Unprofessional Foul


July 14, 2009

The Beckham Experiment is here! Grant Wahl Q&A

We’ve been snickering and chuckling over the last couple of weeks at the stories beginning to seep out from Grant Wahl’s new book, The Beckham Experiment, as he and his publisher begin the PR campaign. (You can buy the book here, should you fancy)

Well, we need feed off the scraps no longer as the book drops today, and we can all finally learn the entire truth of Beckham’s tumultuous, phantasmagorical, chaotic, downright hilarious time at the Los Angeles Galaxy.

Grant was gracious enough to take some time out of his busy media schedule with the MSM to answer a few questions about all things Beckham and book-related.

Hit that after the jump, and, if you’re in feeling lucky, you can enter our impromptu competition to win yourselves a copy of the book in shiny, new hardcover!

Simply email us at the address in the sidebar, subject line WAHL to be entered in our random draw.

Enough procrastinating. Wahl below.


UF: What are your thoughts on the media reaction to the book thus far? In the UK, the prevailing theme so far appears to be focused on mocking Donovan’s precocious ways and tuning out the negativity about Beckham, while the US has always looked upon Beckham with suspicion as to his motives. Did you expect such a backlash from the English press?

Wahl: I don’t know if I’d use the term “backlash” to describe the reaction in the British media. I haven’t read all of it, but most of what I saw was just straight-up reporting of Donovan’s comments (and, now, Beckham’s response). I would say this: Almost all of the people who are criticizing Donovan for his remarks about Beckham (in Britain or anywhere else) didn’t see all of the Galaxy’s games in the second half of 2008. I did see every game. And while it was admittedly terrible soccer, it was obvious that Beckham wasn’t giving his full effort during that time. Donovan was by far the best player on the Galaxy last year (his 20 goals led the league), and that may be part of the reason why he felt comfortable issuing his criticisms of Beckham, who didn’t even make the MLS Best XI. Beckham was really good in the first half of the season, however.

UF: Has Beckham read the book? AEG? Leiweke? Lalas? Any of the major characters? Any feedback from them or commentary?

Wahl: I’m not sure exactly who has and who hasn’t read the book yet. I’ll be curious to hear what they think after they’re done reading, because I think it’s a fair-minded account of the Beckham Experiment’s successes (yes, there were some) and failures. My main hope all along has been that people read the whole book. I’m proud of the finished product.

UF: What were some of the biggest difficulties in getting the book together? Did Team Beckham and their PR spin team make things hard for you?

Wahl: I have always had a good relationship with Beckham and his handlers after writing two long open-minded stories about Beckham for Sports Illustrated in 2003 and 2007. Those stories were done as straight-up journalism—in other words, Team Beckham was not paid a dime for access and didn’t have approval over anything in the stories—and this book was the same way. I’ve interviewed Beckham one-on-one more than any other U.S. journalist, and the book includes material from those interviews, as well as the many interviews of Beckham that took place before and after every Galaxy game. He provided far more access than he ever has to the media in Europe, so his voice is in the book.

UF: From reading the book, Beckham’s naivete and arrogance regarding his abilities and his potential role in MLS shine through. He appeared to never have a clue, and the book gave me the impression that once he realized his presence was unable to transform the Galaxy into a winning franchise overnight, he virtually checked out. Based on your intimate knowledge of the situation, was he aware of what he was getting into, or was he as clueless as Gullit regarding the structure and operations of MLS?

Wahl: I don’t think Beckham was totally aware of what he was getting into with the Galaxy—or how bad the team really was. Obviously, the Galaxy deserves a lot of blame for that, but so do Beckham and his handlers for not being fully aware (and then adding to the problems during Team Beckham’s shadow takeover of the team in late 2007 and 2008).

UF: How did writing and researching this book change your opinion of Beckham?

Wahl: In covering Beckham over the years before he joined the Galaxy, all of his former teammates and coaches said that he put out 100% effort all the time in practices and games. But in the last half of 2008 it was clear that Beckham was not putting in 100% during games, and several teammates (including Landon Donovan and Chris Klein) noted that Beckham could have been doing more at practices too. My theory is that Beckham had never lost this much in his career, and as a result he partly checked out on the team in the last half of 2008.

UF: What impact do you think this book might have on the MLS moving forward? Could Becks’ struggles deter other big names from coming across to try their hand in America?

Wahl: I don’t think this will keep other stars from coming over, though it might cause some MLS owners to think twice about opening their wallets. That would be unfortunate. MLS needs star power, and the Beckham case is so unique that I don’t know how many lessons can be applied to other players.

UF: I was struck by the level of comfort shown by a lot of players in going on the record with their feelings toward Beckham and LA, in particular Landon Donovan. Was there a general willingness amongst the rest of the team to come forward and share their uncensored thoughts?

Wahl: I did the reporting for this book over 16 months, following the team in Los Angeles and around the rest of the country. I think Donovan and several other figures got used to me being around and were comfortable sharing their thoughts. They also knew that I didn’t come in with an agenda. When I started the reporting for the book in the summer of 2007, none of us knew what would happen. For all we knew, the Galaxy was going to win championships like Pelé’s New York Cosmos. That didn’t happen, of course, and I just ended up following the story where it took me.

UF: Who might be your next target after Beckham?

Wahl: I don’t think I’d use the term “target” since it implies some sort of intended malevolence, but I am starting to put together ideas for my next book. Not sure if it will be on soccer. The Beckham Experiment was a huge story for American soccer that was deserving of a book, but there may not be many other U.S. soccer stories that publishers think are worthy of books. I’d love to be wrong, though.

UF: And a couple of off-topic ones to round things out….
Hopes and Expectations for World Cup 2010?

Wahl: To have a tournament that’s free of major incidents and has the kind of quality soccer we saw at Euro 2008.

UF: Favorite US Player at the moment? All-Time?

Wahl: Alan Gordon. Anyone who reads the book will know why. He’s a symbol of all the anonymous U.S. players who bust their tails to keep MLS afloat.

UF: Favorite World Player at the moment? All-Time?

Wahl: I’m in the bag for the Argentines. Messi now. All-time: Maradona, circa 1986.

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About the Author

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