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David Beckham reaches deal to finish with AC Milan before rejoining Galaxy

Soccer star will stay with Italian club through its season then begin in L.A. in mid-July. After the season, he will buy out his MLS contract and return to Europe.

March 03, 2009|GRAHAME L. JONES | ON SOCCER

If you wanted to find David Beckham on Monday, then the fashionable Via Poerio Carlo in Milan was the place to look.

There, in the altogether appropriate setting of Dolce and Gabbana's oh-so-very-ritzy Gold restaurant, Beckham dined with several other international soccer celebrities while mulling his latest coup.

The England international star apparently has settled the contractual tug-of-war between the Galaxy, which owns him, and AC Milan, which wants him, by grabbing both ends of the rope.

It will cost him a little bit, but he has gotten his way.

In an unusual agreement that will be finalized this week -- possibly today -- Beckham will remain with the Serie A club until the end of the Italian season May 31 and then rejoin the Galaxy in mid-July, staying for the rest of the Major League Soccer season.

After that, Beckham will exercise the buyout clause in his five-year, $32.5-million contract with MLS and bid the Galaxy and the league adieu before rejoining AC Milan.

In effect, Beckham has cast his lot with the Italian club and is being "loaned" back to Los Angeles for four months.

Complicated? Sure, but for Beckham it is the best of both worlds.

First, he can continue playing at a high level with AC Milan as it seeks to finish in the top three in Serie A and thereby qualify for next season's lucrative European Champions League. The team is currently in third place behind Inter Milan and Juventus.

Second, staying with Milan for another dozen league matches will significantly help Beckham's chances of remaining on the England national team as it tries to qualify for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Playing in a fourth World Cup has long been a priority for Beckham, who played for England in the 1998 cup and then helped England reach the quarterfinals at Korea/Japan 2002 and Germany 2006.

England Coach Fabio Capello has said Beckham, who will turn 34 in May, needs to play regularly and at a high level to be considered for the team.

England has six World Cup qualifying games and three friendly matches on its schedule for the rest of 2009.

Third, by returning to Los Angeles, even if it is for less than half a season, Beckham will fulfill his promise of coming back to the Galaxy, something he said he would do when he engineered a short-term loan to AC Milan in December.

Just what the reaction of Galaxy fans will be remains an interesting point of conjecture.

The agreement was hammered out during weeks of negotiating amid a flurry of disinformation leaked to the media on both sides of the Atlantic. It appears to save face for all concerned.

Although financial details of the deal have not been revealed, it is said to involve more than the $10 million to $15 million that the Galaxy and MLS were seeking for allowing Beckham to leave on a permanent basis.

Part of the money will come from AC Milan as payment for the extended loan, with a further payment coming at the time of the eventual transfer. Milan's total is more than the $3 million the club initially was offering.

A larger amount will come from Beckham himself as compensation for leaving MLS with two years remaining on his contract.

On Monday, only the fine points of the agreement remained to be ironed out. All parties -- the Galaxy, AC Milan, Galaxy owner AEG, MLS and Beckham himself -- supposedly were satisfied.

Beckham was to have rejoined the Galaxy next Monday but now will stay with AC Milan through May 31. After that, he hopes to be called up for England's World Cup qualifying matches on the road against Kazakhstan on June 6 and at home against Andorra on June 10.

He can then take a brief break because he cannot join the Galaxy until the MLS international transfer window opens July 15, although he can train with the team before that date.

The bottom line for the Galaxy is that Beckham would miss the first 17 games of the 30-game season. His first match for Los Angeles would be July 18 at the New York Red Bulls.

On the surface, the Galaxy would appear to be getting very little out of the settlement. But there are benefits. Beckham's $6.5-million salary will not count against the salary cap until he returns, nor will he count against the 24-player roster limit. That means Galaxy Coach Bruce Arena is free to use the money saved and the position opened to sign another player.

Also, with Beckham -- or Beckham-lite -- back for part of the season, the Galaxy and AEG will be able to keep key sponsors satisfied and, just perhaps, revive flagging season ticket sales.

For Beckham, meanwhile, the jet-set lifestyle will continue. His next match is Wednesday night -- not in Milan, not in Los Angeles, but in Doha, Qatar, where AC Milan is playing a money-spinning friendly against the Qatari club Al Sadd.

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grahame.jones@latimes.com

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