Bent Like Becks
By Gary Singh
THE DELAYS are finally over, and Grant Wahl's new book, The Beckham Experiment: How the World's Most Famous Athlete Tried to Conquer America (Crown, $24.99), hit the shelves yesterday, just in time for David Beckham's return to Major League Soccer. Becks will once again join the L.A. Galaxy when they face New York tomorrow. If you don't know the story, Beckham is the most well-known soccer player on Earth—nowhere near the best one, just the most visible in a celebrity sense. He's his own brand, a multinational conglomerate, and he's ridden atop the highest levels of the game while playing for Manchester United, Real Madrid and captaining England's World Cup team. He's also married to Posh Spice of the Spice Girls, which doubly places him in the spotlight wherever he goes. His manager, aside from puppeteering Beckhamania worldwide, is also the one you can blame for the existence of American Idol.
A few years ago, people with way too much money got together and decided that if Beckham ditched his dream life in Europe and came to play for the Los Angeles Galaxy, it would help put American soccer on the map, raise the level of the American game, accelerate the Galaxy's climb to world SuperClub status or at least facilitate the mainstreaming of the sport in the United States—none of which actually worked.
Beckham arrived with unprecedented fanfare in 2007—with 700 members of the media credentialed for the press conference—but he spent most of the season injured. In 2008, he had a good first half of the season, but then, after growing personality conflicts and ill feelings due to disproportionate salaries (Beckham's millions did nothing to conciliate L.A. players making $30,000 a year while actually working twice as hard), relationships began to deteriorate. Beckham began to put duty for the English national team above his commitments to L.A.; he grew to disdain the quality of play in MLS; and his mafioso-style management ever so slowly began making decisions that overrode the coach. All of the above collectively resulted in the Galaxy plummeting to the bottom of the standings, plus some vintage gossipy Beckham-bashing from his own teammate, former S.J. Earthquake–turned-enemy Landon Donovan.
Even if American soccer isn't your bag, this was an absolute sideshow to watch unfold, and Wahl takes us behind the scenes to the dinners, the parties, the conversations, the backstabbing, the locker rooms, the ego clashes, the corporate battles and the press conferences. A rock-star soap opera of epic proportions went down, including a bombshell that Wahl unloads in the book: L.A. Galaxy owners, the Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), hired Beckham's own handlers as outside "consultants," who then deliberately hijacked the team from its own general manager, railroaded their own choice for a new coach onto the team and called shots from behind the scenes—completely unbeknownst to the rest of the team and the general public.
Wahl had inside access to almost everybody involved—from multimillionaire Becks himself, to Posh Spice, AEG and Galaxy developmental players making $13,000 per year—and the book makes for a dynamite read. If you're a soccer fan or a scandal junkie, you'll find something revelatory in The Beckham Experiment. On the other hand, nonsoccer fans skeptical of the sport ever making it here can get their yas-yas out as well, as the book sheds light on the seemingly unsurmountable growing pains of a young league. It also highlights the intergalactic spectacle that Beckham has truly become—a phenomenon without comparison in the entire world of sports. Even better, a few folks now with the Earthquakes witnessed that spectacle firsthand. Current Quakes keeper Joe Cannon and coach Frank Yallop were both members of the Galaxy when the Beckham circus came to town and make several appearances. If you are a Quakes fan, you will love Wahl's manuscript just for the schadenfreude—to celebrate the implosion that went on within your hated rival, the Galaxy, after everything went haywire.