Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Review - The Beckham Experiment by Grant Wahl

I enjoyed it, and I suspect any hardcore MLS fan would as well. All the biggest revelations have already been publicized, but there's plenty of interesting anecdotes and many details about the LA Galaxy power players. Those details are the reason to read this book (such as how Alexi Lalas vetoed a proposed Peter Vagenas for Kyle Beckerman trade), as everyone who follows American soccer already knows how the story goes. You get plenty of info about what went on behind the scenes, as the reasons behind every decision the Galaxy made are examined.

Beckham has long been as famous for his celebrity off the field than simply what he does on it. The key to his global superstardom is to balance the two sides just right, creating what Wahl calls the "Beckham sweet spot." Currently a Google search gets only one hit if you search for that, which should change very shortly. I love the phrase, and that's why he was the biggest possible signing for the league. No one player could get the publicity that he could. However, both sides to his success would go on to create plenty of conflict and culture shock during his MLS career.

Beckham himself comes off as one of the least interesting people in the book. He's highly scripted and obviously has plenty of experience in not going out of his way to make waves. Of course, he's yet to talk candidly about many of the things that went on as well. Lalas, on the other hand, is probably the most quoted person and is never boring. Okay, he seemingly has every other personality trait at some point, and but everything he says is worth reading. The actions of Beckham's managment (Simon Fuller is a character) and Tim Leiweke are also good stuff.

I'm sure everyone has already read about Landon Donovan's comments from the excerpts released. There's plenty of Landon in the book, but of all the Galaxy teammates, Alan Gordon probably gets the most ink. He's cast as a representative of an average MLS player ("a sort of anti-Beckham"), one of the low paid guys who have helped build the league into what it is. The insights into his life make for some of the most interesting reading, as well as any of the other contrasts between Beckham's life and those of his teammates. Gordon comes across as funny and likeable, and I especially enjoyed the story of his advice from Ruud Gullit.

Speaking of Gullit, some of the most memorable parts of the book involve the foreigners who know little about the league: Gullit, Abel Xavier, and Celestine Babayaro. I can't get enough of the stories detailing how things here surprised them and how they reacted. Seemingly every MLS foreigner throughout the league's history has had something shock them, but you think they would be more informed. No matter how many years go by, it never gets old.

I disagree with some of Wahl's comments. I don't think the rating for Beckham's first game (Chelsea) was disappointing; I consider a 1.0 for an MLS match to be pretty good. I have a problem with a mention of Pele in the first few pages, insinuating that he was a failure. Also, this line made me laugh (pg. 235): "Lalas never had any patience for corporate doublespeak." But I will give Wahl credit for calling out the media for "shockingly bad journalism" regarding the $250 million figure put out when Beckham signed. That's always bothered me.

Is this the best time to write and release a book about David Beckham's time in America? Maybe from Wahl's perspective. He goes into the facts of Beckham's impact (financial success, on the field failure), but there's no conclusion as the story is certainly not over yet. If Beckham leaves for good after 2009 or if he comes back after the World Cup reinvigorated, there's more to tell either way. You could almost imagine a sequel called "The Beckham Redemption."

I'd welcome another story like this one.

More good reading: This Is American Soccer's interview with Grant Wahl.

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Comments on "Review - The Beckham Experiment by Grant Wahl"


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (3:27 PM, July 18, 2009) : 

I'm not reading it until the experiment is actually over. Much more drama to be played out.


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