If David Beckham wants to play for England at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa he needs to leave Major League Soccer right now.
Not on loan, not for just a short training spell with AC Milan or any other European club that comes calling, but for good -- his own good and that of the Galaxy.
Ever since AEG sounded the trumpets in January 2007 and announced amid much boasting and fanfare that it had signed Beckham, the Galaxy has been nothing but a puppet in the hands of Beckham's management team.
Just how emasculated the club is when it comes to Beckham was again clearly in evidence Wednesday.
Stories were pouring out of Europe that AC Milan was close to signing the 33-year-old midfielder to a short-term loan deal during the MLS off-season.
"We are speaking with his agent, but we believe he will arrive for some months on a free loan," said Adriano Galliani, AC Milan's vice president. "Beckham has chosen Milan. Our squad is ultra-competitive and it will remain this way, but Beckham is something different and intriguing."
Media reports across the continent were feverishly speculating on whether this could turn into a full-fledged trade, with Beckham returning triumphant to take his place again among the game's elite players in Europe and abandon the experiment of trying to turn MLS from a soccer backwater into a soccer hotbed.
Big-name players and coaches were quoted. Pundits rushed to get their opinions onto the Internet, on the air and into print.
And the Galaxy?
The Galaxy had no idea what was happening. Beckham opted not to be available to reporters after the team's training session Wednesday in Carson, and no Galaxy official had the clout or the guts to make him face the media. The front office never even issued a news release.
Bruce Arena, who wears two hats as the Galaxy's coach and general manager, appeared bemused by it all.
"I've spent not a second of my day even thinking about it, to be honest," Arena said. "On the surface, it sounds like an odd proposition. I don't see where that benefits MLS or the Galaxy. I don't know if there's anything true in the rumor."
Arena says that as far as he understands soccer's rules, a player loan has to cover the entire period between two transfer windows, in this case from January to June, meaning that Beckham would miss the first three months of the 2009 MLS season.
"The first I heard about it was today . . . but I would think [given] the position the Galaxy is in and [the fact that] we're rebuilding our team and trying to have a successful year, it would seem very odd to me if we were loaning out our top players at the start of the season. It would seem pretty odd to me to operate that way."
Arena, who only recently came on board, has a lot to learn about just how oddly the Galaxy operates.
The only word from the Beckham camp came from Simon Oliveira of 19 Entertainment.
"David's intention is to maintain his fitness and keep himself eligible for England selection," Oliveira said. "He very much remains a Galaxy player and he would be in Los Angeles for the start of the 2009 MLS season."
During the last MLS off-season, Beckham trained with Arsenal in London. The difference this time is that it appears he could actually play for AC Milan, in both Serie A and UEFA Cup matches.
The team, a seven-time European champion, already boasts a starry lineup that includes FIFA World Player of the Year Kaka, along with fellow Brazilian internationals Ronaldinho and Alexandre Pato. Also on the team are Italian World Cup winners Andrea Pirlo, Gennaro Gattuso, Gianlucca Zambrotta and Alessandro Nesta, not to mention Holland's Clarence Seedorf, France's Mathieu Flamini and Ukraine's Andriy Shevchenko.
It is difficult to imagine Beckham breaking into the starting 11 on an Italian team whose midfield already is packed with world-class talent, especially considering that in his 16 months with the Galaxy his team has twice failed to reach the MLS playoffs and has gone 14-22-11 with him on the roster.
Beckham has appeared in 29 MLS games and has scored five goals and assisted on 11 others.
Those are hardly the sort of numbers that would make a club such as AC Milan drool. Yet the Rossoneri (the Red and Black) on Wednesday were acting as if the loan were a done deal. "We'll sign him for a few months and then he'll go back," said Galliani, AC Milan's vice president. "Beckham will bring more fans."
Said AC Milan Coach Carlo Ancelotti: "For me, it will be a pleasure. Beckham is a serious athlete, a great professional."
Factoring heavily into the equation is Fabio Capello, a former AC Milan coach who now coaches England's national team. Capello has made it plain that Beckham has to be playing -- and preferably at a better level -- to continue being called up.
Beckham has long insisted that he wants to take part in the World Cup in South Africa and will do whatever is necessary to be on the England team. To do so, he has to prove that he still has what it takes at the highest level.
That's why a permanent move to AC Milan, if it can be accomplished, is in his best interests.
As for the Galaxy, the Beckham circus could fold its tents and then the club could go back to being what it once was -- competitive in MLS.