Our Game. Our Stories.
The essence of soccer is captured in the fact that it connects a wide variety of people in a dynamic way. As we celebrate our 20th anniversary, we are profiling 20 individuals who have made a significant impact on the game of soccer or who have been impacted by soccer in a positive way. Here, we will show you the diversity of the beautiful game and how it connects everyone as one universal team...Together, We Are Soccer.
This is our game and these are our stories. Be sure to visit our site every week to see who we feature next!
Grant Wahl is the leading soccer journalist in the United States. Currently a senior writer for Sports Illustrated, Wahl has covered seven World Cups (four men’s, three women’s) and four Olympics. Some of his most notable stories include The World's Team (about FC Barcelona) and lengthy stories on David Beckham, Alex Morgan, José Mourinho, and Didier Drogba. Wahl's first book, The Beckham Experiment, was the first soccer book to become a New York Times bestseller.
Did you play soccer as a kid? Do you still play today?
I did play soccer as a kid in Shawnee Mission, Kansas, and have great memories of doing so. Unfortunately, I stopped playing like most kids then at the age of 13, even though I wish I could go back in time and keep playing. I have played occasionally for the Sports Illustrated soccer team over the years. I’m a hard-working forward with a lot of energy but not much talent!
Why soccer? What is it about the game that inspires you to write?
I covered college basketball as my main beat at Sports Illustrated from 1997 to 2008, but I always did soccer on the side and enjoyed it so much that I told my editors I would love to cover soccer full-time if they ever had the demand for it. Soccer is so global that it has the widest variety of stories that involve culture, society and politics that are in SI’s wheelhouse. Plus, the ongoing story of the growth of soccer in the U.S. is something that I have enjoyed following over the years. After I wrote The Beckham Experiment in 2009, I finally got the chance to cover soccer full-time for SI starting in January 2010, and I haven’t looked back.
Tell us about your favorite article or piece you’ve ever written. What about it is so meaningful?
For me, The Beckham Experiment is the single most rewarding thing I have ever written. I was able to sink my teeth into reporting an important story on the growth of U.S. soccer for two years and then have 300 pages to address not just Beckham but the impact his arrival had on so many different things, including the rank-and-file MLS player that the league has built itself on. As much as I like magazine writing, a book allows you to go much more in-depth on a story. While it was tough to sit down and write a 120,000-word book in three months, I knew I had good stuff, and I look back with fond memories of the experience.
You’ve had the opportunity to cover quite a few games in your career - do any in particular stand out?
I’ve been extremely lucky over the years to be on the ground for some amazing games. Being in the stadium for the U.S.’s World Cup 2002 victory over Mexico and the U.S.’s victory in the 1999 Women’s World Cup final are two of my best experiences. So are the World Cup finals in 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010 and 2011. Seeing the growth of MLS has been rewarding, too, including being on-site for 13 MLS Cup finals.
If you could interview any player, past or current, who would it be and why?
I’d love to sit down with Lionel Messi for a few hours and see if I could discover some things about him that have yet to be known. He’s a tremendous player, and my sense is he remains largely undiscovered from an interview perspective.
We’ve had some great experiences with Beckham over the years. Tell us about your experience covering David Beckham’s career and writing “The Beckham Experiment.”
In my experience sitting down to interview Beckham over the years, he stands out as being remarkably normal for a guy who’s as famous as he is. He loves the sport and everything about it. His long-term impact on soccer in the U.S. will be important in the growth of the game. His P.R. handlers were always more difficult to deal with, but David himself is a really impressive guy who takes seriously the role he has in influencing soccer around the world. My book was largely about the impact Beckham has on so many other people in his orbit, and I think it serves as a good snapshot on a particular era in the history of American soccer.
The game has grown and changed tremendously since the Foundation’s founding in 1994. How do you envision the state of soccer in another 20 years?
I never thought it was inevitable that soccer would be big in the United States. In fact, I thought it could end up like track and field, where the U.S. produces many of the best athletes but doesn’t draw many fans as a spectator sport. But the continuing U.S. media investment in soccer and the improvement of the U.S. national team suggest to me that in 20 years the U.S. really can take the next step and become one of the big soccer countries in the world. I don’t know if the U.S. will ever win a men’s World Cup in my lifetime—great soccer nations like the Netherlands never have won one—but I do think the U.S. will be in contention to do so in the next 20 years, and I can’t wait to continue following that story and telling it to the masses.