Jurgen Klinsmann simply can't escape questions regarding the future of Landon Donovan.
Since Donovan revealed to Goal.com in August that he was considering retirement in 2013, statements recently reiterated on a ESPN television appearance Wednesday, Klinsmann has had to address the topic. During his media conference call on Thursday, the U.S. head coach stated that he will look to speak with the LA Galaxy star at the end of his Major League Soccer season.
"I will definitely then, once he has a moment, reach out to him and meet for lunch or a dinner and talk through his thoughts," Klinsmann said.
Here's a topic that Klinsmann should bring up in the conversation: The U.S. captaincy.
This suggestion isn't to disrespect current captain Carlos Bocanegra. Since 2006, Bocanegra has handled the captain's armband with dignity and respect -- a complete class act both on and off the field.
The problem is, at 33 years of age, Bocanegra is no longer guaranteed a starting position in U.S. backline. The Racing Santander loanee's strength still lies in his cerebral skills, being able to organize the U.S. defense with effective communication. Physically, though, Bocanegra is declining. With the emergence of Geoff Cameron along with Omar Gonzalez and other options waiting in the wings, Bocanegra is no longer the U.S.'s top defender.
Landon Donovan, on the other hand, is midway through his prime, at 30 years old. When healthy and motivated, he remains the second best U.S. player, after Clint Dempsey. Neither Brek Shea or Graham Zusi can replace the skill set that Donovan brings to the national team. What Donovan is lacking, unfortunately, is motivation.
He has won every accolade possible in MLS and, at his age, wouldn't be able to latch onto a title-contending club in a major European league.
"Eight years of anything is a long time," Donovan remarked to ESPN, pointing to his lengthy tenure in Los Angeles.
Despite his performance declining over the past two years, he still remains the highest-profile American soccer star in the world. (Just compare Donovan's twitter followers to Dempsey's for proof.)
There was a tinge of enthusiasm in Donovan's voice when asked about the U.S. captaincy in his conversation with Goal.com in August, unlike the introspective melancholy that he had when discussing his future.
"I've always wanted to be the captain of the national team," Donovan told Goal.com in August. "I think that's a great honor. The few times that I have in my career, I've played well and the team has responded well. But I'm also very appreciative of what Carlos has done over the past few years."
In short, what Donovan wants is some R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
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With the emergence of Dempsey over the past three years, Donovan's importance has been questioned even by former U.S. teammates like Brad Friedel. And Donovan's recent uptick in injuries has met with the same suspicion as a student cutting class with a fake cold. Those sentiments are a slap in the face to player who has made both U.S. Soccer and MLS millions of dollars.
"Candidly, it's pretty hurtful because I've spent more time on the soccer field than anybody in the history of (the U.S.) program," Donovan explained to ESPN. "I've played in games I shouldn't be playing in for health reasons or otherwise. ... I feel like I've given a lot to this program and when you get the sense that people think you're not genuine, then that can hurt you."
Naming Donovan as captain would be a statement by both Klinsmann and U.S. Soccer that both parties acknowledge his accomplishments on and off the pitch. It won't be an easy move in the locker room where opinions on Donovan are split, but Klinsmann hasn't shied away from bold moves in the past -- just ask Jozy Altidore.
What the former Germany coach can sell to Bocanegra is a future role in U.S. Soccer. It isn't a secret that Bocanegra is considering his options post-career. If he is a promised a possible top coaching role within the program, he might be amicable to the decision. Having Bocanegra's blessing would be crucial in order for the transition to happen.
Let's face it, the U.S. isn't Brazil, Germany or even Mexico. It can't replace a Ronaldinho and Kaka with Neymar and Lucas Moura, for example. The reality is that having a hungry Donovan on the U.S. roster is the only way that the highly-paid Klinsmann can live up to the expectations of bettering his predecessor Bob Bradley.
Time to make some calls, Jurgen.
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