We should know by now that there is no such thing as a sure thing but we would have all put money on Landon Donovan being part of the USA World Cup squad. Unfortunately for Donovan, head coach Jürgen Klinsmann disagreed and has decided he doesn’t need the US poster boy as part of his squad. The shock announcement came yesterday as Klinsmann named his final 23 man squad, opting to leave out Donovan along with a host of other experienced players including Maurice Edu, Terrence Boyd, Clarence Goodson and Michael Parkhurst. But it’s the exclusion of Donovan that has many puzzled, including the player himself. As the US all time leading goalscorer, Donovan has been an ever present in the team since his debut in 2000 and appeared to be one of the first names on the squad list to go to Brazil.
He had been hoping that he would get his chance to play at his fourth World Cup and in doing so join an elite list that includes Pele, Bobby Charlton, Lothar Matthaus and Diego Maradona but it would appear that his chance has now gone. Retirement from the international stage looks more likely which if it is the case would be a sad way to end what has been a glittering international career for Donovan. The player reacted to the news in typical style, releasing a statement on Facebook expressing his disappointment but insisting that he will be cheering on the team regardless.
The US media are already touting the decision as a mistake with a host of well known names adding further fuel to the fire. Donovan’s LA Galaxy coach and former US national manager Bruce Arena commented that if the US has 23 players in its squad that are better than Donovan, then the team should have a successful World Cup, whilst international teammate Tim Howard suggested that when Donovan plays he is one of the best players on the pitch for the US. It’s hard to argue with them and considering the squad Klinsmann has named which includes rookie Julian Green along with Houston Dynamo’s Brad Davis and Real Salt Lake’s Kyle Beckerman, Donovan’s absence appears to suggest that there is more than meets the eye on this decision. Donovan, whilst not the player he once was still has more to offer than this trio and could be a useful asset to have, even it is from the bench and especially if the US need a goal.
It’s a bold move for Klinsmann and one that could come back to haunt him if the US is to crash out in the group stages. Qualifying from a group that include Portugal, Ghana and Germany is a tough enough challenge for the US to overcome without putting itself at a disadvantage by leaving arguably one of its best players behind. Klinsmann told the press that the decision to drop Donovan was the hardest he has ever had to make as a manager and is no reflection on his admiration for the player. He called the decision a tactical one with a few players just marginally performing better than Donovan during the US training camp. But history suggests that the German coach is not being as honest as he should be about his decision to drop Donovan with the two having had a troubled relationship in the past. It is believed that Klinsmann partially blames Donovan for his sacking from Bayern Munich in 2009 after the German coach lobbied hard with the Bundesliga club’s hierarchy that Donovan was the player to transform their poor start to the season. Donovan did arrived on loan but failed to impress and Klinsmann was shown the door a few months later.
When he took over as US head coach, the frosty relationship continued with Klinsmann often making an example of Donovan by substituting the player earlier on in games than required and leaving him out of squads or worst still relegating him to the B squad. Donovan however didn’t help himself with a loss in club form and a semi midlife crisis in early 2013 that saw him leave football behind for three months to escape to Cambodia and other destinations to “find himself”. The decision to leave him out of the squad is perhaps the final show from Klinsmann that he controls the US team, not Donovan whose influence has been elevated due to his past importance to the team. Indeed Klinsmann’s criticism of the media’s view of Donovan last month, suggesting that the player can do no wrong and that they treat him like a “sacred cow” should have painted an early warning sign to the player. Klinsmann has left the door open to the 156 time capped forward by suggesting he may still go if any of the chosen 23 pick up an injury between now and the start of the tournament but Donovan will know that is a long shot. A final swansong on football’s biggest stage would have been a fitting way for Donovan to sign off his international career before heading through the exit door, but that door now appears to have been slammed shut by Klinsmann in a move that could end both their spells with the US national team.