David Beckham's loan deal to Milan this winter could become a permanent move away from the Los Angeles Galaxy if the England midfielder settles in Italy. Milan officials believe that Galaxy would do a deal if the Italian club were to offer Beckham a contract up until the 2010 World Cup finals. The loan will see Beckham join Milan after Serie A's winter break, and was undertaken because the 33-year-old was told by Fabio Capello that he would not be considered for England's friendlies against Spain and Slovakia at the start of next year if he was not playing competitive football.
The England manager made it clear to Beckham earlier this month that in order for him to guarantee his fitness and form he needed to join a top European club. Carlo Ancelotti, the Milan coach, sought Capello's advice over Beckham's suitability and was given a glowing recommendation. It is understood that Beckham's salary of $6.5m (£3.8m) will be paid by LA Galaxy for the loan period which will end in late March as pre-season training intensifies in America.
It is then that all parties will have to make a decision on whether Beckham returns to LA. The 2009 MLS season is scheduled to start in early April.
Milan evidently have one eye on the potential profits Beckham might bring, with vice-chairman Adriano Galliani saying yesterday: "Beckham will most likely bring more fans to the stadium." Specifics remain to be concluded however, such as whether Milan will be able to actively market shirts carrying Beckham's name. Those details will be considered when his personal manager, Terry Byrne, meets Milan officials next week.
There is also the thorny issue of Beckham – the global face of Major League Soccer – playing in a Milan shirt endorsed by Bwin, one the world's biggest online gambling firms, when MLS rules forbid MLS teams or players being sponsored by betting companies. Strictly speaking, Beckham will remain an MLS employee – not merely a Galaxy player – while he has a Galaxy contract. Galliani believes a loan announcement is imminent, however. "Will he arrive? Yes, I think so," he said. "We are speaking with his agent but we believe he will arrive for some months on a free loan.
"Then he will leave. Beckham has chosen Milan. Our squad is ultra-competitive and it will remain this way, but Beckham is something different and intriguing." The loan has been driven by Beckham's desire to play at the 2010 World Cup finals. If he is playing for Milan in January and February he will be considered for the two friendlies before England's next World Cup qualifier against Ukraine on 1 April.
However he would need a further loan move to tide him over in the winter of 2010. Capello has told him that it is not enough to simply train with a team over the American close-season – as Beckham did with Arsenal earlier this year. There is no option for Beckham to be loaned to an English club. Premier League rules dictate any January loan must last until the end of the season. Beckham still has three years left on his Galaxy contract and the official line is that he is "considering a loan for a couple of months to make sure he is fit and available for England".
Yet the situation is sure to be reviewed towards the end of the loan, to assess whether it has achieved its primary objective for Beckham (continued England selection) and whether it can continue to do so.
Beckham might find keeping a regular place in Milan's side difficult. Ancelotti prefers a 4-3-2-1 system with no obvious place for Beckham and has Kaka, Gennaro Gattuso, Clarence Seedorf and Andrea Pirlo vying for places in midfield, not to mention youngsters including the recently signed Uruguayan pair, Mathias Cardacio and Tabare Viudez. Ancelotti said yesterday: "It will be a pleasure [if Beckham comes on loan]. Beckham is a serious athlete, a great professional. If he is available for months with us, we will be very happy."
Beckham's role in America has largely been that of an ambassador, with his impact on Galaxy's on-pitch fortunes negligible. While playing 24 of Galaxy's 29 games this season, he has scored only five goals. Team-mate Landon Donovan, 26, is not only younger and quicker but much more productive, with 19 goals in 2008. Although Beckham's two years at LA Galaxy have been regarded as a commercial success – attendances are up in MLS and a new television deal has been signed with broadcaster ESPN – his team's form has been dismal. Galaxy have sacked two managers, Frank Yallop and Ruud Gullit, since he joined and have failed to qualify for the end of season play-offs. Galaxy have won only eight of their 29 games this year to lie sixth of seven in the Western Conference standings ahead of their final game of the season this weekend.
Beckham is obliged to play in an end-of-season tour in New Zealand and Australia at the start of December. It is planned that he will have a couple of weeks' holiday before joining Milan with a view to being available for the first home game after the winter break away against Roma on 11 January.
Galaxy far, far away: Beckham's American odyssey
* Beckham signed for LA Galaxy in January last year.
* He had left Real Madrid on a high, the club winning La Liga in his final game and, initially, Beckham's fine form continued. He scored on his full debut for the Galaxy against DC United in August.
* But he then injured a knee in the American SuperLiga final and missed virtually the rest of the season.
* This season has seen upheaval at the club. New coach Ruud Gullit soon departed to be replaced by Bruce Arena, and Beckham has been on the losing side 10 times in 24 matches as the Galaxy slipped out of contention for the end-of-season play-offs.
* After forcing his way back into the England reckoning, Beckham has also missed five Galaxy games in joining up with Fabio Capello's squad. In total he has played just 29 games for the American side, scoring five goals.
Out of 29, the paltry amount of matches won by LA Galaxy this season, leaving them sixth of seven in their division.
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