Landon Donovan and Jurgen Klinsmann: nothing personal, but challenging circumstances

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Landon Donovan just might be in for a weird year ahead.

Some of that is about injuries and advancing age. Bummer, I know.  It hits everyone – the U.S. national team’s all-time leading scorer, and one of the most decorated MLS men in league history doesn’t get a pass.

For Donovan, the growing tax of sprains and strains might be difficult to deal with because he’s been such a remarkably durable figure. He’s missed time in MLS before, but almost always for U.S. national team duty. Lengthy, injury-related setbacks have been few and far between so far. But he’s 30 years old now, so dealing with docs and rehab specialist may be a bigger part of the landscape ahead.

There’s something else at work, too, less related to the inexorable sands of time.

Could we be near a time when Donovan sees his role reduced or even marginalized with the national team?

ESPN Soccernet’s Leander Schaerlaeckens posted a lengthy Q&A last week with national team boss Jurgen Klinsmann. At the caboose end were interesting comments regarding a speculative “rift” between Klinsmann and Donovan. I doubt anything acrimonious was ever at work. So I might quibble with the syntax a bit, but sniffing around this issue is good journalism. Here’s Klinsmann’s response:

No. There’s no problem at all with Landon. It’s for us way unfortunate that he wasn’t available for the last eight games, whatever reason it was. We take it as it happened and are straightforward in our relationship, and obviously we want to see him back in the team. This time it was bronchitis. The other times was other injuries that hit him. There’s absolutely no problem with Landon.

But we need Landon with the team to move forward because the train has left at 200 miles an hour and he was not on the train for eight games, which was not ideal for us but it is what it is. [Friendlies in] May and [World Cup qualifiers in] June comes quickly, and that’s when Landon needs to be there and understand where is the team. We need him here as soon and as quickly as possible.

I thought about it then, but the Olympic train was pulling out of the station (bound for that fatal curve as it came around the Nashville bend, as we know) and our patriotic gaze went elsewhere. Now I’m circling back.

Donovan has played in two of Klinsmann’s 10 matches in charge. More important, the Galaxy attacker has missed most of the training sessions and road trips. Donovan appeared in Klinsmann’s debut, which was more or less just a howdy and handshake session for all.

Later, Donovan went through about three practices and then played in the Sept. 2 loss to Costa Rica. The team went on to meet Belgium, but Donovan remained behind as part of an arrangement made before Klinsmann came on board. So that’s it. Donovan has neither played for nor trained under Klinsmann since, unavailable due to injury, illness or club needs.

I have no problem believing Klinsmann and Donovan are cool, personally. I have no doubt that Klinsmann isn’t personally put out by Donovan’s absences. The U.S. manager is bigger than that.

But …

Read those comments again. I think Klinsmann is being typically candid about things.

In his mind, something much bigger is at work, something transformative. The concepts and systems he’s preaching aren’t just schlocky motivational truisms up on the corporate pegboard. He believes in them. Plus, it’s tough getting others to buy in when someone rarely around can still be such an essential cog.

Again, that’s not Donovan’s fault. It really has been a series of bad luck or circumstance.

I assume, along with everyone else, that Donovan will be in camp in a few weeks when Klinsmann gathers his side ahead of the May-June friendlies and World Cup qualifiers.

Donovan is a smart soccer player; he’ll catch up quickly on whatever he’s missed. Clearly, Donovan starts from a point well ahead of pretty much everyone in the U.S. pool – this side of Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard, at any rate. Klinsmann knows so.

But …

If something happens along the way, forcing Klinsmann and Co. to motor on, “200 miles an hour” through May or June without Donovan? Given what we know about Klinsmann and his quirky ways, would anyone be floored if the coach leaves Donovan off rosters moving forward?

Klinsmann has a noted history of committing to his system and beliefs, then implementing through choices not always in line with populist or conventional thinking. Klinsmann smiles affably and confidently right through any resulting controversy or criticism.

Donovan has meant so very much to U.S. Soccer for 10 years now, from massive goals at World Cup 2002 to his critical role in qualifying for World Cup 2010. (If you don’t understand how important Donovan was to a qualifying road that got squeezed pretty good here and there, you weren’t paying attention.)

But sooner or later, Donovan’s influence will naturally fade. I don’t expect the sun to begin setting in the summer of 2012.

Then again, one good tenet of journalism says never to let your audience be completely caught off guard by something. So keep an eye on this one.

Can says he wants to play for “very big club” next year

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Liverpool swing man Emre Can – whose contract expires this summer – has not yet found a club to sign with yet, and the future free agent is playing up his own talents while looking for a new home.

“I have the self-confidence to say that my qualities are sufficient to play in a very big club next season,” Can told German newspaper Suddeutche Zeitung. “I’m doing great in England. The Spanish league is also attractive. The same applies to Germany, where tactics are concerned, and the Italian club football, which has recently caught up.”

“Incidentally, the same applies to France, this league has now established itself as one of the best in Europe. Therefore, I do not want to exclude anything.”

However, Can also said that the Premier League’s spending power plays a major role, and singled out the German top flight – his home country – for its inability to pay top players.

“Sure, the Bundesliga would interest me, why not? Although I must say honestly that the level has waned in recent years,” he said. “The Premier League has the power to spend more money on players than the Bundesliga. This is very, very important for players.”

Despite those comments, the 24-year-old insists that money is not the ultimate deciding factor in where he will play.

“What counts for me is that I’m an integral part of the team and at a club with a chance of winning the title,” he added. “That’s what every footballer dreams of because that’s the reward of your hard work.”

Can has not ruled out a return to Liverpool, a club that he says “still feels like family.”

Wales boss Giggs claims he wont give in to commercial pressure to play Bale

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Wales is among the field of the China Cup, an international tournament in Guangxi, China, to play a pair of international friendlies this week.

New manager Ryan Giggs admitted there is outside pressure to play Gareth Bale in the event at some point, but admitted he will not put the Real Madrid star at risk just to appease sponsors. In fact, the only pressure he’s feeling is from himself.

“Any risks, stupid risks, I won’t be taking,” Giggs said. “But it’s also my first game and I want to get my best team out there.”

Wales missed out on the 2018 World Cup, and there’s little to gain from having Bale out on the field the entire time. Wales will play China in the semifinals on Thursday, and then meets the winner of Uruguay and Czech Republic next week.

According to reports, Wales would lose nearly $150,000 of its $1.5 million participation fee if Bale did not play.

“I’ve not spoken to [Real Madrid manager Zinedine] Zidane, but I’ve spoken to Gareth,” Giggs said. “I’ve been in contact with him regularly in the last few months and I’m not stupid because it’s an important part of the season.”

Bale has been smothered by injuries – mostly calf problems – during his Real Madrid career, missing a stretch of over two months through October and November with hamstring issues. He has been fit since, but Zidane rarely risks Bale for the full 90 minutes. In fact, Bale’s only three full 90’s of the 2018 calendar year have all come in the last three weeks.

The 28-year-old has three goals in his last five La Liga games, including one off the bench in a 6-3 win over Girona last weekend.

International preview: What is to come over the next week

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With the 2018 World Cup less than three months away, countries are taking these last moments to see players within their selection pool and make tweaks to the squad and tactics.

This week’s international window has already kicked off with the likes of South Africa, Liechtenstein, and Andorra taking the opportunity to see the field, and World Cup countries take the field tomorrow – two, to be exact. And they play each other.

Denmark and Panama meet in a rare friendly between countries set to take part in the summer festivities, with the match taking place in Bronby at 3pm ET. The two countries chose to play knowing they cannot possibly meet in Russia 2018 until at least the quarterfinals, with their respective Groups C and G split apart across the knockout rounds.

The hosts are fantastic from set-pieces and focus their attack around Tottenham star Christian Eriksen. Panama’s midfield rock Gabriel Gomez will likely be tasked with keeping Eriksen quiet, something the Republic of Ireland was unable to do last time Denmark took the field as Eriksen bagged a hat-trick. Defender Andreas Christensen is headed towards the World Cup in fantastic form with Chelsea, having earned a starting spot with the Blues. With some injuries at the back, Christensen has also played out wide along the back line before as well, something to keep watch for.

On Friday, the heavyweights begin to see the field as Uruguay hosts Czech Republic. The South American nation received a friendly draw in World Cup Group A, but brought in a solid European side to match wits with after the Czechs finished third in their qualifying group. Japan also takes to the pitch on Friday, playing Mali on a neutral field in Belgium. The Japanese will need to be at the top of their game come summer, matched into Group H against Colombia, Poland, and Senegal.

England and Argentina have both scheduled games against European sides that disappointed by failing to make the 2018 tournament. On Friday, England travels to Amsterdam to take on a Netherlands squad in turmoil, while Argentina travels to the Etihad to meet Italy.

Russia and Brazil meet in Moscow on Friday, with over 50,000 tickets already reportedly sold for the match at Luzhniki Stadium. The hosts will then get another stiff test as they take on France four days later on Tuesday. If Russia’s squad has lots of work to do before hosting the World Cup, we’ll know in a week.

The main event on Friday will be Germany and Spain meeting in Dusseldorf in a matchup of the last two World Cup winners. Germany will be without Manuel Neuer and Marco Reus, but still fields one of the deepest squads in the entire world. The Germans don’t then get the week off, having to meet Brazil on Tuesday. If Jogi Low’s side comes out of those matches on top, they could cement their status as favorites headed into the summer.

France has a stiff test as well, meeting Colombia on Friday. Like Denmark and Panama, the two countries reside in Groups C and H, meaning they could not rematch in the World Cup until at least the quarterfinals. The French then go to take on Russia next week.


Denmark vs. Panama
Slovakia vs. UAE
China vs. Wales
Algeria vs. Tanzania
Malta vs. Luxembourg

Germany vs. Spain
Italy vs. Argentina
Russia vs. Brazil
Netherlands vs. England
France vs. Colombia
Portugal vs. Egypt
Uruguay vs. Czech Republic
Mexico vs. Ireland
Poland vs. Nigeria
Austria vs. Slovenia
Peru vs. Croatia
Austria vs. Slovenia
Greece vs. Switzerland
Norway vs. Australia
Mali vs. Japan

Sweden vs. Chile

Kuwait vs. Cameroon
Nicaragua vs. Cuba

Portugal vs. Netherlands
Bulgaria vs. Kazakhstan

Russia vs. France
Germany vs. Brazil
England vs. Italy
Spain vs. Argentina
United States vs. Paraguay
Tunisia vs. Costa Rica
Colombia vs. Australia
Belgium vs. Saudi Arabia
Egypt vs. Greece
Denmark vs. Chile
Japan vs. Ukraine

Alexis Sanchez says he “expected better” from himself at Manchester United

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Alexis Sanchez isn’t happy with his performance so far at Manchester United.

The Chilean superstar has scored just one goal for the Red Devils in 10 appearances since joining from Arsenal, and the club has lost three of those games and has been knocked out of the Champions League by Sevilla.

Speaking with Chilean media on national team duty in Sweden, Sanchez said he expects more of himself and that he’s so far let himself down. “As I am self-demanding, I expected something better,” Sanchez said. “After my arrival at United, it was hard to change everything very quickly. I even hesitated to come here [to join the national team].”

Chile missed out on World Cup qualification, and has friendlies with Sweden and Denmark scheduled over the next week. With so little at stake, Sanchez was poised to take time off from the national team, but says he was convinced by Manchester City goalkeeper and Chilean captain Claudio Bravo to stick it out.

“The change of club was something that was very abrupt – it was the first time I’ve changed clubs in January – but many things have happened in my life that are difficult,” Sanchez said. “I had asked permission to miss these games, but then I thought better and spoke with Claudio and told him that we should all be united.”

Once the international break is over, Manchester United resumes Premier League play against Swansea at the end of March before an April 7th derby meeting with Manchester City.