Tuesday, August 18, 2009
I recently finished the book "The Beckham Experiment" by Grant Wahl, and I know what you're thinking: Why would you read a book about soccer? I'm not sure, to be honest, but one reason might be because it was sent to me free. In any case, I'm glad I did.
Before picking this up, I knew approximately four things about David Beckham:
1. He was half great soccer player, half pretty boy and fashionista
2. He married the second hottest Spice Girl
3. A movie with his name in it introduced the world to the hotness that is Keira Knightley
4. He came to the US to play in MLS and it was a big deal
And that's it. I knew he joined the L.A. Galaxy of MLS, and had no idea how that turned out.
This book takes you inside everything, from the decision process to come over here from England all the way to the final outcome, with plenty of inside access in between, on all sides, and what a train wreck this was, with no shortage of mistakes and miscues, including:
Beckham's inability to be "one of the guys", his frustration with the skill level of his teammates, his failure to take a leadership role despite taking the team captaincy away from Landon Donovan, and his play not living up to expectations, due both to injuries and to simple poor effort.
Donovan's immaturity, both on a personal and professional level.
Coach Ruud Gullitt, and his lazy attitude and sense of entitlement leading to a lack of preparation by the team, and a whole shit load of confused players when he refused to learn the differences between MLS and European League soccer.
GM Alexei Lalas's failure to keep control of the soccer operations of his team, leading to his eventual firing.
Team owner Tim Leiweke's initial decisions to try to turn this in to the David Beckham show and bow to the whims of his management team, only turning around and making the correct decisions for the whole team when it was too late.
But mainly, from the people behind Beckham. From his personal manager Tim Byrne to the head of the production company behind him, Simon Fuller, and their strong arming of everyone involved to make decisions for the team, leading to two losing seasons and three coaches in two years.
It's amazing how something with the best intentions (Leiweke's desire to explode soccer in the US and Beckham's wish to be a part of it) can be corrupted by money and too many people covering their owns asses and looking out only for their own pockets. This story doesn't even have to pertain to soccer, it could essentially apply to any far-reaching plan that gets torpedoed when everyone has their own agenda.
Wahl was given a lot of behind the scenes access here, and he used to his full advantage, getting down to the nitty gritty details, particularly with Lalas who was very candid throughout. And, despite the fact that Beckham wouldn't grat him one on one interviews, he still manages to convey what Beckham was thinking and feeling throughout much of the book, and you really get a sense of both his frustration and his teammates' once he gave up on them.
This is a really great and interesting look at the entire situation, and I recommend it, whether you are a soccer fan or not. As for me, despite having very little interest in soccer, after reading this book I almost watched the USA vs. Mexico World Cup Qualifier.