Can Galaxy stop Beckham playing for England?

This was the question my lovely wife posed for me last night. The answer is not as cut and dry as you might think.

David Beckham’s move to LA has put him in an interesting position as regards to his ability to represent both club and country. He played for England in the 2-1 loss to Germany on Wednesday night in London, boarded a plane and flew to LA for a game on Thursday night. At the end of the match he was visibly limping (He has an ankle injury that is seemingly aggravated by air travel). Can this 32 year old keep up this crazy travel schedule? And will the Galaxy let him?

There are FIFA regulations concerning releasing players for international duty:

“A club holding the registration of a player called up to play in the national team must release him to the national association on the fixed/set dates for international matches in each calendar year”

FIFA rules world soccer, and MLS is a member. This means that MLS should obey FIFA regulations. Failure to do so would have possible serious consequences for the growing MLS.

However, for international friendly matches, the club is not always obliged to release the player:

“A club is not obliged to release a player who has been called up if the friendly match in question is to be held on a date outside the coordinated international match calendar. In accordance with Article 36 Paragraph 4, a player shall only be released to the national association if his club agrees to his release.”

Wednesday’s game against Germany was a friendly falling into the above category – i.e. LA did not have to release him according to FIFA rules. But if this was an official friendly, or a qualifying or tournament match then they would be obliged to let him play.

Alexi Lalas was widely quoted on Friday stating that Galaxy has a “vested interested” in the club, and they do not want to see this ruined by a crazy travel schedule.

“We want to make sure we get our money’s worth and that he is healthy and both physically and mentally ready to go when he plays for the Galaxy. If at any point we felt it was detrimental to his health or ability to help our team we would take action.” – Lalas

This quote was read by an ignorant media as a signal that Galaxy were considering pulling the plug on Beckham’s England role. I think this is bad for both Galaxy and Beckham

1. David Beckham loves playing for England, and would not take kindly to his club not releasing him to play.
2. Galaxy have marketed Beckham as a world class player. Denying him the chance to play on the world stage could be detrimental to their campaign to bring MLS to the masses.

Indeed, even Lalas admits this:

“We would never stand in the way of a player representing their country. David’s love of England and the honor that it is for him to represent his country is evident from the first time you talk to him.”

However, Lalas also displays his knowledge of Fifa regulations when he states that certain games do not require Galaxy to release David, and it is these games that they wish to limit his travel. The thing is, if Beckham does not play in the friendlies, he misses the training camps with the other players. Steve McClaren, the England manager, has already shown his willingness to drop Beckham in the past. If Galaxy do exercise their right to limit the number of friendlies he plays in, then this may force McClaren’s hand – and this time I would not blame him.

I believe the solution is to manage Beckham’s pitch time effectively. He played Wednesday for England, Thursday for LA, and then was rested Saturday. He was meant to play the Saturday match, but it was obvious on Thursday night he would not be fit. It makes a lot more sense to me that in these situations the team schedule a rest day for him.

Why doesn’t MLS follow FIFA guidelines and keep matches away from Wednesdays that are earmarked for internationals? I imagine the answer has something to do with TV viewing contention with NFL and MLB.

MLS has a lot to learn before it comes close to becoming popular… Beckham is not a magic bullet – but he is certainly a very welcome star in the ranks.

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