If you haven’t watched the hilarious footage of David Beckham nearly pulling The Full Cantona on a heckling Los Angeles Galaxy fan, please do so without delay. If the rest of Golden Balls’ truncated MLS season offers this kind of entertainment, perhaps those millions of Philip Anschutz’s dollars will not have died in vain, after all.
My review copy of Grant Wahl’s The Beckham Experiment landed late last week, a little too late to weigh in live on the juicy verbal handbag fight between Beckham and Galaxy teammate/would-be slash-fiction partner Landon Donovan. Still, Wahl’s book is an excellent bit of industrial espionage in the guise of locker-room tell-all. Wahl exposes the grimy details of Major League Soccer’s seamy side: the “developmental” serfs earning less than $13,000 a year, left to live in four-to-a-flat squalor while MLS Commissioner Don Garber yammers on about “the sport of the New America”; the murderous artificial turf and hideous gridiron lines; endless coach-class road trips and flea-bag hotels; inedible pre-game meals; Abel Xavier screaming “THIS IS NOT CORRECT,” my new favorite declaration, any time something failed to meet his standards. Galaxy fans should have chanted “THIS IS NOT CORRECT” every time Xavier shipped a goal.
Not that Wahl set out to write an indictment of MLS—he is an eminently fair reporter and gives the circuit the benefit of the doubt whenever possible. However, l’affaire Beckham simply was/is not the scrappy little league’s finest hour, and Wahl piles up incriminating details of just how and why it all went wrong. In the end, it’s a tale of its time, of the delirious and culturally sick final days of the Economic Bubble. The league, the Galaxy and Beckham himself all sought to leverage the player’s fame and talent through Madoff-esque lies about Beckham’s salary, ticket price gouging, shameless celebrity worship and substance-free marketing glitz. The idea that the man would eventually have to step on to a football pitch as part of a functional collective appears to have been secondary, at best.
Beckham doesn’t fare too badly in Wahl’s account—as a human being. He is portrayed as a hard-working London boy who loves his family and, in the scheme of his phenomenal wealth, remains reasonably grounded. As the engine of a would-be marketing juggernaut and the leader of a sycophantic entourage, however, Beckham becomes a rather empty figure, a man who abetted the gutting of the club he was supposed to save in favor of his own great cash-spinning enterprise. In contrast, the much-maligned Donovan comes off as a smart, earnest young man determined to grow into a leadership role, and work-a-day players like $30,000-a-year man Alan Gordon emerge as true heroes of sport.
Interestingly, amid all the furor over Wahl’s book, Donovan’s knocks on Beckham therein, and the blind rage of the LA fans, those three players—Beckham, Donovan, Gordon—hooked up for a great, flowing open-field goal against AC Milan last night. Given the circumstances, MLS better hope it’s an omen.