In what was the most controversial roster move in U.S. soccer history, coach Jurgen Klinsmann left Landon Donovan off the team on the eve of the 2014 World Cup.
Donovan, the American record holder for goals scored and the squad’s most recognisable player, was shocked. He told reporters that he thought he was competing for a starting spot, not just a roster spot in the days leading up to the cut.
While the 32-year-old has lost a step in recent years, most observers thought his combination of technical skill and experience, not to mention his status as the best U.S. player ever, would make him a shoe-in for Brazil.
In an interview with Sam Borden of the New York Times, Klinsmann said some things that explain his rationale behind the decision.
He said he doesn’t believe that past accolades should be taken into account when planning for the future.
He used a Kobe Bryant analogy to illustrate this point. He said the two-year, $US48.5-million extension that the Los Angeles Lakers gave Kobe last fall was insane. From the NYT:
“‘This always happens in America,’ Klinsmann told me, waving his hands in the air. ‘Kobe Bryant, for example — why does he get a two-year contract extension for $US50 million? Because of what he is going to do in the next two years for the Lakers? Of course not. Of course not. He gets it because of what he has done before. It makes no sense. Why do you pay for what has already happened?'”
The contract makes no sense in a strict rational sense. Kobe is ageing and the salary figure will cripple the team’s salary cap flexibility. But they did it because he’s Kobe, and he has meant so much to the franchise for the last 15 years.
Klinsmann doesn’t believe in this sort of sentimentalism. Succeeding in the past doesn’t entitle you to an award in the future. He told the NYT that he watched Donovan play in MLS (a league he clearly resents) when he got back from his lengthy 2013 sabbatical, and he wasn’t impressed:
“He came back, and he was playing in M.L.S., and people say, ‘Oh, he’s playing well,’ but what does that really mean? This is where M.L.S. hurts him. He was playing at 70 per cent, 80 per cent, and he was still dominant. That doesn’t help anyone.”
“I watched the games. What was I supposed to say? That he was good? He was not good. Not then. No way. So he had to wait.”
It’s cold, but it makes sense.
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