Monday, May 26, 2014

Did Klinsmann make it personal with Donovan? Maybe...

So the fans of the US Mens National Team (USMNT) have had time to digest that the one mainstay for the US team for the past decade - Landon Donovan - will not be heading to his 4th World Cup. Quite possibly the end of Landycakes' international career as well. There have also been a raft of theories as to why Klinsmann left the LA Galaxy forward off the list. The main ones revolve around the head coach's personal feelings towards the player. I buy into this as a plausible theory. However the more I chew on it, here are some ideas as to why Klinsmann made his choices:

  • There is something about Klinsmann having a small ax to grind with Donovan. As has been stated over and over the past few days there seems to be a history between the two men. Landycakes went to Bayern Munich in 2009 and was an abject failure, lasting only 6 games. The manager at the time - Klinsmann. Who was subsequently sacked the following season. I think there is no doubt their personalities were in conflict. Landcakes has always been dogged by the criticism that he is soft and also that he has not pushed himself professionally. Criticisms I fully agree with. It is telling that in the ESPN piece on the US Mens National Team journey to Brazil there is a segment where Klinsmann comes out and stays he is disappointed that Clint Dempsey decided to come back to the MLS. Klinsmann states, and I am paraphrasing, "I would rather have my top players playing in the world's top leagues, and those are in Europe." If the likes of Dempsey were at, say Barcelona, Klinsmann goes on to say, he would feel better knowing the player was training with the likes of Iniesta and Messi and competing against Ronaldo etc. It was not the only time Klinsmann has made his feelings towards Europe vs MLS heard. If Jurgen is critical of a player who went to the EPL and did well for himself at Fulham and Tottenham, how must he feel about Landycakes who left Bayern Leverkusen because it was too cold and he wanted to sit on the beaches of LA? Deep down I feel that Klinsmann questioned Donovan's heart and desire to be a true professional. For this when Jurgen said that Landon was "behind" others in camp, I wonder if he meant Landon's hear and desire weren't up to the level he would expect from a professional.
  • It is all about Russia in 4 years stupid. Klinsmann is a unique position as head of a national team. US Soccer decided it was a good idea to extend him for another 4 years...before the tournament even started! Wow. Clearly this is an indication that Klinsmann has the keys to the castle over at US Soccer. Reality is, the US federation is too nervous to risk losing the highest profile manager they have had...ever. Most likely they question whether they would be able to attract another such high profiled manager. With this in the back of his mind, Klinsmann most likely feels empowered to do as he pleases. That means a 4 year vision. Add to this that the US face a "group of death" in Brazil - facing Ghana, Portugal and Germany. Is Klinsmann looking at Brazil as a dry run for Russia 2018? Seems that way. Why leave a veteran player like Donovan at home, coupled with three untested young players - Green, Brooks and Yedlin? A player like Green has bags of potential...but plays in the 4th division in Germany and has not played more than 40 minutes for Bayern Munich! For most other national teams this would be a player who would showcase at the Toulon Tournament for U20...not the World Cup. A player that you would allow to work his way up the youth national teams...not give him a precious roster spot on your World Cup squad. Unless you viewed this World Cup as preparation for 2018. There seems to be an ulterior motive as well - Klinsmann is showing other dual nationality players that they have a fast track to the World Cup with the United States. Green was a prospect for the German federation, but he faced much sterner competition and a longer path to the World Cup. With the US, he could find his way to 2, 3 or even 4 World Cups. Add to that the fact the US play in the CONCACAF and basically ensures World Cup qualification, and you have an attractive recipes for dual nationality players who are on the fringe of another higher quality national team. Of course if Green played for Germany he would also have the European Cup to play for...
Klinsmann is taking a big chance with his roster for Brazil, he is going with some youth, maybe too much. He has cleaned house and has only kept 6 players from the 2010 World Cup. He has left off the most decorated national team player of all time - Donovan. He has taken on a 18 year old US-German national, with little experience. In a few weeks we will know whether his gamble pays off or whether or not he was really looking out 4 years.

I do think that Klinsmann, as others have argued, rid himself of his personal headache. But I am not sure that the collective team will be better without their MLS superstar.

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