When the rumors about Steven Gerrard began to swirl, I knew exactly where to turn. Alexi Lalas was president of the LA Galaxy when they signed David Beckham. If there’s anyone with a better perspective on what it takes to sign a big name—a Beckham, a Gerrard—I’d like to meet them.
So here’s Alexi, in full, on what it took to land Beckham and what it takes to sign a player like Steven Gerrard.
It’s tempting to say a deal at this level is all about the money. How much do personalities factor in?
If you look back, the relationship with David Beckham started years before he actually arrived. Tim Leiweke—who is a legend when it comes to soccer in the U.S.—he fostered that relationship. Starting with the Beckham academies, the camps that he had early on. It’s just a constant communication and relationship, waiting for that right moment.
Relationships are huge in these types of things. Are they the most important thing? No — there’s ultimately agents and money involved, and all that kind of stuff. But cultivating a positive relationship with a player that you hope to sign in the future is certainly a talent.
There was fear that with Leiweke gone, LA wouldn’t be able to make the big signings anymore.
It’s because of Tim Leiweke’s work that, if there is any ease in this—and I think this is a much easier process than [Beckham]—it’s because of the foundation that was laid.
[LA Galaxy president] Chris Klein and [AEG CEO] Dan Beckerman recognized that they needed to do something big. This—and I’m going to say it—this ‘superclub’ that was established, in order to continue it, you have to continue to replenish with regards to the big names and the stars.
Do players on the Galaxy roster have a say in a deal like this? Are they part of the process?
No, they’re not part of the process. But they can definitely be messengers. And that’s a huge thing.
We think of these deals in terms of the numbers and how big and complex it is, but oftentimes it rests on a friendship, or a phone call, or a night out. You’d be surprised what significant and massive things have happened simply because somebody got a good vibe, or somebody had a good time.
How does this deal look for MLS? There’s a fear that MLS is the retirement league.
Look, this is all a perception game. We can even point to the Frank Lampard situation. You can’t have it both ways: you can’t say that Lampard’s over the hill, he can’t do it, and then when he simply takes a train up north and starts starring for Manchester City he’s suddenly great.
The reality is that he was still the same player. Yes, he is older, and yes, he doesn’t do certain things he could’ve done when he was 20 and 21 years old. But he’s still a good player. There seems to be this theory that as soon as you step off the plane at LAX or JFK, all of a sudden you can’t even walk anymore.
The challenge that MLS continually has is this perception that they are fighting against — and having to balance it off with the fact that people want big names.
Having been there for Beckham, what advice would you give the Galaxy F.O.?
You need to know the reasons why a player is coming. Whether you agree with them or not, knowing them ahead of time is important.
And you have to impress upon a player what his responsibilities are, on and off the field. Be very upfront. Say: this is the world that you are getting into, and these are our expectations of how you’re going to function in that world.
That’s why I think it’s so much easier now for the Galaxy, having gone through that Beckham hurricane already.
It’s a little nerve-wracking that Gerrard spent his entire life at single club.
That’s what makes this case unique.
You’re dealing with an undeniable legend, and undeniable world-class player. But you’re also dealing with the painting of that player all within the context of Liverpool. One team. That’s why he’s a legend there — but he is not a world traveler.
This isn’t as if he’s just going to the continent or something like that. This is going to a completely different world, on and off the field. The adjustments that even well-traveled players have to make when they come to MLS are going to be compounded by the fact that this is something that he—and his family, because that’s all part of it—have never done.
And that’s not to mention adjusting to a new squad.
You watch the team right now, the first question that comes up for a guy like Steven Gerrard is: where is he going to play?
You’ve just had career-years and an incredible season from two of your central midfielders in Sarvas and Juninho. So where does Steven fit in? You don’t want to force something simply because it sells more tickets.
Sounds pretty doom-and-gloom.
It will cushion the blow a little bit that he’s going to a very good team. It’s very difficult when you go to a team that’s struggling and all the pressure and focus is put on you.
It just goes back to what I said: I think the Galaxy now is in such a better position to handle these types of things, having gone through that vital experience with Beckham. Believe me, I know firsthand that it was difficult, and there were plenty of casualties along the way — including myself.
But the Galaxy came out of that Beckham era as a stronger club and developed the tools to handle this, both in terms of their personnel and just the practical aspect of how they go about their day-to-day business as a club.