David Beckham wants to leave the Los Angeles Galaxy and stay in Italy, and so does the MLS—but they won't admit it.
The current transfer saga itself, as AC Milan negotiate making Beckham's loan move permanent, is the type of high-profile exposure the American league pines for.
While garnering both attention and capital—concepts agreeable to American sport and business—over Beckham's tenure, the Galaxy never competed on the field with the English soccer magnate at the club.
And now both Beckham and Milan have made their desires unequivocal.
The MLS enjoys, if not uncomfortably, the leverage they currently wield at the bargaining table and a deal benefiting all parties involved looks quite certain, but not imminent, as the Galaxy extract what remains of their share in the Beckham stakes.
It's over in America
Though Beckham appeared in his element, perhaps, in Hollywood, on pitches across America he was certainly out of it. The Galaxy simply needed him to do too much there.
Without dribblers and tidy passers around him, Beckham looked ordinary. He is a player who thrives in association with his more skillful teammates, and his quality is only manifested when there is quality around to support it.
He won't run past players and he has never taken over games. His influence is in the final supply of a flowing side, adding a wide element to provide for clinical, penalty-box strikers, punctuated by occasional dead-ball breakthroughs.
But, he leads more by stature and reputation than actual presence. He was never going to inspire the Galaxy or their fans, lifting them upon his shoulders during a romantic championship run. Certainly not with a below-average MLS side.
Off the field, in Los Angeles, the jerseys were sold. The casual fans allegedly watched and listened, and the American game grew necessarily, financially and respectably.
Definitely, the soccer structures in Los Angeles and in the MLS felt the boom. How long the effect resonates, and whether they might outlast it through a strife economy—so often the scourge of American leagues past—is yet to unfold.
As now the pop in popular culture Beckham brought stateside, like novelty itself, fades. The hot air keeping the Beckham brand aflight gasses and dissipates, and each year is exponentially less profitable, less exploitable.
Money makes the gears turn slowly
So why don't the MLS and the Galaxy sell short on Beckham, their powerful commodity? They most certainly will.
All three are frothing to make the deal permanent, each hopeful to avoid a repeat role in the hackneyed tale of European stars coming to an ultimately defunct American league to wind down their careers in one last marketing bravado.
But, the Americans, as ever, are trying to get top dollar.
MLS Commissioner Don Garber oddly issued a deadline last week for any changes in the current loan deal with Milan in March. Perhaps he was impersonating Gareth Keenan, but no one really listened as the deadline passed, and the commissioner blinked and walked silently backwards away.
The ostentatious posturing showed the gulf in class between the two organizations. AC Milan, the historic European giant, and the MLS, overplaying a big hand with a bad poker face.
Bruce Arena admitted Monday during a press conference: ""Legally or technically, I think March 8 would be the final date of altering the loan agreement. The deadline imposed by Commissioner Garber, you would have to speak to [him] about that."
The Galaxy, who announced last year already recouping and profiting from their Beckham investment, have the new stadium, increased revenues, and season ticket sales.
And with a transfer sum probably around $20 million—market value for an average top-level player slash media icon and world superstar—they'll have the money to both line their pockets and finally build a squad with substance.
Star dims in Europe and bursts in South Africa
As for Milan, they wouldn't have expected their initial $12 million offer to be accepted. Of course the first offer in any deal between major clubs is to be rejected, and later countered with a price tag in the media, to which another offer would likely be rejected, until the deadline—with Kaka's exceptional saga being an outlier.
The Rossoneri will be a better—and even more popular—team with Beckham. He's already played better in a month at the San Siro than he did during any month at the Home Depot Center.
He offers a different option than another veteran, Gennaro Gattuso; they might split time. The competition is good for all, and at 32, Beckham would be suited to be rested occasionally or come off the bench.
Milan is a welcoming home for storied players, of whom they boast quite a collection: Maldini, Seedorf, Ronaldinho, Zambrotta, Kaka, and now Beckham. Berlusconi certainly knows how to market their assets.
As for the Englishman, his motivations have always been clear. Like his continued love for Manchester United, shy Beckham has never been reticent about his burning need to play for England.
He was put to the brink by his former national coach after the 2006 World Cup, but Fabio Capello likes seeing Becks punting in crosses at the club the Italian coach won five Scudetti with.
If the most-capped Englishman stays healthy and plays often and well enough, he seems odds-on to get a final chance at glory and make the squad for the 2010 World Cup.
There lies the final possible catalyst in what has always been his personal crusade to fully and finally restore his pride after his personal hell in the 1998 World Cup.
The simple man who, so unwittingly, shouldered the game across continents, is at least deserving of the chance to extinguish his career in a last, personal blaze of glory and redemption.
You might even say the fans of the game deserve it too: witnessing the midfielder, commodity, and tentative icon returned to his element on pitches across Europe and South Africa as the blinding spotlight on his career finally and mercifully dims and extinguishes.