David Beckham could be back in the Premiership as early as January after his director of football yesterday admitted for the first time that he is stalling on signing a new contract as he is concerned about his lack of first-team chances at Real Madrid.
Beckham has not started a home game for Real since the opening day of the season and has still not signed a proposed two-year extension to his current deal, which runs out next summer. With the January transfer window just seven weeks from opening, the club's sporting director, Pedrag Mijatovic, said yesterday: "We want to renew his contract and we have had several meetings with his people. On our part there is no problem, but we have to listen to the player, too.
"He wants to continue, but as long as he is playing. He wants to wait a little longer to see if he gets back in the team."
Mijatovic, a former Real player, is the link between Madrid's first-team coach, Fabio Capello, and club president, Ramon Calderon. Having one foot in the dugout and one in the boardroom, he is arguably the most influential man at the club and his suggestion that Beckham is seriously considering leaving the Bernabeu because of limited starts will cause ambitious Premiership chairmen to prick up their ears.
"He has been unlucky in that he hasn't won any trophies in the last three years and he is a little sad because he isn't taking part as much as he would like," Mijatovic said.
Beckham's situation at Real was summed up by Sunday's defeat to Celta Vigo. The former England captain had impressed as a substitute in Real's previous match against Steaua Bucharest. But it was not enough to get him a start on Sunday and he was not even a first-choice substitute, with Capello introducing Arsenal loan winger Jose Antonio Reyes at half-time.
Beckham eventually entered the fray in the 65th minute. Once again he was lively but Real were already two-thirds of the way through a dire display and things only worsened after his introduction with the visitors scoring the winner after a mistake by Reyes.
Beckham could well be recalled for the visit of Spanish Third Division side Ecija on Thursday in the second leg of a Kings Cup game. He played in the first leg and made Real's goal in a 1-1 draw. But the domestic cup in Spain is held in low esteem. Real will struggle to fill their stadium for the match and a decent display from Beckham will have a limited impact because of the quality of the opposition. It is a frustrating time for the player, who could argue that with some justification, his form has merited more than three league starts.
"I believe he will stay in the end, because the atmosphere in the team is very good and will allow him to experience something good here," Mijatovic added.
Beckham's ambition to finish his career in the US could be realised sooner than expected, with Los Angeles Galaxy confirming their interest in him yesterday. Alexei Lalas, the former US international who is general manager, said: "A move for Beckham is not something we need to discuss because he's under contract with Real.
"But if that changes, and there's an opportunity, of course we'd be interested. There are thousands of clubs out there that would love to have a player of his calibre and the Los Angeles Galaxy is certainly one of them."
Beckham for his part said only last week that he would not be listening to other clubs in January and that he felt this could be Real's year. But if he continues to be frozen out and certain clubs, like Galaxy - start shouting loud enough, he may feel obliged to listen. As he admitted recently: '" I love playing football and if I don't do that, I can't be happy."
Brand Beckham options: From Old Trafford to Dynamo Kiev to Real Salt Lake
By Glenn Moore
* BACK HOME (big club) Manchester United's Sir Alex Ferguson would not welcome the baggage and there is history between the two of them. Besides, he has Cristiano Ronaldo. Beckham is not quick enough for Arsenal's Arsène Wenger. Nor is there an obvious place for him at Chelsea, even if their manager, Jose Mourinho, were prepared to be overshadowed. Liverpool? Paul Ince, another former Red Devil made the transition, but Rafael Benitez can barely find room for Steven Gerrard.
* BACK HOME (middling club)
Beckham fits the Bolton model - fading star in need of love and a new challenge - and his dead-ball delivery would suit. But Becks at the Reebok? Would adidas allow it? Newcastle would be interested - their chairman, Freddy Shepherd, needs a distraction - but it is a long way from Beckingham Palace. White Hart Lane is handy, but Spurs have Aaron Lennon. Middlesbrough like a splash, but Posh on Teesside? Perhaps the Pompey revolution appeals.
* THE CONTINENT
Anywhere in Spain is a step down (except Barcelona, and they have Lionel Messi), so how about Italy? Internazionale love a big name, but they would prefer to get Ronaldo back from Real Madrid. Milan need youth, Juventus are in Serie B. Monaco? Nice place, lots of celebs, friendly tax regime ... but they had a bad experience with Christian Vieri. German clubs do not pay well. Maybe it will depend on where the former England coach Sven Goran Eriksson turns up. Chicken Kiev, Victoria?
* THE WORLD
The Los Angeles Galaxy (not a chocolate bar or nightclub but a soccer team) have already expressed an interest and Brand Beckham is finally taking off Stateside. Victoria would be happy and LA Galaxy seem more attractive than, say Real Salt Lake (yes, really). Other global options are Japan, which is still in love with Becks, or Qatar, a lucrative retirement home previously occupied by Gabriel Batistuta, Marcel Desailly and Romario.