The news from Madrid on Monday was not exactly good, but as far as the Galaxy was concerned, not good was better than bad.
David Beckham, signed by the Galaxy in January to the most lucrative Major League Soccer contract ever, will be sidelined at least four weeks because of a sprain in his right knee and will be no more than a spectator as Real Madrid chases Spanish and European honors.
His chances of making a comeback for England’s national soccer team also have taken a substantial blow.
But it could have been worse.
Beckham limped off the field at Santiago Bernabeu stadium Sunday afternoon after his momentum caused him to crash into the advertising boards behind the goal. Initially it was feared that he might have ruptured knee ligaments.
Not so, Real Madrid said Monday.
“The Briton is suffering from a second-degree sprain of the internal lateral ligament of the right knee,” the club said after Beckham was evaluated at the team’s training site in the afternoon. Club doctors expressed relief that the injury was not more serious.
The Galaxy released a statement Monday morning saying the team was “aware” of the injury but that it would be up to Real Madrid to release information regarding Beckham’s status.
“Obviously, we hope it’s not a serious injury, so he can get back to helping Real Madrid challenge for the title,” the statement said. “We do not expect this injury to affect his arrival in Los Angeles or his debut with the Galaxy.”
In a roundabout way, it might speed up his MLS debut, however.
Real Madrid, chasing three titles, already has been knocked out of the King’s Cup. It could be knocked out of the European Champions League on Wednesday when it plays Bayern Munich in Germany. Real Madrid, inspired by Beckham’s play, won the first match in the two-game, round-of-16 series, 3-2, in Madrid, but Bayern’s two goals on the road could prove decisive.
A 1-0 victory would be enough to put Bayern through to the last eight and eliminate Real Madrid.
That would leave only the Spanish league title for Real Madrid to aim at. After Sunday’s 1-1 tie with Getafe in the game in which Beckham and teammate Juan Antonio Reyes were injured, Real is in fourth place, six points behind leader Sevilla and also trailing defending champion FC Barcelona and Valencia. A loss at Barcelona on Sunday could effectively scuttle Real Madrid’s title chances.
Once Real Madrid is mathematically ruled out of championship contention, there is an outside possibility that the club will allow Beckham to leave before his contract expires on June 30. The MLS season begins April 7.
Whether an early move materializes -- and the Galaxy would not speculate on that possibility Monday -- Sunday’s injury came at a bad time for Beckham. Having spent January as an idle short-timer after the commotion of signing with the Galaxy, Beckham spent February in a stirring rebound for Real Madrid.
He was looking forward to returning to his former home of Manchester on March 13 for an exhibition match, but that now is out of the question.
And, in perhaps his biggest disappointment, Beckham will miss any chance at turning up on the roster to be named March 16 by Steve McLaren, England’s national coach.
Continuing the 14-month qualifying for the Euro 2008 tournament, England will play at Israel on March 24 and at Andorra on March 28. It had just become fashionable again to wonder whether Beckham might make one very loud return.
Beckham resigned as England’s captain after the team’s ouster by Portugal in the 2006 World Cup quarterfinals, and was dropped altogether when McLaren replaced Sven-Goran Eriksson as coach and cited the need for a “new direction.”
Nobody much protested, but as England began to wheeze, particularly with a loss at Croatia and a home draw with Macedonia in October, McLaren’s minutes-long honeymoon ceased and onlookers began complaining loudly and suggesting that a new tack be sought.
Come February, when Real Madrid Coach Fabio Capello suddenly reinserted Beckham into his lineup and the player thrived, the suggestion was that McLaren should do likewise, given Beckham’s odd moments of brilliance that sometimes decide grinding matches and helped make him the only English player to score in three World Cups.
Beckham said he’d be willing, and McLaren said he’d think about it.
Sunday’s injury, however, finished those hopes and, in all likelihood, Beckham’s international career.
Freelance writer Culpepper reported from London, Times staff writer Jones from Los Angeles.