As he counts down the weeks to a return to LA, there are reports in Italy that David Beckham is looking to legal channels to sever links with the Galaxy and remain in the peninsula with Milan for good.
It could so easily have happened two years ago, were it not for the persuasive powers of Alexei Lalas, then General Manager of LA Galaxy, and all the debate over Beckham’s highly publicised move to Milan would never have happened. December 2006, Milan comes in with an offer to take Beckham from Real Madrid when his contract expires in the summer, but all has come too late. Beckham has been banished from Fabio Capello’s first team at Los Merengues and does not feature in Steve McClaren’s vision for a new England post Sven Goran Eriksson. Whether or not this scenario made Beckham doubt his own ability only he would know, but being a man of his word he kept his agreement with the Galaxy and signed for the MLS side, spurning Milan’s advances. Supposedly a man of no regrets, one has to wonder if Beckham wishes he had changed his mind at the time and joined the Rossoneri. Considering the impact the English midfield player has made in his brief stint at the seven-time European champions, it would hardly be surprising.
Many retractors regard the former England captain’s allegedly self-financed arrangement with Milan as solely to prolong his England career, and that Milan agreed to the deal in order to reap the rewards of Brand Beckham. Whilst Beckham’s presence will always equate to a massive windfall for the team that owns him and that playing in Italy will improve his chances to preserve his international career, it is short-sighted to suggest these are the only reasons for the loan-soon-to-be-permanent transfer.
From Milan’s perspective, they have needed a genuine right midfielder for years – for all the samba flair of Ronaldinho, the graceful dynamism of Kaka and the passing ability of Andrea Pirlo, no-one can cross a ball like the former Manchester United man. It is no coincidence that Filippo Inzaghi – at the tender age of thirty-five – has been finding the back of the net regularly since Beckham’s arrival. Despite appearing on the team-sheet as a right-sided central midfielder, once the first whistle goes the team takes on a more flexible formation, with players interchanging rather than being fixed to one position. This is a relatively new tactical approach currently adopted by Europe’s most attractive sides, notably brought to prominence by the Champions league-winning Barcelona team under Frank Rijkaard’s stewardship. The system complements Beckham’s abilities well, allowing him to utilise his work-rate and quick thinking on the ball when in a more central position, and unleash his unparalled crossing technique when pushed out wide.
Those who consider Beckham to only have two parts to his game (set-pieces and crossing ability) are usually England supporters who lament his lack of pace. This issue is certainly a valid concern regarding the player’s capability of starting and finishing an international game, but less relevant to his stay in Serie A. The Italian game is generally observed as slower and more technical than it’s English and Spanish counterparts. This coincides perfectly with Beckham, maximising his strengths and limiting his weaknesses. It also begs the question why more English players who are technically gifted but struggle with the physicality of the Premier League do not make the move to the warmer climates of Italy. A player like David Bentley, a somewhat luxury figure who has become more and more peripheral in Tottenham Hotspur’s plight this season, would be well-suited to Italian football. The pace of the game allows for an easier rest period between fixtures to recover which is particularly useful for older players, as well as the mid winter break enviously craved in England by managers such as Sam Allardyce.
This touches on the crucial point in the argument – age – the main reason why Beckham’s move makes so much sense for both player and club. Milan’s backroom staff, notably their physios and club doctor, is world famous for elongating player’s careers at the top level. The glittering example is Paolo Maldini, but there is a long list of past (Alessandro Costacurta, Cafu) and present players (Giuseppe Favalli, Inzaghi) who have all defied convention and had a big influence in the game into their late 30s. A strict diet and constant monitoring may not be new concepts in the art of maintaining a player’s fitness, but no club has had success like Milan in this department. With that in mind, what better club to handle Beckham’s final years as a professional footballer? Beckham’s passion and appetite for the game is unquestionable, but he has previously commented on having no interest in coaching or managing after retirement, so why not play for a club that gives him the opportunity to play on for longer? Milan will sign a player who can have a great effect on the team, who gives them options they were previously lacking and has an unerring work rate. Not only this, but they can sign him for nothing in December time as his Galaxy contract stipulates, and have a productive three, four, potentially even six years out of him.
So does Beckham wish he had signed for Milan instead of LA Galaxy back in 2006? Probably. Do Milan wish he changed his mind and disappointed Alexei Lalas at the time? Most likely. Of course, there are definite economic benefits to be gained for Adriano Galliani and the other financiers at Milan from having Beckham play in a red and black striped shirt, but there are certainly other benefits too. One thing’s for sure – Pippo Inzaghi won’t want Beckham to be leaving any time soon.