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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Book Review: The Beckham Experiment

            Consider yourself a sports fan?  If so, The Beckham Experiment is a must-read.  With inside access to the Los Angeles Galaxy and interviews with Galaxy personnel, including Beckham himself, Sports Illustrated columnist Grant Wahl reveals the truth—scandals, secrets, and all—that now maims David Beckham’s famed tenure here in America.  Quite simply put, The Beckham Experiment is the most important piece of literature ever written concerning soccer, its struggle, its growth, and its mere presence, in the United States.  Here are my final thoughts on the book…

1.    1. Hollywood > Beckham: Naturally, you would think that the world’s biggest athlete and the world’s biggest sporting scene would mesh well together.  But in terms of on-field production, David Beckham + America = disaster experiment.  And why?  Pop icon status is nothing new for Beckham, but for the first time in his life, Goldenballs was immersed into Hollywood, unlike anything he had ever encountered in England or in Spain.  Ultimately, Beckham was in way over his head and his responsibilities as a celebrity were detrimental to his commitment to the Galaxy.

2.    2. In America, Business > Sport: Although admittedly said from a fan’s perspective, too often for inside parties, American sports become, above all else, a business.  And in the Beckham Experiment, this was its downfall.  Beckham’s people became so preoccupied with promotions, money-making, and status positioning in the Galaxy ranks that in the end, Beckham’s performance on the field received the least attention.  From a business perspective, the Beckham Experiment was an enormous success, but otherwise, not so much.

3.    3. Dear MLS, Stay “American”: Perhaps the biggest winner in The Beckham Experiment is the MLS itself, as the league has enjoyed huge increases in income and popularity since Beckham’s arrival.  Now, MLS has its issues—turf fields, which Beckham himself complained about, awful travel accommodations, a lack of funds—but it is growing and improving.  Beckham’s people, notably former Galaxy coach Ruud Gullit, approached MLS with their “European expertise” expecting the league to kiss their feet.  Two years later, MLS has learned better.  In order to succeed, the league must not succumb to all foreign ways, but retain a bit of Americana, and in doing so building an identity and establishing itself as bigger than the “Beckhams” it houses.

4.    4. Maturity is Landon Donovan: Donovan was another big winner in The Beckham Experiment.  The LA Galaxy forward went through a lot during the first two years of Beckham’s tumultuous MLS tenure: giving up the club captaincy at the request of Beckham’s advisors, performing in Beckham’s shadow despite being the league’s best player and receiving an inferior salary, etc.  Eventually, though, Donovan worked up the courage to call Beckham out as a bad teammate and he has now regained the armband for Los Angeles.  All in all, Landon Donovan has emerged from the Beckham Experiment as a more mature individual and a more professional athlete.

5. Alan Gordon is the Man: Although uninvolved in the tension amongst the Galaxy locker room and front office, The Beckham Experiment sheds light on one of Los Angeles’s lower-profile stars in Alan Gordon.  Gordon emerges in Grant Wahl’s book as the protagonist in an underdog story.  The occupant of an apartment shared with two fellow Galaxy roommates, Gordon earns a terribly low salary and coaches a girl’s youth soccer team on the side to make enough money to get by.  Hampered by drugs and alcohol in his past, Gordon, despite being slow of foot and a showcase of ordinary skills, has worked his best to not only remain contracted with the Galaxy, but to have also earned a pay raise last year.  Congrats to him.

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