Beckham I've written about recently -- he continues playing, of course, turning in indifferent performances for Milan, and he continues to be praised for doing very little. Frankly, if this is the best he can do, MLS doesn't need him.
But Alexi. What's to be done about Alexi? His playing days were as good an example as you'll find of a player stretching meager talent far beyond what was logical. But that was not his doing - that was the marketing people, who saw exploitable assets - an easy-going guitar-playing character - and the coaches who saw a huge, physical player. No coach that I spoke with ever tried to defend Lalas on the grounds of his skill. It was always other things, his physical power, his leadership - and there was always careful avoidance of the awkward fact that Alexi's team never won anything.
But there was a wonderful personality there, a brightness, a humor, a presence. The guy was a natural, everyone liked him. Sure, a lot of the behavior was pretty sophomoric, but this was a young guy clearly enjoying himself, so what the hell?
As his playing days drew to a merciful end, the vaudeville red beard disappeared, the hair calmed down, and it seemed that a maturing Lalas was emerging. Just in time - for no sooner had he retired than he went - far too quickly - into management. Lalas looked good in his new suits, the likeable personality blossomed. And in no time at all he had been the GM at three MLS clubs, and had been fired from all three.
Something was wrong. And that something was the Peter Pan factor. Alexi was refusing to grow up. Being bright and being amusing is one thing - but being downright silly is not acceptable at the GM level. And Lalas managed to make his share of stupid statements particularly in New York and at the Galaxy. He became easily disposable - even though, in the Beckham case, it's pretty clear that he was far from being the chief culprit.
Alexi needs to think seriously about his future in soccer, to start taking things more seriously. Unfortunately, he has now been sucked into the very area where that will be impossible. Television. And - again, in no time at all, he's a quick worker - Alexi has managed to make an outstanding ass of himself.
Now, admittedly ESPN's hour long (it seemed like much more), live (inert would be a better description) telecast of the MLS Super Draft (try Anything-but-Super) desperately needed something to liven it up. So the ESPN guys dug up rough-stuff footage from a previous USA vs. Mexico game and used it as a promo for next month's game in Columbus - which, you understand, will be televised by ESPN. (Boy, there must be some real brains at work up at ESPN - probably the same guys who, as I reported last October, were helping to promote Beckham by airing footage of him looking bad).
Caught up in this squalid attempt to sell violence was Alexi Lalas. That's what I'd like to believe, but there's too much evidence to make it clear that, far from being caught up, Alexi relished his role as the designated Mexican hater. "I hate them," Alexi told us, and repeated it for good measure, "I hate them." All Mexicans, Alexi? It wasn't clear. Alexi appeared to be coming slightly unglued as he fidgeted and worked himself up with "It drives me nuts, I wanna crush 'em," and then he managed to repeat that as well, "Crush 'em!" OK, Alexi has a strong personal reason - well illustrated in the ESPN footage - for not feeling too friendly to at least one Mexican player. So now his vendetta must be turned into a national hate-Mexico campaign?
I've been trying to recall any other instance in the decades and decades that I've been involved in soccer of another player, or ex-player, making quite such an idiot of himself, and I cannot. However you look at it, this is appalling stuff - either Lalas means it, or he's putting on a shameful act for publicity purposes.
So, be prepared. On February 11 we shall get an ESPN telecast of the USA vs. Mexico game that will be billed as a bloodbath, and we shall have commentators looking for even the slightest evidence of foul play. Provided it comes from Mexico, that is.
Lalas has always been a heavily over-promoted individual, as a college and pro player, as a GM - and possibly as a rock artist, I wouldn't know. But his light sense of humor kept things in balance, made you feel that he saw through this fanciful promotional stuff and that when the time came he would be ready for reality.
Sadly, it doesn't look that way. Putting his disastrous executive career rapidly behind him, Lalas - thanks to ESPN - has now regressed to his sophomoric, make that sophomoronic, mode. Even if I assume that ESPN knows what it is doing, and that its viewers will only watch soccer when the players are behaving like hooligans, it is a sad day indeed when a prominent soccer personality, a former U.S. national team player, lends himself so eagerly to such a travesty of the sport.
C'mon Alexi, you're better than this. Time to say goodbye to Peter Pan.