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Beckham's arrival may go on fast track

Galaxy doesn't confirm talks, but Real Madrid's decision not to play the star opens possibility of buying out his contract.

January 16, 2007|Grahame L. Jones | Times Staff Writer

Now that it has entered the David Beckham era, Major League Soccer will have to get used to changing things on the fly.

For instance, last Thursday, Tim Leiweke, president and chief executive of AEG, was asked when Beckham would be joining the Galaxy.

"The starting date will depend on when he's finished at Real Madrid," Leiweke said. "Worst-case scenario, it will be sometime in July."

By Saturday, Real Madrid Coach Fabio Capello said he no longer would be using Beckham in games. Beckham, he said, would train but not play. By Monday, lawyers and agents had entered the equation and reportedly were seeking ways to bring Beckham to Los Angeles earlier.

The fight was over the timing -- a little earlier or a lot earlier?

Essentially what is going on now is very much a cat-and-mouse game between Real Madrid and the Galaxy.

From Real's standpoint, a buyout of the remaining five-plus months on Beckham's contract would net the club in the neighborhood of $5 million.

That is not much by Real Madrid standards, but it is preferable to the club receiving nothing when Beckham becomes a free agent on July 1.

In the Galaxy's view, getting Beckham earlier rather than later is good, but getting him too early might cost the team an unnecessary million or two million dollars. In other words, January is better than July, but March might be better than January.

And so the games go on.

Asked about all this on Monday, Alexi Lalas, the Galaxy's president and general manager, was politic.

"We would love to have him here sooner rather than later," Lalas said. "Having said that, I don't think it's appropriate for the president of an organization to talk about another player in that context when he's under contract.

"We, Coach Frank Yallop and I, have based everything in terms of our planning under the assumption that we would be welcoming [Beckham] after the season with Real. I don't see that changing."

Asked directly if negotiations are in progress, Lalas demurred. "I just can't comment on any kind of talks that may or may not be happening," he said.

"I just don't feel comfortable talking about any kind of buyout situation and who it would involve or who it wouldn't involve, because the fact is that we continue to work under the assumption that he is going to honor his contract with Real Madrid until the end of the season."

Lalas said he had no insight into Capello's decision to leave Beckham off the Real Madrid team from now on.

"I am not privy to anything that goes on there and nor should I be. I'm just reading stories like everybody else," Lalas said.

The Beckham camp has taken Capello's move as a slap in the face, a public humiliation of the player, but Lalas considers it more a case of business as usual at one of the world's leading teams.

"Real Madrid is a super club for a reason," he said. "They are incredibly successful. They are incredibly wealthy. They find ways to be competitive and to take the wonderful players that they have and get what they get out of them and then move on to the next."

That the Galaxy and Real Madrid are quibbling over a few million dollars when Beckham's five-year contract as a whole is worth an estimated $250 million might seem petty, but Lalas does not view it that way.

"This money is coming from AEG and ultimately from Phil Anschutz. It's not Monopoly money. It is somebody's money, and we have to treat it as our own," Lalas said.

Meanwhile, Don Garber, the commissioner of MLS, Monday issued a statement that followed the AEG script and blasted some European media outlets for "fabricating" quotes regarding Beckham.

"David Beckham remains a member of the Real Madrid club until his contract expires June 30," the statement said.

"Unless otherwise informed, we are looking forward to welcoming David this summer following the end of his contract with Real Madrid."

Simon Oliveira, a spokesman for Beckham, said the player would continue to train with Real Madrid and denied claims by Capello and Ramon Calderon, Real's president, that Beckham had gone behind the club's back in signing with the Galaxy.

"We've done everything above board," Oliveira told the Associated Press.

"We made our intentions clear to Real Madrid, that David wasn't staying at the club, before meeting with the Galaxy."

But Calderon said Sunday on Spanish radio that, "For months he was messing us around.... I didn't like the way Beckham conducted himself, announcing publicly that he had another team, doing a video conference.

"We were never told that he had signed for another club, that he had the house bought and had everything ready to go. That, to me, is not right."

Calderon's comments appeared to be an effort at spin control, aimed at Real fans. Beckham had rejected a two-year contract extension, and Real Madrid seldom gets rejected.

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