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A Love Letter to the Writing of Grant Wahl
We have lost soccer's everyman correspondent.
There have been many twitter testimonials to the kind of person Grant Wahl was - that he was kind, and unflinchingly honest, and always willing to help a colleague on their way up. I didn’t know Grant Wahl as a colleague. While I sometimes sit on the producer side of soccer writing, I am mostly like you - a voracious consumer of the written word. Particularly so when that written word is on the beautiful game. Well-crafted writing is, for me, a spiritual endeavor, whether I am making it or enjoying the work of others. Grant Wahl was one of soccer writing’s greatest high priests of all.
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Wahl’s book ‘The Beckham Experiment’ was endlessly enjoyable. He was dogged in pursuing interviews, and his approach to the Beckham topic - get close with the man himself to explore the ‘upstairs’, high-falutin’ side of soccer celebrity and wealth, while also interviewing low-paid grinder Alan Gordon for the ‘downstairs’ perspective - was wonderful. His podcasts on Freddie Adu and the 1991 Women’s World Cup were thoroughly enjoyable. And his articles for Sport Illustrated in his early days were always rich and thoughtful.
Wahl’s writing had an everyman quality. He was exceedingly accessible without being simplistic or lowbrow. He could draw you into a team without the endless nerding out about tactics or structure. He could humanize the players he interviewed even when it seemed endlessly clear to me that they weren’t the most forthcoming in interviews. He felt both like your buddy on the couch sharing his thoughts, and the consummate insider who knew the skinny on everything. He was smart but not smarmy or intellectual.
As a writer, Wahl’s writing felt accessible and familiar - like I could have written myself, although just a touch clearer and better organized - and very thoroughly researched, with a lunchpail, workman-like ethic. As a reader, I felt like he was speaking to me. He was short on jargon or complexity - he told you the story without assuming you had extensive soccer background. He was a natural bridge between the everyday sports fan and the world of soccer, which is why he is perhaps the most important American soccer writer we have ever had.
Eduardo Galeano is soccer’s poet laureate. David Goldblatt is one of the sport’s great historians. James Montague is our muckraking investigative journalist. Matt Doyle is our tactical genius.
Wahl was our everyman writer. He was quintessentially American in that respect, and thus deservedly our most prominent writer on the international game. He will be deeply missed by those that knew and loved him. He will be equally missed by those that loved to read him.
I particularly enjoyed his savaging of the hands-off, incompetent, ‘roll out the ball’ method of coaching employed by Galaxy’s awful head coach, Ruud Gullit.