Monday, July 20, 2009

The Beckham Experiment

Everyone in American soccer has been talking about Grant Wahl's book, "The Beckham Experiment" and everything involved with it. I was given the chance a few weeks ago to get a copy of the book and review it. With the game against David Beckham and the Galaxy coming up I figured it was the perfect time to get my review of the book out.

Wahl gives a view into not just the LA Galaxy front office, but gives a great look into MLS as a whole in the book. The best part about the league as a whole was the look into the lives of the players on the other end of the pay scale, mainly told through Alan Gordon. Unlike Beckham, Gordon played on a non guaranteed contract, lived in an apartment with 2 other players, and eventually borrowed money from his girlfriend so that he could move into a different apartment. Wahl does a great job of showing the contrasts between the life of Beckham and the lives of most of the rest of his teammates. He regularly throws out the paltry developmental player salary that players make and how those players are working extra jobs just so that they can make rent payments.

Still, the best insight in the book is into the Galaxy front office and the craziness not just from the Beckham signing in general. One of the more interesting things in my mind, was that former Galaxy GM, Alexi Lalas turned down a trade that would have brought Kyle Beckerman to LA for Peter Vagenas and a draft pick, because Lalas and Vagenas were good friends. In Beckham's first season, the issues with Beckham come from all sides as Lalas, 19 Entertainment, Tim Leiweke, the CEO of the Galaxy ownership, and even Beckham himself. Playing when his ankle was clearly well below 100%, playing 3 games in 3 time zones in 6 days as he traveled from New York to London to LA to continue his England career.

In his second season, the "villainy" for the problems with the Galaxy switch to mainly being the meddling of Beckham's handlers, mainly 19 Entertainment and best friend Terry Byrne. Lalas goes from being a villain himself to being undercut by the work of Beckham's handlers. Reading the process that led to the hiring of Ruud Gullit, it was amazing how that hiring was all on the back of Byrne and 19 Entertainment as Lalas was left entirely out of the situation. Wahl almost makes you feel sorry for Lalas about that situation and much of the 2008 season.

Most people have read Landon Donovan's comments made about Beckham that has caused the whole media situation around those two, but Donovan's disagreeing with Lalas in the 2007 season was just as interesting. First the whole issue with Donovan giving up the captain's arm band to Beckham after being pushed by Lalas (who was first pushed by Beckham's handlers). Then later in the season when Lalas goes against the media vote for team MVP and gives the award instead to Chris Klein. Issues that make Donovan seem like a victim of Beckham while at the same time, making him come off as a whiner and every bit of the Landycakes persona that people give him crap for.

There are even mentions of the two games in the 2008 season against the Wizards. During the game in LA, Wahl talks about Gullit calling out Donovan during the half time speech and Donovan becoming pissed about the situation and Beckham not coming to his defense as the captain. After the home game against LA, Wahl talks about Bruce Arena's preceived mistake of playing both Donovan and Beckham so soon after an international break.

Overall, I absolutely loved this book and the insight it gives. Wahl does a great job of capturing everything that seemed to be going on with the team at the time. My one complaint isn't about the writing, but more about how the book ends. Throughout Wahl talks about whether the "Beckham Experiment" will work or fail, but in the end you get no answer. This, though, is mainly due to the fact that the entire experiment isn't over yet, although from the quotes from players in the book, they believe it will end after this season.

Either way, if you have not gotten this book and read it yet, do yourself a favor and get it.

1 comment:

dr gooch said...

Is it completely wrong that I wanted the Wizards to sign Alan Gordon immediately?

I'm in the middle of reading it (probably 60 pages to go) and I'm reserving judgment until I see the whole book unfold. But I have to admit one thing: It's kind of re-enforcing some of my gripes against the MLS. Mainly, it's a bunch of incestuous ownership groups with idiotic rules meant to promote parity who fail to provide the players adequate support structure.

If the owners are too cheap and too hell-bent on the hard cap and roster regulations, how do they expect to keep mid-level, 25- to 30-year-old Americans from going to Norway to make some decent scratch?

Nice review on the book, Mike.