David Beckham's coach at the LA Galaxy, Bruce Arena, had no idea about his imminent loan move to Milan until the Italian club spoke about it in public on Monday, and was angry and bemused at hearing the news second-hand. So, too, were senior figures at Major League Soccer, who pay Beckham to be an MLS ambassador but have had to respond, through ignorance, with "no comment".
Yet sources close to the situation confirmed yesterday that Galaxy's most senior executive, Tim Leiweke, has always accepted Beckham's England ambitions take precedence over Galaxy, and knew about Milan. And Leiweke, the president and CEO of the Anschutz Entertainment Group that owns Galaxy, has given his blessing to Beckham's loan, if only because he hopes it will increase Beckham's chance of fulfilling his Galaxy contract.
It has been made clear to Beckham that Fabio Capello will only consider him for England if he is playing regular football at a decent level, hence the loan to Milan in the MLS close season. It is expected Beckham will be with Milan from early January until mid-March.
Beckham still hopes to go to the World Cup finals in South Africa in 2010, and with England resurgent under Capello, is holding onto dreams of a winner's medal. If Galaxy try to prevent his loan move – and curtail Beckham's dream, as he sees it – they face they prospect he might seek a permanent transfer.
Leiweke would rather give Beckham leeway and increase his chances of keeping his most marketable asset than stand in Beckham's way, provoke conflict and maybe lose the player.
"As things stand, David intends to be in Milan for a few months at most, and then return to Los Angeles to honour the remaining three years of his Galaxy contract," a source said. "If things go well in Milan, you can never say never about the future, but a permanent move has not been discussed yet."
Milan's technical director, Leonardo, echoed the ambivalence in that last sentence yesterday when saying that "nothing is impossible" in response to a question about whether Beckham's stay with Milan could become permanent. "If he has the opportunity to be with a team like AC Milan, it is something very positive," Leonardo said.
Beckham knows he is in a no-lose situation. If he succeeds at Milan, he will want to stay there, trying to win meaningful trophies with a genuinely big club. If not, the door at Galaxy will remain open.
The loan will be officially announced when certain "lawyer points" have been agreed. These include Milan paying Beckham's £80,000-a-week wages during the loan period, and agreeing to specific and limited exploitation of Beckham's name and image rights.
Arena originally believed Beckham would be gone until June, and it was in that context that he said: "On the surface it sounds like an odd proposition, I don't see where that benefits MLS or the Galaxy."
He has been pacified since.