I predicted the other week on our podcast that the Beckham-to-Milan saga would rumble on until the very last moment it can. Once again, I can barely claim clairovoyancy as one of my gifts; do transfers and decisions in football ever get left to anything but the very last minute?
A Beckham phrase that keeps amusing me is "I've loved my time in the Galaxy", not because it's not true, just because it sounds as if David Beckham, having conquered Earth and its merchandising possibilities now fancies earning lucre light years away. In reality, of course, he really means that he wants to play top-level football while he still can but does not want to offend his club, their fans or any sponsors, current or potential.
Bruce Arena has repeated the naively hopeful mantra that Beckham is coming back on March 9. "Nothing has been stated publicly that he's leaving," Arena said this week. "No one has said that he's leaving." Well, that's open to question. Several sources have said he's leaving and Beckham's words, though typically anodyne, point to a different outcome. Milan have played it very calm indeed, with the assurance of a club that almost always get their man.
That's because elite clubs almost always land the players they want. Did anyone doubt that Dimitar Berbatov would end up at Old Trafford even as the transfer window ticker reached the witching hour? Who really believed that Andrei Arshavin would not be turning out for Arsenal? Cristiano Ronaldo? Not last time, maybe next, though Real Madrid's deposed president Ramon Calderon failed miserably when he made the bold pledge to be watching Kaka and Fabregas strutting their stuff at the Bernabeu.
Calderon got none of the three, in marked contrast to predecessor Fiorentino Perez, who, despite an amusing interlude that he would "never, never, never, never, never, never" be signing David Beckham, had added the England captain to his Arsenal of galacticos by the summer of 2003. There Beckham joined Zinedine Zidane, plucked from Juventus for £48m, the larger, Brazilian Ronaldo after Inter had nursed him through two years of injury and Luis Figo, wrested from Barcelona, of all places. Once Beckham had arrived in the Spanish capital, things started to go awry for his new team but by then it was an accepted fact that if Real came calling, a player would be theirs and it was all over bar the shouting.
Manchester City's fresh wealth is yet to secure them the status of a footballing stud who always gets the girls. OK, they got Robinho, but Real wanted rid anyway. Blackburn Rovers were able to hold off City when they repeatedly bid for Roque Santa Cruz. Kaka for £100m meanwhile, was a pipe dream that collapsed into a comedic caper that again had only one ending; he was never going there because he already played for one of the elite.
It gets interesting when the big clubs go toe-to-toe on the players they want. United could hold off the Ronaldo deal because they could afford to for the moment. Chelsea got Michael Essien and Arjen Robben at a time when Peter Kenyon still had a fair idea of Sir Alex Ferguson's wishlist and could afford to outbid his former employers. United lost out on Ronaldinho too, because Barcelona stepped in. Mikel John Obi is a tawdry can of worms we all want to forget...
Next summer the big target will be Karim Benzema. David Villa and David Silva from cash-strapped Valencia are the next two probables. Franck Ribery is already the subject of a jostle for position, should he choose to leave Bayern Munich. Cristiano Ronaldo....let's not even consider how dull and drawn-out that saga is going to be.
Beckham, meanwhile, is headed to Milan on a far more permanent basis, though possibly to the end of the Euorpean season and back to California for one last stab at that elusive dream of the MLS Cup, or even the play-offs...anyway, back to brass tacks: The Hollywood dream is over because Beckham has realised that he can still play, whereas the American mission was in aid of his own profile.
Beckham obviously thought he was not famous enough but has now realised that he still enjoys what made him famous in the first place. He has an added bonus in that he is still good at it.
By Monday, Galaxy, and some of their fans, will have learned a harsh reality: in football, the big clubs always get their man. Even if they do leave it to the last minute.