Fallout from Donovan's comments in The Beckham Experiment
When Landon Donovan criticized David Beckham in book it created firestorm
Upon returning to L.A., Galaxy coach brokered meeting between two players
Once they cleared the air they thrived together, leading the Galaxy to MLS final
When an excerpt from Grant Wahl's book, The Beckham Experiment, appeared in Sports Illustrated last year, it exposed a rift between David Beckham and Los Angeles Galaxy teammate Landon Donovan. In a new afterword for the paperback edition of the book, Wahl examines how Beckham and Donovan moved past the controversy.
Copyright © 2010 by Grant Wahl From the book THE BECKHAM EXPERIMENT by Grant Wahl, published by Three Rivers Press/Crown Publishers, a division of Random House, Inc. Reprinted with permission.
The Los Angeles Galaxy played a game on July 11, 2009 -- a 1-0 win against archrival Chivas USA -- but that was hardly the most compelling Hollywood showdown of the day. A 5,000-word first excerpt of this book had appeared in Sports Illustrated on July 1, ten days before David Beckham was set to return from Europe and rejoin the Galaxy, and it aired some of Landon Donovan's most explosive criticisms: that Beckham was a poor captain, that he wasn't fully committed to the Galaxy, and that he had become a bad teammate during the second half of the 2008 season.
Donovan's broadside set off a global media firestorm unlike anything Major League Soccer had seen since Beckham joined the league. Never before in Beckham's career had he been so harshly judged in public by another player, much less a current teammate. What's more, Donovan's words suddenly carried more weight than they would have only a few months before: He was coming off a sterling performance at the Confederations Cup in South Africa, where he led the United States to an upset of world number-one Spain (its first loss in thirty-five games) and a hard-fought 3-2 defeat to Brazil in the final. For all those reasons, Donovan's diatribe grabbed headlines not just in the U.S. and in England but everywhere from Spain to Singapore to Australia. Suddenly MLS had an epic internecine feud that rivaled the famous bust-up between Los Angeles Lakers teammates Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal. Would the result of this one be the same? Would Beckham or Donovan have to leave the Galaxy? Those were the questions hanging in the air that day.
The drama reached a climax just a few hours after Beckham landed in Los Angeles late on July 10. The next day, Beckham appeared at a community event promoting new soccer fields in El Segundo, California, with his former Real Madrid teammate Zinédine Zidane -- a notso-subtle reminder to the media of Beckham's standing in the soccer world. Then Beckham spoke to reporters for the first time since Donovan's comments had been published. "It's unprofessional, in my eyes," Beckham said. "In every soccer player's eyes throughout the world, it would be unprofessional to speak out about a teammate, especially in the press and not to your face. But I'm going to turn it on a positive spin because that's what this needs. But in seventeen years I have played with the biggest teams in the world and the biggest players, and not once have I been criticized for my professionalism. It's important to get this cleared up, and I will be speaking to Landon either this evening or over the next couple of days."
Beckham didn't suit up that night, but he did walk into the Galaxy locker room before the game and encounter Donovan. It was the first time the players had seen each other in eight months. They exchanged brief hellos, and Donovan felt a palpable awkwardness. "Obviously, it was uncomfortable for both of us," Donovan would say.
In the days since Donovan's comments had gone public, the American star had sent Beckham several text messages without ever receiving a response. Donovan had also sat down for interviews with ESPN and the Los Angeles Times, in which he apologized for voicing his opinions to a reporter before speaking directly to Beckham, but Donovan pointedly hadn't backed down from what he had said in the book.
Donovan felt badly about the timing of the excerpt's release, but he also thought his comments wouldn't be viewed as so controversial once people had read the entire book, which was set for publication later that week. "I don't think we should ever apologize for the way we feel," Donovan would explain. "However, I got caught up in the way I felt about it, as opposed to trying to figure out where those feelings were coming from. If I had taken the time during that year to really think about what was going on, to understand it from David's perspective, I wouldn't have said those things. I would have had a different outlook on all of it. But at the time I got caught up in all the emotions of it. ... And some of the things I said I didn't even really mean."
Such as? "When I say he should have come in and done something monetarily for the guys, I don't really believe that. That's not his job. I just had these expectations of him that were unfair. I realized that he's a person just like everyone else."
A few minutes after he had showered and finished his postgame interviews, Donovan was sitting at his locker when Galaxy coach Bruce Arena came by. "Let's get this done," Arena told him. There would be no wasted time. The coach had already pulled Beckham into his office, surprising Donovan, who thought Arena would wait until at least the next day before bringing the two players together. Donovan followed Arena into his office, an austere, windowless space in the warren of rooms inside the Home Depot Center. Arena took a seat behind his desk. Beckham and Donovan sat on the other side. And then, for the next fifteen minutes, the healing process began.
"I did most of the talking," Donovan said. "In the simplest form, I apologized to David and he accepted it. It was pretty basic. There wasn't a whole lot that Bruce had to do. It felt good just to talk about it. I learned a lot, actually, from how David dealt with my apology, how he dealt with the whole situation, because if I put myself in his shoes I would have been really pissed off. He might have been mad, but he was a man and he accepted my apology. And he didn't hold it against me. Anytime before this year I wouldn't have been the same way. I probably wouldn't have accepted it, and I would have held a grudge."
When the meeting was over, Donovan felt as though a weight had been lifted from his shoulders. The relationship could be saved. "I would describe it as real from that point forward," Donovan would say. "We could talk openly and honestly. We could still argue and disagree on things, just like anyone else on the team, but when you have that basis of trust and understanding, then there aren't any issues." They would never be best friends. But the town would be big enough for the two of them after all.
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