LOS ANGELES -- The man who landed David Beckham for the Los Angeles Galaxy told SI.com that he wants Beckham's Galaxy replacement to be Kaká, Real Madrid's 30-year-old Brazilian midfielder who won the 2007 FIFA World Player of the Year award.
"We're well aware of Kaká's interest in MLS, and we in turn have made it very clear to him that he's aware of our interest in him," said Tim Leiweke, the president of AEG, which owns the Galaxy. "We have a great relationship with Real Madrid, and just as we worked through a player with them six years ago [Beckham], I'm absolutely convinced we could find the right deal this time, too."
Leiweke's words will reverberate everywhere from the U.S. to Madrid to Rio de Janeiro for a simple reason: When this power broker speaks, you have to listen. In January 2007, Leiweke stunned the sports world by signing Beckham to a five-year contract when the English superstar was still just 31, several years before anyone thought Beckham would come to the United States.
If L.A. could land Kaká (pronounced ka-KAW) at the same age -- he turns 31 next April -- Leiweke and the Galaxy think he has enough in the tank to be a star in MLS for a five-year period as well. Granted, Kaká has dealt with injury issues since moving to Real Madrid on an $84 million transfer in 2009, and he has played in just eight games for José Mourinho's team in all competitions this season. But Kaká also started for Brazil in its last three friendlies, a sign that he may be on his way back to being a full-time contributor on the national team ahead of World Cup 2014 in Brazil.
Leiweke's declared intention to sign Kaká is bad news for Frank Lampard, the longtime Chelsea star who sources say has been interested in joining the Galaxy to fill Beckham's Designated Player slot. Lampard would be available as a free agent next summer when he finishes his Chelsea contract, but he would also be 35 years old and not a long-term solution. Nor would Lampard be as appealing as Kaká to the Latino demographic that Leiweke says is crucial for the Galaxy to win over.
Beckham's departure "leaves us a [Designated Player] slot, and we're going to be very patient on that slot," Leiweke said. "I'm very proud of the fact we have a lot of people that are interested in the Galaxy. By the way, I'm a huge Frank Lampard fan, and I personally have great respect for him. I've gotten to spend some time with him, and he's an unbelievably good guy. Is he the right fit for our team now for what we need?"
Later on in our interview, which took place at AEG's $2.5 billion L.A. Live complex, Leiweke essentially answered his own question by saying that he and Galaxy coach and general manager Bruce Arena agree that Kaká would be a better fit with the Galaxy. One big reason: The Galaxy's new
"Bruce and I happen to be on the same page about where we need to go next," Leiweke said. "This next person has to be able to not only fit what Bruce needs on the pitch, but more importantly we're an ever-changing demo in this marketplace, and we have to pay attention to that. It's critical that we do the one thing we have never been able to do yet with the Galaxy, although we've tried. There is a Hispanic Latino population base we have to go conquer, and we haven't."
"I do think we have more of a Hispanic audience than people give us credit for, because they like the style we play and that we win. But that said, we have tried at various times -- [Carlos] Ruiz, [Luis] Hernández, a few different players -- and I don't think we've ever found the right guy who ultimately captivates that marketplace."
"That marketplace is critical because of our Time Warner deal," Leiweke continued. "We now have a Time Warner Latino channel that we are very focused on. It was a major reason that we made the deal with them. And as much as we understand the Lakers are the mothership, on the Hispanic channel the Galaxy has a chance of being an equal partner to the Lakers as to the demand, and we get that. But we'd better build a team that ultimately acknowledges the demos and how they're changing. We're going to be
AEG and the Galaxy will have to be careful in their push for Kaká for a few reasons:
Even then, MLS' rules prevent teams like New York and Los Angeles from competing against each other to sign star players from abroad by getting into bidding wars. According to MLS rules, dibs go to the team that files a "discovery claim" first on a player. (
One thing is clear, though: Leiweke's stated interest in Kaká is something New York has yet to match publicly, and L.A. actually has a DP slot free with Beckham's departure. To hear Leiweke talk, his main concern is Real Madrid and whether or not the club will try to play hardball on a transfer fee. Patience isn't exactly Leiweke's strong suit, but he understands that may be required here. "As you know, sometimes the summer window is more important than the winter window [in MLS]," he said. "We do know where we're going, and that may mean we've got to be patient.
"It's up to Real Madrid to tell us when they want to engage. But [Kaká] is a player within their system, and because I am a fan and a partner of Real Madrid, we will absolutely follow their lead on whether or not they want to have this conversation and when they want to have it. In the meantime, I'm not going to go out and do anything that ultimately prevents us from having that conversation."
These days are a busy -- and remarkably successful -- time for owner Phil Anschutz and AEG, whose
Leiweke is Anschutz's point man, and it can be safely argued that they saved Major League Soccer 10 years ago when AEG ended up owning six of the league's 10 teams after Miami and Tampa Bay were contracted from the league. AEG has successfully sold off all of those MLS teams except Los Angeles and 50 percent of Houston, which (wouldn't you know it) have both reached Saturday's MLS Cup final (4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN, TeleFutura). When the MLS champion is crowned on Saturday, it will receive the Anschutz trophy.
What's more, amid all of this AEG is up for sale, and bids are expected to start coming in next week for an empire that could go for as much as $7 billion to $10 billion. How busy is Leiweke? In a 30-minute conversation here, we touched on all these topics:
"The very things that ran the Rams, Raiders and a long time ago the Chargers out of this city are political and legal [issues], and those are gone. Nothing's going to happen with the last step until we can go to the league and get them comfortable with our new owners. They share our vision and are willing to make the financial commitment. A prerequisite of everything we're doing with ownership and anyone that Mr. Anschutz will consider selling to is subject to them making sure they are financially and from a vision standpoint locked in on this concept."
"I don't think we'll be sitting here a year from now talking anything about football with the exception of what team."
When I told him he was talking as though the stadium, Farmers Field, was a done deal, Leiweke said: "We have been spending a fair amount of time on the NFL lately. We've engaged in a different level of conversation with the owners in the league, and I think there's a difference between arrogance and confidence. We will never be arrogant on football, not after 20 years of all of us getting our rear ends kicked here, but we're confident. I apologize if my air is one of arrogance. It is one of confidence. I'm much more confident now. People will say it's pretty good to be confident when you don't have an owner, but we have a pretty good idea where we're headed on that too."
"But we're still thinking about what's next. How do we get football? Everyone's talking about David [Beckham] leaving, but I'm already thinking about what's next. Everyone can have an opinion about what David did or did not do. To me, what David did is show us our potential, so it's not sitting here trying to debate the past but rather to learn from what he showed us we can do. I don't think David's the best move we ever made. He'll give us the opportunity to go do the best move we ever made. I'm thinking about that, about the sale of this company and the implications for all of us here. I'm fairly certain the next group of owners comes in and looks at the management team and says justify the payment. So we'll be very driven to prove value here."
Leiweke recently signed a long-term deal with AEG, and he is expected to remain in charge of the management team when the new owner takes over.
"We've had probably more interest in the Galaxy in people calling me in the last 30 days to see if we're going to sell them than in any other property we have. Which is surprising. You'd think football or the Lakers, maybe even the Kings with the Stanley Cup. I'll attribute some of that to the entry level is pretty good. It's the most expensive franchise in the league" -- he valued L.A. and Seattle at around $150 million each -- "and you look at our new TV and jersey deals. We went through a three-week process where we signed $100 million worth of deals for the Galaxy. The fact we have that many people interested, it's probably of all our sports teams the one that has the greatest upside in valuation as well."
"Robbie is maybe one of the better deals we've ever done. All due respect to everyone else, Robbie has been the phenomenal player in the playoffs for us. He's been awesome."