Alexi Lalas, One-on-One: On '94 fame, embracing 'American' and why the USMNT will win a World Cup
FFT: You were a general manager with San Jose, New York and the Galaxy. How was the experience? Would you want to do it again?
AL: I get asked all the time, would you want to go back into the front office? And I say no. At this point, that is not something that I want to do. I am a junkie for television. I love it, I am 100 percent committed, and I want to get better, and I believe that I can get better.
I could wake up tomorrow and feel differently and have a hankering to get back into the business. I learned so much, and I don't regret a minute of it. I met so many different people and was exposed to the game in such a unique and different way than the way I knew the game as a player.
As a player, you are insulated and isolated from the business of what goes on and [from] the men and women who each and every day work their asses off to sell this game. And it's not easy; it doesn't sell itself. And I learned about the business and management and office dynamics and all that different stuff and saw it in a unique way, and I made plenty of mistakes.
Certainly there's a part of me that thinks about if I went back, having gone through that and knowing now the mistakes that I made, and also having the experience outside – being in television, which I do think gives you a unique look into the game – how I would do things differently. So who knows what happens in the future. But right now this is what I love to do and this is what I want to do because I enjoy it, I'm good at it, and I think I can get better.
FFT: How difficult was it with the Galaxy, especially after 19 Entertainment – David Beckham's handlers – arrived on the scene?
AL: It wasn't painful, but I learned a lot, and the David Beckham experience, to borrow a phrase, was something that I would not trade for anything. Because it's, even within MLS, a very unique type of experience to go through, and while there was plenty of collateral damage – ultimately including the firing of others and myself – it was invaluable in terms of a life experience.
Certainly, I would do things differently here or there, but I was in charge of the product on the field and modifying that product off the field. When it came to the Galaxy, I failed in terms of putting a good product on the field. Off the field, we monetized it to historic levels. And I'm so proud of the business that we did, and that's the money that was made and the business that was done, but more importantly, the way that the brand changed.
And I know I often get ridiculed for my use of the word "superclub," but that is really what we wanted to do. And because of the vision of Phil Anschutz and Tim Leiweke and the ability to make that vision come true, we were able to do something special that still lasts to this day. It was interesting times, to say the least, and I would definitely do some things differently. But I learned a lot.
FFT: You went to Italy, to play for Padova, after the 1994 World Cup. What sticks with you from that experience?
AL: I became a better player and person for the years I spent in Italy. It was my first club experience, and, once again, those doors that opened up after the World Cup in '94, I had opportunities to go to England, to go to Germany, and to go to Italy.
Back then – this was before the Bosman ruling, before the European Community opened up, before the migration to the EPL – Serie A was the place to go. All the biggest players, the prestige, all the money, that's where it was, so there was really no other place that I was going but Italy. If I'm going to do it, I'm going to go full-on, and that's the way I looked at it.
Living in the fishbowl that is soccer in Italy was an incredible experience day in and day out, but I also recognized from the moment I got there that I wanted to leave a good impression. I wanted to be myself, and I was myself, and that was very different – whether that was the way I looked or the way I acted or the way I spoke, all that kind of stuff, that was something that certainly the Italians hadn't seen a lot of in the past – and I left a unique and different and, I think, ultimately a good impression. But I also never stopped reminding myself that I need to do it on the field.
Every single weekend, I was playing against what were considered the best players in the world. I'm running around after Ruud Gullit for AC Milan or after [Gianluca] Vialli and [Fabrizio] Ravanelli and [Roberto] Baggio for Juventus at that time, or [Daniel] Fonseca [at Roma].
Every single Sunday, especially being a center back, I was marking the best goalscorers in the world. [Fiorentina's Gabriel] Batistuta. [Lazio's Giuseppe] Signori. Vialli. [Parma's] Gianfranco Zola. Every team had these guys up top that were legendary, and so every Sunday it was just amazing to go out there on the field and have that pinch-yourself type of moment and then say, “Holy cow, I grew up in suburban Detroit, and now I'm in Serie A.” That was very, very cool.