Excellent sports’ writing is not simply about analyzing players, teams or organizations. It’s largely about painting a picture that fits into society’s perceptions of the surrounding world. It’s about writing a narrative and properly explaining the parts. It’s about playing historian and social critic while discussing competitions and complex organizations.
Sports’ writing is an art form, and even though I enjoy Grant Wahl’s College Basketball and Soccer writing for SI.com, I was not sure how well he’d do writing one of the most important books in the history of American soccer.
The Beckham Experiment is a brilliantly crafted book. Wahl paints the picture of an organization at war with itself and the celebrity culture of European football and Hollywood colliding with the lunch pail scrappy attitude of the United States.
For the MLS and US Soccer fan, the book provides an objective and highly critical but fair narrative at how the Los Angeles Galaxy and parent company AEG operated from January 2007 until November 2008.
This book through groundbreaking reporting as well as objective analysis paints an accurate but somewhat disturbing picture of the LA Galaxy franchise. The assumptions many on the outside including myself have made for the past few years can be cleanly refuted by some of the new information revealed by Wahl.
For starters, Alexi Lalas while largely responsible for the decline of the Galaxy organization after Doug Hamilton’s death was in fact the sanest and most responsible person in the front office by 2008. Also interesting was the relationship between AEG and Simon Fuller’s “19” based around the promotion of entertainment events including the Galaxy. AEG had in fact been in contact with team Beckham since 2002. This partnership became so extensive that the two organizations in fact merged for a time, with 19 in fact running the Galaxy.
Former England National Team and Chelsea back office staffer Terry Byrne, the best friend of David Beckham became the pivotal figure in the Galaxy after the 2007 season. Byrne, a former London cabbie who had burned out as a professional footballer at a young age began working for Chelsea in the mid 1990s. When Glen Hoddle, Chelsea’s manager took the England National Team job, Byrne went with him (while continuing his staff role at Chelsea where he’d work for Ruud Gullit) and his relationship with Beckham was hatched.
Following the coup of signing David Beckham, Lalas and manager Frank Yallop would often be on different pages. The type of players Yallop wanted to surround Beckham with, like the very technical Kyle Beckerman or Jeff Cunningham, one of the leading goal scorers in MLS history was nixed in favor of Lalas’ ideal players.