America's brightest footballing star could be on his way overseas for the third time in his career.
German giants Bayern Munich allegedly showed interest in US and LA Galaxy midfielder Landon Donovan earlier in the year. Donovan has twice previously played in the Bundesliga, both times for Bayer Leverkusen.
This rumoured move may come as a big surprise to fans of Donovan. His prior stints with Leverkusen were forgettable, to say the least. While enduring a revolving door of coaches, Donovan found his minutes yanked around and his play on the pitch inconsistent. He only made seven appearances for Leverkusen, spending most of his time under contract at the club on loan with the San Jose Earthquakes of MLS.
The rumours are also surprising considering that Donovan had expressed an interest in playing in either England or Spain earlier in the year.
But Bayern Munich's manager, footballing legend Jurgen Klinsmann, is apparently a fan of Donovan. A great striker in his own right, Klinsmann believes that his coaching could bring the best out of Donovan.
How does Donovan feel about this?
"That's one of the best teams in the world," Donovan said to Andrea Canales of ESPN's soccernet.com. "As of now, I've got to worry about what's going on here, but if January rolls around and there's interest, and the league is willing to discuss it, I would be excited to talk about it."
Donovan's iconic teammate David Beckham thinks that not only could Donovan contribute to a team overseas, he could be a great player. After watching Donovan record a hat-trick at the weekend against D.C. United, Beckham had this to say, "I've seen that a few times from Landon. When he plays like that, no one can stop him."
The big question for US soccer fans is whether or not Donovan will actually be used. In his previous stints in Germany, he was left to rot on the bench more often than not.
Landon is only 26-years-old and has not hit yet the wall physically. More importantly than his excellent conditioning is his psychological development since he last played for Leverkusen. He is better-equipped to deal with the demands of one of Europe's best leagues. Instead of coming back to the States with a case of homesickness, Donovan seems eager to test his skills against some of Europe's finest players.
This mental change in Donovan is important. He has always had the physical tools to compete in Europe. He's very fast and is an excellent passer and finisher. A lack of mental toughness is what did him in during his time at Leverkusen.
If he has overcome that like it seems, he could be a great asset to many European clubs in the next few years.
Playing in Europe has been very beneficial to many US players before Donovan, and none of them have had the opportunity to play regularly at a top club like Donovan seems to have. Playing at Bayern would not only put Donovan up against some of the best clubs in Germany like Schalke 04 and Stuttgart, it would also give him the chance to face some of Europe's finest clubs each season in the UEFA Champions League.
If he makes the move during the winter transfer window, that would give him a season and a half of top flight European experience going into the 2010 World Cup. The confidence and skill he could gain from this would make the US a very formidable opponent in South Africa.
Another question to consider is how Donovan's possible transfer will affect MLS.
He is the poster boy for the US Soccer Federation. He's the leading goalscorer in US national team history with 36, and has already made over 100 international appearances. He's the closest thing that the USSF has ever had to an international icon.
This success attracted legions of fans to his MLS games. He's scored 51 goals since 2005 for the LA Galaxy and currently leads the league with 19 this season. Aside from David Beckham and his international celebrity status, Donovan is easily MLS' most visible player. Beckham included, Donovan is probably MLS' best player as well.
Losing a star of this caliber would be a minor setback to a league that is still developing, but it could also be potentially beneficial. As more MLS-bred players make the leap to Europe, the league is given more and more credit. DaMarcus Beasley and Tim Howard are proof that the MLS has the quality to produce top-notch players. As more people take notice of the league, sponsorship money could roll in, helping the league raise its profile even more.
Another added benefit is that European and South American clubs may even begin sending some of their youth players to the US on loan to gain some much-needed seasoning. Arsenal already has a partnership in place with the Colorado Rapids, as does Real Madrid and Real Salt Lake. Once these clubs begin to see MLS as a viable option for their youngsters, the talent could flow in.
I for one am very excited about the possibility of Donovan moving overseas. He has nothing left to prove in MLS. He has won two MLS Cups, a US Open Cup, four Honda Player of the Year Awards and was named to the MLS All-Time Best XI in 2005. By moving overseas he would have the chance to win trophies that no American has ever held.
It also gives him the great opportunity to raise the profile of US Soccer even further.
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