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Raise, Call, or Fold: L.A. Galaxy, David Beckham and Landon Donovan

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Rumors in and out of the executive suites of professional and international soccer are a perpetual game of partial information.  There is usually some truth, some falsehoods, and some bluffs being run through the press.  It’s a lot like Texas Hold ‘em poker in that executives, agents and managers have to make player acquisition decisions based on some information, but not quite all of the information at hand.

This column will rate some of the rumors going around the world of soccer as either Raise (strong likelihood this is true… bet on it), Call (probably true… but don’t wager any more than you have to), and Fold (false…  don’t make the mistake of telling your friends this is going to happen because it’s not).

Of late the LA Galaxy, David Beckham and Landon Donovan have been getting a lot of attention.

David Beckham’s return will be the boost the Galaxy needs for its playoff run.  CALL

Despite what a columnist over on ESPN says the Galaxy need David Beckham.   The most annoying word bandied about the World Cup this past summer was talisman.  According to the press, every team had one or two or three, and it was usually their star player, how many times did we hear “Messi is Argentina’s talisman.”  Why not simply say M.V.P. or star player and stop with the talisman stuff.  Other reporters would go a step further and define the engine of the team, or the leader of the team as the talisman, while closer to the meaning of the word talisman, again there still were better words to describe them like… engine or leader.

Except in one case:  England did have a talisman.  He was a man who does seem to embody supernatural or magical powers and he sat on their bench like a good luck charm/weapon.  David Beckham, mostly on the basis of crosses and free kicks they’ve named movies after, embodies performance in the clutch, leadership and a general aura that Fabio Capella wanted with his team.  His role despite some scouting duties was more accurately a person embodying the characteristics of a talisman than any other player mislabeled as such.

In L.A.  his role is slightly different.  Once fit, he’ll slide back into the team and be a little bit of an engine, a little bit of a leader, a little bit of an M.V.P. but he’ll still be a little bit of a talisman.  He’s a World Class star and his return to training has coincided with the Galaxy picking things up a bit.   Beating the Crew 3 to 1, with Beckham only playing 20 minutes, midfielders Juninho and Dema Kovalenko stepped up their game.  Landon Donovan went as far to say that Beckham back healthy would be the biggest addition to any MLS team in the midst of all the high profile signings like Thierry Henry.  He’s a talisman because L.A. believes his presence makes them stronger, more confident, and better.

Landon Donovan will not take another loan deal to England or Europe this year.  FOLD.

On first blush this should be a call or a raise, as Donovan has stated he’s wiped out from the World Cup and he needs a break.  However, far more telling was the afterthought that maybe after a week or two he’d feel fit again.  Some people have suggested Landon talks out of both sides of his mouth and if that’s true then we shouldn’t hold him to anything he says.   Not quite so judgmental here, as those folks ignore the fact that he’s said some pretty controversial things (particularly in regard to Beckham) and stood by those comments.

Truth is Landon says what he’s feeling at the moment and is more honest than most in this approach.   Still, he changes his mind quite a bit and that sometimes makes it look like he lied or glossed over comments previously.  Though, if you want to read into Donovan’s mindset or what he’s likely to feel next, he’s statement on his short-term future said a couple of things and we can imply a couple of others:  I need a short break, if after that, I feel energized and/or get a decent offer I will be on a plane to England, Spain or Italy… but probably not Germany.

David Beckham will feel that itch again to get back into the England side even if it means chasing loan deals of his own again.  FOLD

Yes, Beckham is a patriot and a competitor will probably play for England as long as they ask him to.   He could be retired with a beer belly and dead leg from a freak tatooing accident, and get a call similar to the one Paul Scholes and Jaime Carragher got this past year, and be the first one at training the next day.  So the itch will always be there, no disputing that, but what is in question is the best way for Beckham to get back into the team.  He’s probably realized by now he can’t make the squad if he can’t play.

Loan deals to AC Milan that put him in the mix but also put him into rehab training aren’t going to work.  Even Beckham has probably accepted he can only put his body through so much.  Year round playing at his age will only break him down and not build up his English candidacy.  Look for him to contribute to the Galaxy’s stretch run, rest but probably still train, as he did with Arsenal previously, in the MLS offseason, and then look to come out in strong next year making a big enough mark in the MLS that Capello hears about in England (yes, that will have to be big).  Plus, it’s more likely this year a high profile side like AC Milan won’t be dialing Beckham up, despite his jersey sales, so he may not have to make a decision.

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