Reborn Beckham Makes Europe Think Twice

His work for England complete after 68 imperious minutes, David Beckham retired to the visitors bench last Wednesday night in Estonia with a familiar verse in his ear.

"There's only one David Beckham," the traveling supporters sang. England's fans are right with their math -- there is no one else in the world with the power to awe and incite like Beckham, soon to be Major League Soccer's $250 million man. The only question now is whether one David Beckham will be enough to go around.

Alexi Lalas, general manager of the MLS's Los Angeles Galaxy, Beckham's team-in-waiting, is confident there is. He has no choice. To lose Beckham to Europe after spending six months promoting his stateside arrival would be a shocking blow to American soccer.

"It was great for David, great for England, and great for the MLS," Lalas said the morning after Beckham's return to international competition after an eight-month exile. Lalas, a de facto spokesman for American soccer, knows that an in-form Beckham jet-setting between Los Angeles and London would be a shot of pure adrenaline to his team and the league.

But at the same time, Lalas must be cautious. What the giants of European soccer crave, they are rarely denied. And what they want, in this case, is for Beckham to sign a new deal to stay.

He has a contract with the MLS but could have his services rented off to a Premiership club -- the English equivalent of MLS -- when the season ends in November. (The European soccer calendar runs August to May. The MLS, in deference to the "big four" American sports, begins play in June and ends in late November.) A loan move would not prevent Beckham from playing in the MLS but might expose him to injury, fatigue and the temptation of a more permanent return.

There are also rumors of an "escape clause" in Beckham's contract. The Galaxy denies anything of the sort and for his part, Beckham has said he will honor his contract with the Galaxy, and has no desire to play for another club in the off-season. Still, there is speculation that if his place on the national team were to be challenged again, his resolve could weaken.

Lalas maintains that such a move would never happen, and that the scheduling conflicts that could keep his prize midfielder away from Los Angeles for up to six matches this season are part and parcel to the international game.

"This club versus country debate is not something new," Lalas said from his office in the Galaxy's Home Depot Center. "It's an age-old problem and, unfortunately, too often players are put in the middle.… Both teams can realize the benefits of having David Beckham as part of their team."

Lalas was part of the group that signed Beckham for Los Angeles on Jan. 11, at a time when England's former captain was out of favor with his current club, Real Madrid, and out of the English side altogether. Steve McClaren, manager of the England national team dropped Beckham from the his roster last August.

"In January, the transfer window opened up and the stars aligned," Lalas said. "Everything was perfect in that he was looking for a new opportunity. We came into this small window of opportunity, and we had to do something big and bold to attract him and we did."

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