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Landon and a Return to Europe: It’s Complicated

March 13th, 2009 · 6 Comments · soccer

If you saw some of the stories a week or so ago about the imminent return of Landon Donovan from Bayern Munich of Germany to the Los Angeles Galaxy, perhaps you also saw some of the fan/reader comments on those stories.

Most of them seemed to be in the vein of, “Next time, try a club not as powerful as Bayern.” Many readers suggested other countries, or clubs in the middle of the standings, as destinations where Landon could flourish, now that he has developed an appetite for the Euro game.

But it isn’t as easy as simply choosing where he would like to play. It’s not as if we can book him a flight to England and let him sort it out.

Landon has contractual issues with the Galaxy and MLS that not everyone seems to be taking into account. Issues that severely circumscribe his movements.

Landon signed a five-year deal with two years of club options when he escaped from Bayer Leverkusen in the spring of 2005 and landed here in SoCal with the Galaxy. He was ecstatic, at the time, and why not? He was home, he was around friends, family and future wife, and the Galaxy was paying him $900,000 a season — which still is far more money than any American in MLS makes. He also had been burned by two unpleasant experiences in Germany, and honestly thought he would never want to go back to the other side of the Atlantic.

In exchange for being rescued from Leverkusen, he gave the Galaxy/MLS control of seven years in the prime of his career. Which probably didn’t faze him for a minute, four years ago. But seems to, now. “My gut says that if there’s a good opportunity that I would still like to try it,” he said Tuesday.

But is that opportunity going to be available?

It probably didn’t really matter what he did or didn’t do in Germany with Bayern Munich, in terms of extending his stay. Because even if the club decided it wanted to keep him on, and even if Landon was keen to do so … there were those issues, again.

–The Galaxy/Major League Soccer control his contract until late 2011.

–And the Galaxy/MLS apparently have set a very high transfer fee for anyone who wants to buy Landon.

Even if Bayern club chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge thought it would be fun to add Landon to his stable of forwards that currently includes Miroslav Klose, Luca Toni and Lukas Podolski (all of them foreign internationals with serious reputations), it is extremely unlikely Bayern would spend the $10 million or so it apparently would take to pry Donovan away from MLS.

It now seems unlikely that the Galaxy/MLS will let Landon go before the end of the 2011 MLS season. That is, the fall of 2011, after both club options have been invoked and when Landon finally is free of Galaxy/MLS control.

After the 2011 MLS season, Landon will be 29, turning 30 the following March, and perhaps still will be fit and able to find a home in one of the leading European leagues. And maybe not, given the shelf life of most forwards in international soccer.

In the meantime, sure, the Galaxy and MLS will allow him to go on loan, between seasons, as he just did in Germany. But that could turn into a self-destructive act for Donovan because he just put another few thousand miles on his career odometer, in Germany, when he could have been slowly rounding into form with the rest of the Galaxy roster.

He can bank on being called up for every World Cup qualifier this year (until the Yanks clinch a berth, anyway) and nearly every other national team event.

To give you an idea of what his schedule is like: He was playing and practicing regularly in Germany in January and February, and right up till last Sunday night, in Germany, when he came on as a substitute for Bayern Munich. He flew to Los Angeles on Monday and was practicing with the Galaxy on Tuesday.

He flew with the team to Arizona today for an exhibition tomorrow night in Tempe with Chicago. He comes back Sunday, and after another week of practice he and the Galaxy open the MLS season the following Sunday. Then Landon is off to Miami for the national team camp ahead of the March 28 qualifier in El Salvador. Then he goes back to the U.S. on March 29 to prepare for the qualifier on April 1 in Nashville (vs. Trinidad & Tobago) … and then it’s back to Los Angeles for the Galaxy’s April 4 game.

Presumably, he will start and play heavy minutes in all those matches. Including four in 14 days from March 22-April 4, with at least four long plane trips (L.A.-to-Miami-to-San Salvador-to-Nasvhille-to-L.A.) mixed in.

Also, this summer, he could be called into the national team for the Gold Cup, which runs basically all of July, as well as the Confederations Cup — which is in freakin’ South Africa, only about 16 hours by air from here, and that could take up half of June and includes at least three matches (with Italy, Brazil and Egypt).

So, yeah, Landon can go visit Euro clubs the next two winters, but at the cost of 1) chucking away a couple of months of less punishing activity, 2) struggling to break in with that Euro club in the middle of its season and 3) knowing almost to a certainty that no one is going to pay the MLS/Galaxy transfer fee, dooming him to a mid-March return to Los Angeles.

We can understand what the Galaxy and MLS are thinking: Landon Donovan is one of the few bankable assets the league has. He led MLS in scoring last year, with 20 goals, and he is the U.S. national team’s all-time leading scorer, with 37 goals. He is married to a television star (Bianca Kajlich). That’s a guy you would like to have around for marketing purposes and to add credibility to the league — unless someone is going to give you just a huge pile of cash for him.

So, yes … it’s easy for us to sit here and find a team in Europe for Landon. It’s much harder for him to make it happen while the Galaxy/MLS controls, until late 2011, his contract — and won’t give it up for much less than $10 million.


6 responses so far ↓

  • 1 eugenio // Mar 15, 2009 at 7:21 PM

    Interesting that Klose is injured and Bayern may now need depth. They obviously considered Donovan a solid but not great player. Wonder if they wish they had forked over the money.
    Contracts in the world of athletics can always be changed. Disgruntled NBA players have been doing it for years. Just publicly express dissatisfaction with club management, and pretend that the damage is irreparable. Under these conditions teams never hold on to major players for long, because its lose-lose for everyone.
    I think those who wish to see Donovan play for a mid-table team in europe are correct. It would be good for him, the US nat team and everyone. Trust me, he can get out of the contract if he wants to. A minor player couldn’t, but a major player can always resort to this device.

  • 2 Joseph D'Hippolito // Mar 15, 2009 at 8:24 PM

    Very good analyis, Paul, much better than most soccer beat writers.

  • 3 Nell // Mar 16, 2009 at 8:25 AM

    eugenio, you might be right…but Donovan has not struck me as the type of player/person to carry on a public feud of the sort you are suggesting. He’s always seemed to be quite the opposite of the “difficult” athlete that you are alluding to.

    However, he might be just desperate enough to do such a thing. But it would be way out of character for him to do so.

  • 4 » Blog Archive » Latest Soccer News: Tuesday Take: Jeff Parke to return to MLS, Hunter Freeman in his debut, and the Latest Soccer News // Mar 17, 2009 at 6:28 AM

    […] Donovan’s European options appear limited due to MLS/LA Galaxy’s asking price. His contract expires in 2011 and would shave more potentially productive years in […]

  • 5 joel es latest soccer news // Mar 17, 2009 at 6:32 AM

    Nice piece Thanks, Paul. I just found the site. Its great.

  • 6 Juan from L.A. // Mar 18, 2009 at 7:23 AM

    I believe if anyone Landon is smart enough to say “uhmmm I think I’m just going to chill” and stand up to MLS and gaLAxy and say no ‘you’re not freaking sending me to Europe’…let it be….its too much speculating if he is even interested in going back after this MLS season. Plus Donovan is at his prime and is one of the most physically gifted players in the US. He’ll be fine.

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