CARSON, Calif. — Landon Donovan readily acknowledges that he and David Beckham weren't always on the best of terms, as anyone who read Grant Wahl's 2009 book The Beckham Experiment can attest. Now, after six seasons alongside Major League Soccer's biggest name, the LA Galaxy captain calls the English superstar a galvanizing figure.
They've got just one competitive game remaining together, plus a postseason tour that's still being finalized, but Donovan paid tribute to Beckham after his announcement that he will leave the Galaxy following the Dec. 1 MLS Cup final against the Houston Dynamo (4:30 pm ET, ESPN, TeleFutura, TSN/RDS in Canada).
“Forget about the soccer part,” Donovan told media Tuesday at the Home Depot Center. “I've grown a lot as a person since he's been here, and I've watched him closely with all the things he does and his leadership ability and how he handles himself. It's been an inspiration for me. We haven't always gotten along, especially in the beginning, but he's a good person. And I think we're all very happy for him that he's ready to move on and do whatever comes next.”
Donovan, who must soon make his own decision whether he will return in 2013, said there were “hard times” during Beckham's tenure in LA, but those served to fuse together a team that is playing in its third MLS championship game in four years and seeking to become just the third back-to-back winner of the league's ultimate prize.
WATCH: Farewell to David Beckham
Beckham's arrival in 2007 changed the Galaxy, and MLS, in ways that couldn't be foreseen. It took time to understand how to move forward — it didn't happen, really, until Bruce Arena began remaking the club after he took charge in August 2008 — and Donovan, in retrospect, says he respects how Beckham handled a difficult situation.
“It's not easy when something like this happens,” Donovan said. “It kind of turns everyone's world upside down when someone of his stature comes into a team, and thinking back, I don't think he could have handled it any better than the way he did. With all the attention and all the pressure and all the eyeballs on him, it's not easy, and I think a lot of people forget that side of it.
"A lot of people say, 'Oh, how did that affect the team?' But for him to come in and try to integrate was very difficult. There were some tough stretches, but overall it's been a resounding success, in my opinion.”
According to Donovan, Beckham's “attitude [has been] great. His demeanor in the locker room is great. He's very sort of understated most of the time, but when he speaks up, people listen. And his on-field accomplishments speak for themselves. Behind the scenes, I think he's been very instrumental.”
Beckham's decision to decline his option for a second season on the contract he signed in January didn't surprise Donovan, who in September said that it was “sort of a given” that the midfielder would end his career while with the Galaxy. Beckham on Tuesday said he will play next year, but won't decide where until next month or perhaps early January.
“He's certainly earned the right to do whatever he chooses at this point,” Donovan said. “We all want to make sure he goes out a winner [in the title game] and his lasting memory here is a good one.”
Scott French covers the LA Galaxy for MLSsoccer.com