing bonanza, but he has also filled a worrying gap in the club's injury-stricken midfield.
He has fit in well in the locker room and the Milan players have come to regard him as something of a lucky omen, even touching his backside before games as a superstition. Beckham's demeanor is different in Italy, too. A beaming smile is often spread across his face, replacing the taut and intense expression often seen in Los Angeles.
Meanwhile, Victoria Beckham is still in the City of Angels with sons Brooklyn, Romeo and Cruz. She has made many friends and has adapted well to the Beverly Hills lifestyle, even though her career failed to take off in the States.
With the children settled in school, she would be reluctant to head back to Europe, although she may be prepared to compromise by relocating to England. However, it is considered highly unlikely that she would be prepared to uproot the family to Italy if her husband was to pen an extended deal.
David's stint with Real Madrid was reported to have created personal tension between the couple, with claims he had an affair with personal assistant Rebecca Loos making headlines around the world. Although Milan is a famed European fashion hot spot, there is little doubt that L.A. has fit Victoria's personality well and has begun to feel like home to her.
Even though David is determined to break Bobby Moore's record of 108 England appearances and compete in the World Cup in 2010, it would be tough for him to go against his wife's wishes.
The matter will be cleared up within the next week. If no deal is clinched by the end of the transfer window, we can expect to see the 33-year-old suit up against D.C. United on March 22. Either way, it is hard to see him remaining with the Galaxy at the end of the 2009 MLS season, when he can decide to opt out of his contract.
In Milan, David Beckham has begun to feel like a player who matters again, not just a vehicle to sell shirts and shift tickets. He has a big decision to make and there is a flurry of activity going on behind the scenes. Before long there will be a big family discussion in a famous household, one that will shape the rest of Beckham's career.
- David Beckham
- Victoria Beckham
- AC Milan