With his announcement this week that David Beckham will not recover from his ruptured Achilles heel in time to play for the Galaxy this season, both Beckham and the Galaxy find themselves at a crossroads. For Beckham, it is a series of dour options, but for the Galaxy, the opportunities are decidedly more intriguing.
With no MLS possibilities left in 2010, the soonest Beckham will be able to get back onto a soccer pitch is January 2011. At that point, what are the alternatives? He has stated that he wants to resume his loan to stint at AC Milan, but that seems very dubious. Even before his injury, Beckham had lost his role as the first choice right winger for Milan, and after not playing for almost a year and recovering from a severe injury, will a 36 year old Beckham see much playing time at all?
For that matter, would any team fighting for glory want to give Beckham an important role on the pitch? In the past, there have occasionally been rumors of a team like Tottenham wanting to take Beckham on loan, but the 2011 version of Beckham would have real trouble getting much playing time with Spurs. The farther down you go on the table, the less true this becomes, but does Beckham really want to suit up for Bolton or Stoke? I doubt it. Barring a surprise development, Beckham is looking at the possibility of another season with the Galaxy and a series of Manchester United and England tribute games before he hangs up his boots for good.
On the other hand, the Galaxy seem to be looking at all sorts of interesting options. The Galaxy seem likely to petition the MLS to allow them to get another DP allocation to fill Beckham’s slot. To get this, they may have to promise to have only two DP players in 2011, but with Landon Donovan likely to go to Europe before the next season, this may already be in the works. If the Galaxy do free up that DP position, two real possibilities are Real Madrid’s Raul or AC Milan’s Ronaldinho.
Raul is one of the great players in the history of both Real Madrid and Spain, but is the first choice for neither team now. The all-time goal scorer for Real Madrid, he has also scored more Champions League goals than any other player. Having never gotten a red card in his career, Raul is seen as the ideal professional. However, at 32 years old, his best days as a Madrid player are behind him. Having played for Madrid for 17 years, most of them as captain, it is unthinkable for him to go to another Spanish team, and playing in the US has always intrigued him.
Moreover, Raul has the reputation as a thoughtful, intellectual family man. After living under a microscope and having his every move tracked by the Spanish media over the past 17 years, the US offers football players something very rare – acclaim on the field and anonymity off of it. The idea of going to restaurant with his wife and five children and enjoying a meal undisturbed is probably very attractive to Raul, and the idea of welcoming such a historic player – one who is far more acclaimed as a player than Beckham – is probably very attractive to the Galaxy.
In some ways, Ronaldinho is the polar opposite. Compared to the quiet Raul, Ronaldinho is one of the most recognized, flamboyant faces of soccer. Other than Beckham himself, nobody in soccer has the brand recognition of the smiling, dazzling Brazilian. However, after a brilliant run at Barcelona during which he collected two World Player of the Year awards, his transfer to AC Milan before the beginning of last season has precipitated a drop in form. He is not a guaranteed starter for Milan as rumors about a poor work ethic (i.e., too much time at the dining table has led to too much time on the training table) have swirled. Moreover, Ronaldinho is at risk for being left off the Brazilian team that travels to South Africa this summer.
With AC Milan battling financial difficulties, Roma and Inter a good deal ahead of them on the table, and coach Leonardo heading out the door, the Rossoneri could be looking at off-loading their most recognizable face. A fresh start with the Galaxy could be in order for Ronaldinho, and with three Brazilians already on the team, he could feel at home at the Home Depot Center.
While Raul would be able to move on a free transfer, Ronaldinho could command a transfer fee from the Galaxy. However, while Robert Pires and Thierry Henry would be welcome additions to MLS, there is no foreign footballer who can fill a stadium like Ronaldinho. The economics of his move may make sense to MLS as a way to keep the post-World Cup momentum going in the US.
Either way, Beckham’s injury has opened up some interesting possibilities for the Galaxy – possibilities that can add excitement for the entire league.