Lalas: The ability to change is a quality

8 Oct 2021
  • Alexi Lalas has been part of the debate on the future of football

  • He joined FIFA’s Technical Advisory Group in Doha to discuss the international match calendar

  • The USA icon, a natural sceptic, speaks of the need to be adaptable and open to change

Alexi Lalas has always stood out from the crowd. He certainly did so as the bearded, red-haired rocker of USA’s 1994 FIFA World Cup™ team, and by blazing a trail with a move to Serie A in the wake of those finals. But the former centre-half has also become renowned in more recent years as a strong, independent voice in his role as a prominent pundit, TV analyst and social media commentator.

“I am naturally sceptical, even cynical, at times,” he said. “But with anything, I try to take time to understand the thinking and to look at the numbers and the data out there. And I can be convinced.

“[What’s being proposed] is a change; a change to something that’s fundamental. It’s going to bring about scepticism, and there’s going to be a reticence at times to make that change.

“However, the ability to change is also a quality. And whether it’s an individual or an entity, it’s important to have that ability to say, “What worked in the past doesn’t necessarily work now and in the future.” Because our world changes, and certainly over the last couple of years we can all attest to the fact that the world can change very, very rapidly.

“One of the reasons why I wanted to come to the meeting [of FIFA’s Technical Advisory Group in Doha, Qatar] was to understand: ‘Why does Arsène Wenger believe that this is right?’ And I was really pleasantly surprised by the information, by the willingness to talk, debate, discuss and disagree about different things in an effort to find out if this is something that is really going to help the game that we all love and, ultimately, want to help.”

4 JUL 1994: ROMARIO OF BRAZIL SURGES PAST ALEXI LALAS OF USA DURING THE 1994 WORLD CUP FINALS SECOND ROUND MATCH AT STANFORD STADIUM IN PALO ALTO, CALIFORNIA. Mandatory Credit: Chris Cole/ALLSPORT

Among the key objectives of the Wenger-led review is reducing the amount, and frequency, of travel for top-level players. Lalas, who endured more than his share of transatlantic flights during his playing career, sees that as a cause well worth pursuing.

He said: “When you look at the amount of travel that players do - and certainly some travel more than others - you can end up with a lot of frequent-flyer miles. The luxury in which this generation travels is a whole lot better and a whole lot easier. But it doesn’t mean it doesn’t take a toll, not just on the field physically, but mentally too. And I like to think that when people do make those trips, it’s for the right reasons.

“Mitigating some of that wear and tear makes sense from a personal perspective, but I think it also makes sense from a business perspective. These are valuable assets that you have as players, and treating them as such gives you, hopefully, something that’s going to last and appreciate over the years. Things you can do to give players the opportunity to be their best when they’re on the field, whether it’s for club or for country - and hopefully for both - you have to look into.”