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Battle for David Beckham intensifying

Tim Leiweke, chief executive of AEG which owns the Galaxy, says AC Milan would have to make a substantially better offer then its current one if it wants the midfielder beyond March 9.

February 07, 2009|Grahame L. Jones

David Beckham will return to the Galaxy in March unless AC Milan makes an offer for the English midfielder that is substantially higher than the one currently on the table.

Showing a sudden ability to play hardball when needed, AEG, which owns the Galaxy, said Friday that the Italian club, a three-time world champion and seven-time European champion, had little time left to make up its mind.

"We need to end the distractions, the circus and the zoo," said Tim Leiweke, AEG's chief executive and the man who helped engineer Beckham's multimillion-dollar move to Los Angeles in 2007.

Beckham currently is midway through a two-month loan to AC Milan. His strong performances in five games for the Serie A team have prompted the club to say that it would like to either extend the loan or acquire Beckham outright.

The former England captain this week voiced his own desire to remain in Italy with a club whose roster includes more international stars than all of Major League Soccer combined. But AC Milan's initial offer came in well beneath what AEG and the league feel the 33-year-old is worth.

"We just received an offer," Leiweke said. "It was rejected."

The Galaxy is believed to want at least as much as the $10 million that the Spanish club Villarreal paid the New York Red Bulls for U.S. forward Jozy Altidore last year, and possibly even more.

Some reports out of England have suggested $20 million as a more likely figure.

If Milan demurs, then the Galaxy is quite happy to hold Beckham to the terms of the loan agreement.

"If David ultimately is an asset for this team, we want him back," Leiweke said. "If David ultimately has a hunger and a desire to come help us make the impact on the pitch that we wanted to make with him but haven't done yet, then he's an important member of this team and our intention is to bring him back.

"Clearly, if David's in a position where he wants to finish the season in Milan, and Milan in turn compensates the Galaxy so that we can suffer no damages to our fans or to our team, then we'll take a look at it.

"But we have made it very clear to them that we expect David back here March 9. They agree and understand we own the contract. They understand the only way we do this is if, when this is all said and done, the Galaxy benefits.

"If the Galaxy comes out better without David than with David, then we'll take a look at it."

So, the ball has been kicked back into AC Milan's half of the field and it is up to the Italians to decide the next move.

"We understand his [Beckham's] infatuation with playing on the world's most popular club team right now, and we understand his trying to mentally get around the idea of coming back to play with a team that didn't make the playoffs in MLS last year," Leiweke said.

"That said, David and us actually are talking. He has never forced our hand on anything. This is not a legal conversation and has never been a legal conversation. He does not have lawyers looking at the contract.

"David has made it very clear that if our decision is to bring him back here, he will return. Period."

Beckham is set to play for AC Milan against Reggina today, and he also is expected to be selected for the England team that will play Spain in a friendly in Seville on Feb. 11. If he plays in that game, it would be his 108th national team appearance, tying a record set by Bobby Moore, England's 1966 World Cup-winning captain.

Leiweke said that was one reason why few comments had been forthcoming from AEG or the Galaxy despite the rumors flying in Italy and England.

"This is an important time in his life," Leiweke said. "He's about to establish some iconic marks with the national team and I'm not interested in taking away from that or distracting David.

"As everyone knows, we've kept our mouths shut and stayed out of this because I didn't think there was anything to be gained by ultimately trying to negotiate with anyone through the media by responding to what people say David said or didn't say.

"Last time I checked, we're the ones that have the contract. So the decision as to where David's going to play this year is as much ours as anyone's."

Asked whether Milan's interest was in an extended loan or an outright purchase of Beckham, Leiweke said: "I think they would look at either. We wouldn't."

In other words, Beckham will be sold or he will be back, and that could lead to one unhappy player.

"If David comes back, it will be because there were decisions made by all involved and he'll accept that," Leiweke said. "I don't think he'll be as disgruntled as the media makes it out to be."

--

grahame.jones@latimes.com

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