Greg Lalas
Monday October 27th, 2008

Is it me, or did David Beckham miraculously lose his tan this past week? That famous face suddenly looks withered and the wrinkles around his eyes more pronounced than they did when he first joined the Los Angeles Galaxy about a year-and-a-half ago.

This could be because he's now 33 years old. But it could also be because he finds himself suddenly trapped in a situation with no easy -- or easily spun -- solution.

Frankly, since the rumors about his short loan to AC Milan emerged a few weeks ago, Becks has come to resemble a guy trying to break-up with his girlfriend so he can start dating someone new. But he's trying to do it without hurting the first girl. In fact, he's trying to figure out how they can remain friends with benefits.

In my experience, this never works. Everyone ultimately winds up hurt even worse.

But Beckham seems to have pulled it off. He's headed off to Milan, just like he wanted. The truth is, he's such a megastar (read: cash cow), that people let him get away with all kinds of shenanigans, including, it turns out, disrespecting his teammates by implying that they aren't good enough, undermining his club by talking to Milan without L.A.'s knowledge, and contradicting himself.

"People say, 'Can you play at this level or that level?' but it doesn't change me as a player," he said in June. "I'm always going to be the same player -- whether I'm playing in Spain, England or the USA. That won't affect my game. I can switch from playing in the USA at the weekend to then playing on a Wednesday against one of the best teams in the world and the best players in the world."

If that's the case, then why is he scampering off to Milan?

"If you know footballers, they don't have four months off in any league in the world apart from here," he snapped at a journalist last week.

If you know footballers? This thinly-veiled jab at Americans is precisely why the Milan move is potentially so damaging to MLS. No one will talk about Beckham's poor performances and about his people's role in the club's operations. All they will talk about is how Beckham was too good for MLS and how MLS doesn't "know footballers."

And the garbage Beckham spouted about how it would actually hurt him to take such a long break seems to overlook the fact that he is 33 and has just spent a year traveling hundreds of thousands of miles around the globe. Maybe, just maybe, we Americans know enough about sports and athletes in this country to know that they need that extra rest.

Not to mention, the reason Beckham has so much time off is because the Galaxy failed to make the playoffs (again). If they had made the postseason and reached the MLS Cup final, they would be playing through practically all of November (plus L.A.'s Down Under tour at the end of November). In which case, his offseason would be down to two months, since MLS teams report for preseason training around Feb. 1. Two months is right on par with most every league in the world.

But let's forget all of that for a moment and think about the positives. Because there are some. Namely, MLS and the L.A. Galaxy, for the first time since Becks' arrival in Lalaland, have a chance to wrestle back some real control of the situation. They now have leverage. Because, in reality, they don't have to let him go to Milan. In fact, they have every right to slam him for talking to Milan behind their backs.

Whether they are reprimanding him and his people behind closed doors, I don't know. It doesn't matter in the end. What matters is getting the most out of Beckham's loan. And this should include more than a simple pat on the back that one of the biggest clubs in the world wants an MLS player.

For one, MLS and the Galaxy should demand a cut of Beckham's Milan jersey sales. As we all know, Beckham sells jerseys everywhere he goes. His AC Milan jersey, even if he chooses the rumored No. 75, will sell better than iPods. Kids from Lombardy to Sicily will be wearing them to the discos. That could add some serious euros to the MLS treasure chest.

MLS should also get a couple of exhibition games out of the deal. For example, Milan could come and play in the MLS All-Star game next year in Salt Lake City. Or how about an MLS All-star team playing an exhibition against Milan in San Siro, just like they did a few years ago against Real Madrid?

There are other things, too. Perhaps MLS and the team can renegotiate various Beckham-specific sponsorship deals. I don't know the details of those contract things, but they've got to be worth a pretty penny.

Ultimately, what the league and the club must demand from Beckham himself is a measure of respect. Beckham failed to show the club or the league much respect in this episode. Honestly, did he sign with L.A. and not think about the schedule and the lengthy offseason?

Don't get me wrong. I think Beckham has been fantastic for the Galaxy and Major League Soccer. He's raised the awareness of the league, both here and abroad, and that has raised the level of play, as the added exposure has increased the pressure and expectations of success. He's also brought in a ton of cash and convinced the owners that there is gold at the end of the soccer rainbow.

And I would love to see Beckham get another shot at the World Cup. He's been a great player and ambassador for the game for a long time, and he deserves another chance to shine on the sport's biggest stage.

But eventually, Beckham has to ask himself one simple question: Do I believe in MLS or not?

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