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On air with Alexi Lalas: ‘I don’t care if you like me or not’



On air with Alexi Lalas: 'I don't care if you like me or not'

On air with Alexi Lalas: ‘I don’t care if you like me or not’ “I worked with Alexi for 10 years,” said Stu Holden, Fox Sports analyst and former U.S. men’s national team midfielder. “He’s one of the first people I’m asked about. They say, ‘What does that guy look like off camera?’.”

It’s a thought many might share when they look at Alexi Lalas, the goateed former American center back who rose to prominence at the 1994 World Cup and is now best known for his tinderbox contributions on American soccer television.

He has a significant football history, having recorded almost a century of caps for his country and played in the Italian Serie A and Major League Soccer. A sign of his influencer status came in 2021 when the world governing body, FIFA, conducted a feasibility study as part of a failed attempt to introduce a biennial World Cup. Lalas was invited to a seminar organized by former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger as part of a cohort that included Brazilians Ronaldo and Roberto Carlos, former Denmark and Manchester United goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel and Australian Tim Cahill.

On American television, 54-year-old Lalas, studio analyst for Fox during the European Championship and Copa America this summer, is brutal and direct in his opinions. This week he has already compared the England national team to the Dallas Cowboys, saying the English are as “insufferable as they are talented”.

And for more than 40 minutes in a Manhattan coffee shop, he is no different. Topics include Gregg Berhalter’s future as coach of the U.S. men’s national team (“We’re letting the players off the hook,” he insists), or his “video game” approach to social media. This is a dose of pure, undiluted Lalas. Next to him sits the more reserved Holden, 38, who also packs a wallop in his analysis as he orders a bellboy coffee (“Don’t encourage him,” says Lalas, when I ask what being a bellboy entails).

I tell Lalas that some people took a deep breath when I said I would interview him. He smiles. First and foremost, Lalas says he sees his studio role as “hopefully with an interesting and informative slant, and in an entertaining way.”

He stirs. ‘But I’m in the entertainment business. I am an achiever. When you say that, sometimes people cringe. By no means am I saying that I cannot be authentic and genuine. But I realize that the way I say something is just as important as what I say.

“When I’m on TV, I put on a costume and when that red light comes on, I don’t want people to change the channel. I don’t care if you like me or not. I’m as human as I can be, with the recognition that things on television need to be bigger and bolder.’

Holden interjects, “He’s one of my good friends. People ask me, ‘Does he believe everything he says?’ And I say, ‘We have the same conversations at the bar as we do on the air.’

‘I learned from Alexi that in this industry you have to be interesting to have a long life. Whether that’s the role he plays, still authentic to who he is and the opinions he has – but maybe a little juice to get it going – you never want to be in the middle. You never want to be in the middle of it, where people are like, ‘Ah, that guy’s doing well.’ So stand on one side, be brave, don’t care about opinions, but be authentic in who you are. And that’s who he is, both on and off camera.”

Holden made 25 appearances for the USMNT, but a career that included Premier League spells with Sunderland and Bolton Wanderers was cruelly cut short by injury. He and Lalas pay close attention to their results, often meeting with coaches, players or front office staff the day before the game to explain to viewers what the team is trying to achieve.

Lalas on the US team at the 1994 Home World Cup (Photo: Michael Kunkel/Bongarts/Getty Images)

As time goes on, they’ve moved further and further away from a modern locker room, but Holden says it’s important “to bring people in.”

“It’s not that common in England,” he adds, “but it’s ingrained in American sports television, where they go to NFL practice, sit with the coaches and get exclusive breakdowns of the game. Europeans find this difficult to understand when they come here. Patrick Vieira (when he was manager of New York City FC) didn’t want to meet us. Frank de Boer (at Atlanta United) too. Often the European or South American coaches say: ‘Why are you here?’.”

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They believe that by having that little bit of distance in terms of age, they are able to, if necessary, take tougher action against those they analyze. I suggest that many within the sports industry today carefully monitor television or radio, and be cautious about public comments.

“Life is too short and fuck them,” Lalas says bluntly.

“Ultimately I’m talking about football. I know we get incredibly passionate and emotional about these things – something I love about sports. I try to be honest and sometimes it comes across in different ways and people perceive it differently. It’s one thing through a keyboard, but in normal life it’s a completely different kind of interaction. “There are people who come to me who disagree with me, but we have a cordial, civil and respectful conversation, even when we disagree vehemently on issues on and off the football field.”

His on-screen character, he says, draws inspiration beyond sports broadcasting. “It’s an element of a shock jock, an element of political commentary, an element of a late-night television host. And when it came to real sport, I grew up in the ESPN hot-take era, but I also love Gary Lineker (the former England international striker and long-time presenter of the BBC’s football coverage in Britain ) .

“The way he talks about things, you almost forget that he was a player – and not just any player, but a bloody great player. When I hear him talk about the game and life, even if I agree or disagree with the way he does it, I forget that he was once a great player, because the way he does it is interesting, informative and entertaining is. And so I have a lot of respect for what he has achieved.’

Lineker and Lalas have something else in common: both men seem to have a love-hate relationship with social media. Lineker’s Match of the Day show, the BBC’s Premier League highlights programme, was plunged into crisis last year after the corporation took a dim view of his political commentary on Twitter, now known as X.

If Lineker is center-left, Lalas appears to be a political antidote, having recently announced on Twitter that he will attend the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee. Like Lineker, he seems unable to resist being sucked into the vortex of culture war politics. He has recently shared posts that appear sympathetic to Donald Trump and has frequently engaged in playful battles with his opponents on social media. Yet he has already said that he values ​​personal interactions so much more. So why worry about X?

“I’m sure there’s an element of addiction that I can deal with,” he acknowledges. “It’s just the world we live in. There is an element of ego. But I also have no illusions that I can’t solve the world’s problems. No one cares what the hell I have to say about most of these things. First of all, Twitter is an information machine.”

But it can also be a disinformation machine.

“Sometimes,” he laughs. “It depends who you ask or where you look. I almost think of it as a video game that I play.

“There’s an element of poking the bear and provoking, which I enjoy. When it comes to matters off the field, like politics, there is a cathartic release from being honest, especially in this day and age. There was a time when we were all so bold. And now, unfortunately, we sometimes live in fear of the real reaction that can arise if we just say something that people disagree with. Whether it’s politics or sports, I don’t want to live in that kind of world. Maybe this is just my way of getting revenge.

“I’m not saying it’s smart or wise, especially when it can be alienating to people. When it comes to separating sports and personal, sometimes they blur and sometimes they infect or affect the other side. But I only live once and I prefer to be as honest as I can, regardless of whether anyone listens or cares.”

At this summer’s Copa America, with the USMNT looking for signs of substantial progress under Berhalter, Lalas will be as direct as ever. Holden also makes expectations clear.

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“Passing the group stage is non-negotiable,” Holden emphasizes. “If we don’t get out of the group consisting of Panama and Bolivia, what are we doing? That will be the time to make a change.”

Lalas intervenes: “Is it untenable? Maybe from the outside and how we look at it. But ultimately it’s (US Soccer technical director) Matt Crocker who will make that decision. And he got the chance (Berhalter was reappointed as USMNT coach in June 2023).

“No one would have begrudged cleaning the house and getting rid of everyone. And yet he (Crocker) didn’t. So something really bad has to happen for US Soccer to make a change.

“But there are a lot of people who sit with their arms crossed and say, ‘Okay, Gregg, you’ve got a long leash, you’ve got a second chance, we need to see something different, we need to see something that makes us believe that If it With the 2026 World Cup coming, for the first time ever there is a possibility that a U.S. men’s team can win a World Cup.” And we didn’t have those moments. He needs a statement-type game and a statement-type summer to kind of mitigate that.”

Holden points out that the USMNT, who exited the last World Cup in the round of 16 against the Netherlands, had the second youngest team in Qatar and cites the draw against England where he says the USMNT went “toe to toe”. as proof of what could be possible.

Lalas says: “We let the players loose a bit when we talk about the coach all the time. They have been given every advantage and resource. Nothing has been spared from an early age. It’s fair that we expect more from them individually and collectively. They’re not teenagers anymore. Some of them play for the best teams and in the best leagues in the world. It’s time to put up or shut up.

“We put a lot of emphasis on coaching – and I’m not saying they can’t have an effect – but this is a game for the players. When that whistle blows, you get to decide what happens and the responsibility is yours. And if that’s what you want, that’s fine. If you don’t, don’t blame the coach.”

Holden grins: “If the US wins the Copa America it will without a doubt be the best thing they have ever done as a football nation on the men’s side.”

(Top image: Amy Sussman/Getty Images)