At 28 years old, Landon Donovan is in the prime of his soccer life. In America, we all ready knew what we had in Donovan, one of the dozen best midfielders in the world.
Now the rest of the world knows it as well.
Following his World Cup success, rumors have surfaced (as they are apt to) about Donovan and several clubs—namely Manchester City, Manchester United, and Chelsea —all in the Premier League.
Donovan currently plays his ball in the MLS with the L.A. Galaxy, who are atop the league with an extraordinary 33 points through 14 games. Donovan is the reigning MVP of the league.
From January through the middle of March, Donovan had a very impressive loan transfer to Everton FC, helping the Toffees climb the table last season. David Moyes, manager of Everton, has made it no secret that he wants the American back, preferably on a permanent basis, although he would accept another January loan in the short term.
Donovan's MLS contract would have to be bought out for it to become long term.
Donovan has spoken fondly of his spell at Everton and of returning someday. He embraced Everton, and the fans and players returned the hug.
So what is best for Donovan?
Short term, there is no discussion. He will finish out the season with Los Angeles. A chance for a title (he's won three in the league all ready) is too great, plus he is under contract and wants to play for the Galaxy.
However, what about after the season ends in November? That is where it gets interesting.
Does he opt for another January loan to the Premier League and then return to the Galaxy in mid March? Does he relax for a couple months after playing soccer non-stop for about 30 months? Or does he become a permanent fixture in the Premier League? If so, where?
I think the best thing for Landon would probably be a break. Take three months off and run with the dogs on the beach. Try to win your wife back. Bask in the aftermath of international success.
But do I think he will do that?
Do I really, as a fan, want him to do that?
If indeed he says no to the time off, my best guess is that he and the Galaxy (and the MLS, for that matter) will say no, at least for now, to a buying out of his contract.
I think he returns to Everton in January and then to LA again in 2011. This is not only what I think he will do but I also think it is the right thing to do. It will mean saying no, at least temporarily, to a lot of Euros, so no one can blame him if he chooses the other route.
After the 2011 season I think he makes the move, hopefully to Everton.
The gamble in waiting is he'll be 29 going on 30 in a year-and-a-half, and his stock will never be as high as it is right now. So part of me sees the appeal in just finishing out this 2010 season with LA and then making a permanent move to Merseyside. I'm torn.
I do feel like he has to say no to any thought of moving to one of the big four clubs in England: Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal, or Manchester City (I think Liverpool, for the time being, has fallen off from these top four).
Manchester City, despite the rumors, seems highly unlikely. They have just reported signings of David Silva and Yaya Toure, and already have some strong midfielders in place, including Craig Bellamy, Shaun Wright-Phillips, and Adam Johnson.
His return to England must be with Everton, or a just-under-the-top-four team like Everton. Either Tottenham, Aston Villa, or I suppose Liverpool now. That is where he will succeed. And yes, I realize Tottenham is officially a top four team now, but I just can't seem to lump them with the other four. Maybe it's the size of the wallets I'm comparing.
Competing for playing time in London with Chelsea or Arsenal would be difficult. He'd get on the pitch, but there would be no guarantees of staying on the pitch. The pressure would be enormous. After a failed loan transfer to Bayern Munich a year-and-a-half ago (and a couple earlier ones to Bayern Leverkusen when he was much younger), Landon wants to make the right move. At 28, there is no time to make wrong career decisions anymore.
And U.S. soccer needs Landon to make the right choice. In 2014 at the Brazil World Cup, Landon will be 32, and most likely still the leader of Team USA. We, as fans of that particular team, want him to make the choice now that will benefit the USA over the next four years.
As much as I don't like saying this, I don't think that Landon staying in the MLS that entire time would help his continued development or thus Team USA. The MLS is improving greatly each year, and in another four or five years I think it will be close to competing with some of those bigger leagues (Premier League, Serie A, La Liga, and Bundesliga) for top talent. And not just top talents that are 32 years old. But Landon can't wait four or five years.
It is kind of a catch-22. Landon staying would help the progression of the league, but by staying he will be hurting his own progression.
Ah, what do to? Admittedly, these are not the most horrible decisions to make for the native Californian who is the face of American soccer. Things could be worse.
Whatever he ends up doing, let's just hope that he doesn't give any team that starts with "Bayern" another shot.