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'We were ill-prepared for the hurricane' - Lalas reflects on Beckham's move to LA Galaxy 15 years later

18:00 GMT+4 17/11/2022
Lalas Beckham LA Galaxy
The USMNT legend spoke to the Footballco Business Podcast about the defining moment in American soccer

It's been 15 years since David Beckham arrived in Major League Soccer, changing the league and, in many ways, global soccer forever. And, even though those 15 years have passed, that signing, that arrival, remains as important as ever.

Beckham's move to the U.S. was unprecedented and, in some ways, still is. For a player at that level with that much fame to blaze a unique trail was extraordinary. Plenty of stars have showed up in MLS in recent years, names like Thierry Henry, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney, but, for many, the first star they think of when MLS comes up remains Beckham.

And that's why, all these years later, Alexi Lalas is still asked about the move he helped put together. An American soccer legend in his own right, Lalas played a key role in putting American soccer on the map at the 1994 World Cup. Then, 13 years later, as president of the LA Galaxy, he helped introduce Major League Soccer to the world by bringing in Beckham from Real Madrid.

Now an analyst with FOX Sports, Lalas' part in Beckham's arrival remains one of the most important achievements of his career and arguably the turning point in American soccer.

Speaking as a guest on the Footballco Business Podcast, Lalas discussed the signing of Beckham. What went right, what went wrong and how important it was for MLS. Listen to the full interview on the Footballco business Podcast

"We really wanted to do something that was not only going to fundamentally change the course of the Los Angeles Galaxy brand, but of Major League Soccer. With the Los Angeles Galaxy, we were in a position to do that," he told the Footballco Business Podcast. "You can do a bunch of different things, but signing not only one of the great players at the time in the world, but also one of the most famous people in the world, that checks a lot of boxes up there.

"Easier said than done, but the Anschutz Entertainment Group, we had been cultivating a relationship for a number of years with David Beckham through some different camps, in anticipation of possibly having this happen. And then you just throw a bunch of money at him and you talk about how fundamentally we are going to change the team and the league, and the course of soccer, by doing this. You then lay it all out in front of him and I think he and his team recognized that this was something different. This was something a little outside of the box, and that's what we were looking for.

"We found the perfect vessel to carry that change in the form of David Beckham."

Beckham's tenure in the U.S. was, ultimately, successful. He won two MLS Cups with the Galaxy, helping usher in a new era of dominance alongside Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane. Culturally, he pushed MLS to a level that the league could never have dreamed of with stadiums selling out all over the country as fans flocked to see the ex-Manchester United star play.

And then there's the Designated Player rule, often called the Beckham Rule. His arrival fundamentally changed the way the league does business, with many stars following in his footsteps in an effort to conquer North America.

But it wasn't all smooth sailing, not by a long shot. He struggled to make much of an impact across his first few seasons as all parties involved grappled with balancing Beckham the player, against Beckham the brand. He also embarked on two loans to AC Milan amid frequent links with a move back to Europe.

"As excited as we were, we were ill-prepared for the hurricane that is David Beckham," Lalas admits, "and I don't know who could be prepared for something like that, especially a relatively young league and a team that had never, ever experienced the hurricane that comes in with all of the different things that are part of the David Beckham universe.

"I was still pretty young and I was learning the business. I think, 'could I have done this differently?' I don't know, but I at least I should have tried harder to make clear from the start that this was the Los Angeles Galaxy as opposed to the brand of Beckham. It's easy to say, but it's next to impossible to do it. Probably along the way, we capitulated and we acquiesced in order to satisfy the brand of Beckham early on in a way that was detrimental to the functioning of an actual team and of a club.

"It's natural to do something like that, but the power that David Beckham had, and the influence that he had, and I know I'm using it in a negative sense - it's not always in that sense - but the power imbalance was such that it needed to get back and it just took too long. And ultimately there was collateral damage from that hurricane and adapting to that hurricane, including the firing of coaches and ultimately the firing of myself."

Despite the rocky start, the aftereffects of Beckham's arrival are still being felt. As part of the deal to bring him to MLS, Beckham was offered the right to own a team, which eventually became Inter Miami. And now things may soon come full circle, as Beckham's Miami have been linked with another game-changing signing, Lionel Messi, with a bidding war for the Argentine's services set to begin soon after the World Cup.

Would Messi's potential arrival have the same impact as Beckham's arrival? Who knows? It is, however, far more fathomable because of Beckham's decision to move to MLS 15 years ago.

"I'm not going to say that it all went perfectly, as you can imagine," Lalas says. "David Beckham comes with a lot of baggage, literally, but we made the best of the situation and the good so far outweighed the bad."

He continued: "So many things emanate from that moment when it comes to the trajectory of Major League Soccer and I would argue even soccer in general because of what it meant. Our average ticket prices increased, the way that we serviced people at the game completely and fundamentally changed, the way that we thought about transportation with the team and security with the team, the media that was involved, that in the past had never been involved covering the Galaxy and Major League Soccer.

"All of Major League Soccer was at a completely different level. Everything fundamentally changed for the league."