MILAN - If David Beckham decides to stay at AC Milan he is likely to prolong his England career but could damage his well-crafted image having consistently said he would be returning to Los Angeles Galaxy.
The 33-year-old engineered a two-month loan to Italy in a bid to stay in the England reckoning during the U.S. close season and after a bright start at Milan and two goals, the club are keen to keep him full time.
"It's not easy to decide. It's a matter that requires time. I'm under contract with, and have lots of respect for, Galaxy," Beckham told Corriere della Sera newspaper. "But the possibility to play at Milan is something special."
Time, though, is almost up with the January transfer window closing on Monday and the loan ending on March 9.
The obvious plus to staying in Italy is that he is much more likely to be included in England coach Fabio Capello's squad for the remaining 2010 World Cup qualifiers and the finals in South Africa.
Capello, whose side visit Spain for a friendly next month, has said he has been impressed with Beckham's Milan form having told him to find top-level football during the long U.S. break.
Beckham has surpassed expectations by grabbing a Milan starting spot immediately after a year in the less high profile Major League Soccer, which he said was sometimes "frustrating".
A second reason for Beckham to move would be another bumper contract that looked unlikely when he signed a five-year deal with Galaxy in 2007 estimated to be worth $250 million.
That deal was meant to be his last playing contract but Milan's package, although likely to be worth less given a 33-year-old could only expect a three-year deal at best, would still reward the world's most famous player because of the extra marketing possibilities he would offer.
"From the studies we have done I think if he stays, there will be a positive impact for Milan. Certainly if you look at sponsorship," Giorgio Brambilla of sport marketing consultancy firm SPORT+MARKT told Reuters.
Thirdly, Beckham's Italian sponsors such as Armani would be pleased if he stayed and re-energised his brand in Europe having already paraded him at their Milan fashion shows recently.
"While his presence in the U.S. is important for his U.S. business interests, elsewhere in the world I think this has contributed to his brand losing some of its lustre," said Simon Chadwick, professor of sport business at Coventry University.
However, there are many drawbacks to staying at Milan.
When he left Real Madrid for Galaxy it was marketed as Beckham's own push to improve the standard of U.S. soccer.
He went to a lower standard league much earlier than other players, who headed to the likes of Japan and the Middle East at the end of their careers rather than in their early thirties.
Beckham may now regret going to L.A. so soon -- he could have gone straight to Milan from Spain -- but if he leaves now his U.S. project would be seen as a failure.
Beckham, who has always seemed a player of his word, could also be accused of breaching Galaxy's trust -- something his U.S. sponsors might not appreciate.
"Performing a U-turn would not be positive for the player's image. It would not be a transparent exit from Galaxy," Brambilla added.
Any move needs MLS approval and Galaxy themselves have not looked like budging so far.
"We have a contract, we have a handshake, his kids go to school here, end of story. There is no story. He's going to return to the Galaxy," said Tim Leiweke, head of Galaxy owners AEG.
Another risk in moving is that Beckham's Milan honeymoon may not last. His form dipped after his first season at Madrid and although the Rossoneri have a habit of keeping ageing players, a continued run in the team is not guaranteed.
Many Milan team mates have said they want him to stay but players such as Mathieu Flamini, in the side before his arrival, are unlikely to be happy if a two-month loan becomes a transfer.
If a permanent move does not transpire, Milan have already suggested he could come back and do the same loan next year.
However, yo-yoing between clubs could upset Galaxy and Milan players who have no security over their first team places.
His celebrity wife Victoria is another factor. She may enjoy Milan's fashion weeks but they can not compare to L.A.'s glitz.
Beckham's U.S. soccer school could also suffer a backlash, analysts said.
Whatever decision Beckham takes, it could easily backfire.comments