Tuesday, August 11, 2009

My Review of the Beckham Experiment


It’s a little late, as I’ve had precious little spare time for reading. However, here is my review and thoughts on the Beckham Experiment:

First of all, I love Grant Wahl as a writer, but then again who doesn’t? His behind the scenes insight into basketball and soccer is top-notch, and he didn’t disappoint with this one.

This book seemed to be very factual, but also painted a good picture of what was going on. It pointed out characteristics of certain people in the “Beckham saga” that were quite surprising to me:

  • Landon Donovan: comes across as a no-nonsense, tell-it-like-it-is kind of guy in this book.
  • Alexi Lalas: this hardly gives the impression of the buffoon that seemed to come across in the media over the last couple of years. Instead, seemed more savvy than I thought, but had a tough situation to deal with in LA. An interesting part of the book is Alexi’s view that the MLS needs to understand that it’s as much entertainment as athletics. The other sports in America seem to realize this and take advantage of it.
  • Beckham: as has been pointed out - for a book about Beckham, there is precious little of him in the book, but its more about the ramifications of his mere presence in different situations. Beckham clearly made an attempt to be “just one of the guys”, but with his status that’s impossible.
  • Alan Gordon: Okay so I’m not a fan of his play on the field, but he is extremely likeable in this book, and you get a sense that he’s a guy you’d like to hang out with.
  • Frank Yallop: I was surprised about the story in this book about him out partying at a club until the wee hours with his team. Didn’t fit the revered vision of him that I had in my head.
  • Tim Lieweke: Not a surprise here. He came off as the puppet master that I originally thought he was.

For Real Salt Lake there are some interesting tidbits throughout this book that had an RSL tie in:

  • Yallop wanted to trade Vagenas for Kyle Beckerman just prior to Beckerman getting traded to RSL. Apparently Lalas nixed the deal (he and Vagenas are tight).
  • Chris Klein came off as pure class in this book. Also, the description of his bicycle kick equalizer in Superliga was phenomenal.
  • Grant Wahl actually gave Garth Lagerwey his start in MLS journalism/reporting. This led directly to his hiring on as part of the broadcast team for DC United, which indirectly led to him being named as GM for Real Salt Lake.

This book really captured a couple of things well. First of all, it captured the life of those on the low end of the totem pole, and how they struggled to survive with the low-level pay, especially living in a high-cost area like LA. The description of Gordon’s girlfriend first visiting his (and his two roomates) “dorm” for the first time really highlighted this.

Of course, this is all set against the backdrop of Beckham arriving and orchestrating changes. First was a charter flight for the team to his first away match. Next was getting AEG to spring for 4-star accommodations and cuisine, as opposed to the Hampton Inn level lodging and KFC quality food that they had been accustomed to. Finally, there were the first class seats for players like Beckham and Xavier, and the allowance for anyone with a car>$100,000 being able to park inside the HDC complex next to the dressing room.

This story also points out numerous problems with the league. Aside from the low salary for developmental-level players, this book highlights problems with scheduling, attendance, pay inequities, and numerous other quirks within the rules and structure of the league.

The other thing this book does, is leave open the possibility of a sequel. Clearly this Beckham saga is not yet complete, and I expect Wahl to be the one to pen the final chapters. How it plays out leaves me nervous, cringing and only able to keep one eye open to watch the carnage, er… action.

Maybe I’ll just keep ‘em both closed and wait for Part 2?