I've always had a thing against Landon Donovan. The tag of "best US soccer player of his generation" rang a bit hollow when you looked at what he's achieved on a global scale. His two aborted attempts at Bayer Leverkusen in Germany really frustrated me.
You see, the guy has undeniable skill. He might not be considered world class per se, but he definitely is the best player in the MLS pre-Beckham by a country mile. If he had stuck with it and tried to develop himself in Europe at an earlier age, I believe he would've achieved much more and became a far better player than he is today.
What I find really irritating wasn't that he had tried to play at a club and failed, it was the manner of his failure. It wasn't based on not being good enough to get into the first team. It wasn't about a bad atmosphere or a league that was too difficult for him. It was his inability or unwillingness to experience life outside of the US. His first stint in Germany was at a very young age (16, I think), and he struggled to adapt to life in Europe and so he was allowed to go back on loan to the MLS until he matured enough to be able to handle the situation. In San Jose he prospered, and was consistently the best performer on a mediocre team. He publicly spoke about his nightmare in Germany and not being able to cope with the move away from the US.
Then came the second stint at the age of 23. Bayer Leverkusen wanted a player of his calibre back to contribute, and he was forced to leave the US again. Once again, he failed to adjust to his surroundings and a move back to the MLS and the LA Galaxy followed suit. I was really disappointed to hear about it at the time, since I thought that surely Germany cannot be THAT bad? And even if its not exactly where he'd like to live, it is more than simply a positive career step and going back the mediocrity of the MLS was the least ambitious thing I have ever heard of.
My friends struggled to see why I was so upset. Surely he had a right to choose where he wanted to live? My grief was in the fact that he was living my dream and making a mess of it. He had the talent to be a world class player, he was a professional footballer with everything he ever wanted.. and he couldn't leave the comfort zone of "America, the Best Place on Earth".
Landon came out recently and said that he is now dreaming of a move to Spain or England. He recognises that his game would improve drastically over in Europe, but he's unsure now whether any club would sign him after his antics in Germany. He's finally matured enough to think with a professional mindset.. but he's almost 27 now, and a lot of time was lost where he could've further honed his craft in more competitive surroundings.
As a person, I don't know Mr. Donovan and have little regard to how his life turns out to be. Its the concept that bothers me, the fact that his reluctance to put some pressure on himself to further improve on his God given talent stems from his inability to leave the US cocoon. When I first went to university, my roommate who hails from New York asked me why anyone would want to live anywhere but the United States. His lack of geographical orientation astounded me, and I wondered sometimes how many Americans can locate any given country on a map of Europe if presented with the challenge. I'm sure there are many worldly and knowledgable yanks, but the majority seem resistant to the fact that the world holds much more than just the 50 states. My roommate went on to developing a fondness for Europe and a willingness to travel around the world, despite his initial reluctance. It took him 6 years, but he came 'round in the end.. as did all the other Americans who I'm proud to say took a piece of Europe back home with them. May it extend to affect all of the people surrounding them.
So, Landon, I'm glad that you've finally had your moment of enlightenment. There's more out there than simply the good ol' US of A and the MLS. Time to see if firsthand.