2012 MLS Cup - Team Press Conference

Landon Donovan and a recent history of transitioning icons

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Raúl Gonzalez played his last international match in 2006, something more people would talk about if Spain didn’t immediately ascend to their current international preeminence. With 102 caps and 44 goals, the Real Madrid icon remains one of the most decorated players in Spain’s history, but on the wrong side of history, the iconic attacker missed out on a world championship, two European titles, and his country’s discarding of a reputation as one of world soccer’s persistent underachievers.

“I didn’t call Raul to let him know he wasn’t selected,” head coach Luis Aragones, four-time coach of Real rival Atlético, told an undoubtedly incredulous media upon dropping the icon. “He is not an exceptional case.”

source: ReutersPerhaps that statement served Aragones’s purposes, but it’s not true. Players like Raúl are exceptional cases, and rightfully so. Few players have the talent to make their country’s national team, let alone make over 100 appearances, let alone prove so inspirational that even after their former team wins three major titles, people debate whether his exclusion was justified. Capable of creating and scoring, as a focal point on and off the field, Raúl’s significance was difficult to understate, even if a dip in form meant his production wasn’t matching his reputation. Still, there will always be loyalists who feel Raúl deserved to share in Spain’s glories.

Raúl’s story, however, is not singular. It’s a logical one. Soccer players have professional lifespans. For the truly special ones, those lifespans coincide with teams and microcultures being built around them. For Raúl, talent plus iconography plus circumstance derived from his place of birth and club team’s prestige coalesced to create a type of world a player can define, both by his presence and his absence. For all their successes, Spain’s modern story begins where one of Raúl’s ends.

Other instances are less dramatic, but in the United States, we’re going through one of our own icon’s transitions – that of Landon Donovan, a type of American Raúl in significance if not style. But whereas Spain’s depth of talent partially justified Aragones’s decision, Donovan’s quality is viewed as singular. How, many U.S. soccer fans would ask, can Jurgen Klinsmann justify excluding a Landon Donovan?


It isn’t always about talent. Argentina’s discovered that many times with Juan Román Riquelme, whose unparalleled combination of clairvoyant’s vision and magician’s skill came with a sensitive nature that collapsed many relationships between star and manager. So it was no true surprise when, in March 2009, Riquelme abruptly announced his retirement from international soccer, unable to meet his new coach eye-to-eye.

“We don’t think the same way,” Riquelme said of Diego Maradona, the Argentine playing legend who replaced the resigned Alfio Basile. “We don’t share the same codes of ethics. While he is the coach of the national team, we can’t work together.”

source: APMaradona took over an Argentina team that was struggling to qualify for World Cup 2010 and, after incredible inconsistency over his first qualifiers, stabilized the team. The Albiceleste secured a place in South Africa and, despite numerous criticisms, made the tournament’s quarterfinals. It wasn’t classic Argentina, with the team eventually playing with four central defenders across the back, but given what he’d inherited, Maradona’s results vindicated his experiments.

He wanted Riquelme, though. Like most Argentines, Maradona revered Román’s skill, and as a icon for Diego’s beloved Boca Juniors, Riquelme was unlikely to be shown the door.

But for a man that, for all his faults, has inspired such loyalty from the generation that’s followed, Maradona saw none from Riquelme. When he insisted his trequarista adapt his game amid the country’s faltering results, Riquelme walked.

“All I said was that I wanted him to play 15 meters further up the pitch,” Maradona said, when asked about Riquelme’s decision. “What have I done for him to be scared of me? If I can’t say how I want my players to play, then I’m in the oven.”

With “only” 51 international caps, Riquelme is no Raúl or Donovan. His erratic temperament also mitigated his preternatural ability, making him more an object of impassioned debate than blind loyalty. At least, when juxtaposed against potential qualifying disappointment and the legend that is Diego Maradona, Riquelme’s stance was never going to move the masses.

So it was that an iconic player’s career ended amid a personality conflict. Lionel Messi was moved into the middle and, despite fan expectations that he’d score more goals, had an effective World Cup. Though they did not having a clear replacement, Argentina moved on without Riquelme. even if it was unclear how they’d replace him. Ultimately, Argentina was fine without Riquelme.

Out of the team for much of the Klinsmann era, Donovan’s absence no longer carries the uncertainties of Riquelme’s departure. Without the man they saw as their best player, United States fans have seen a capable if more limited U.S. squad navigate its obstacles. If there was a time when the exclusion of a Donovan-like talent would inspire questions and doubts, questions are all the remain.


“I beg the Brazilian fans that they support us,” were Dunga’s words, an incredible plea considering the man’s own playing résumé. A World Cup-winner with 91 caps, the midfield stalwart would garner the benefit of the doubt under most circumstances, but after omitting Ronaldinho from his 2010 World Cup squad, the Brazil boss was forced into a more emotional appeal.

“If they don’t like me or any other thing, that’s fine, but I want [the Brazilian fan] to support us, to be a patriot.”

source: APEven at that point, in May 2010, Ronaldinho’s fading skill was obvious. And given the focal point he’d been in previous squads, it wasn’t surprising Dunga wished to move on from Gaucho’s era. Having built a team that would rely on robust defending and counterattacking prowess, the world’s number one team was no place for a floating icon who, while still being one of the world’s most skilled players, didn’t fit the scheme.

Tell that to a Brazilian public who’d created the icon. Pele may have been the country’s best overall player, and by 2010 Messi had ascended to his global pedestal, but to those loyal to the style Ronaldinho brought, Gaucho was the counterpoint to each. Numbers are nice, and everybody loves goals, but who nobody could match Ronaldinho’s skill on the ball? Chasing a goal late, needing something that transcends tactics, that had to be worth something. Right?

It’s the type of appeal you’ll hear about the Algeria game – Donovan’s transcendant moment. Beyond explanation, beyond anything you can draw up on a white board, when you need a goal late, who would you rather have on the field? Most U.S. fans would rather have Donovan.

Brazil’s quarterfinal exit in South Africa left Ronaldinho’s supporters with a level of vindication, as did his recall under Dunga’s successor, Mano Menezes. But Dunga had long thrived without the former Ballon d’Or winner. The Seleçao were the reigning South American champions and had won the Confederations Cup the year before. They went into South Africa as the world’s number one team. While Brazil’s fans missed their idol, it’s unclear their team actually did.


It would be a mistake to draw direct parallels. Raúl is distinct, as is Riquelme, Ronaldinho and Donovan. It’s what makes their exclusions noteworthy. If we were talking about players easily compared to others, we wouldn’t be talking at all.

But there is something in each scenario that can be drawn on when thinking of Landon Donovan. Raúl’s iconography and importance within the Spanish team made his exclusion seem impossible, form be damned. Riquelme’s unlikely retirement came as expectations of his role changed – amid his inability (or, unwillingness) to accept his new world. And with Ronaldinho, fans passionate about a singular player were unable to see the bigger picture.

With all these players there was a bigger picture. Spain went on to unparalleled success. Argentina salvaged their qualifying campaign. Brazil stayed the top-ranked team in the world. Each team had a future after their icons.

The United States may be a ways away from embracing that future, and with Donovan set to take part in this summer’s Gold Cup, he’s got an obvious route back into the full national team. But if that route ends up being blocked, U.S. fans need only look to recent history and see a series of iconic players for more successful teams whose indispensability was dispelled.

Watch Live: Chile vs. Australia, Germany vs. Cameroon

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Now that two of the four semifinal spots are secured from Group A, it’s Group B’s turn to send two of its four on to the knockout round. Chile takes on Australia in Moscow, while Germany battles Cameroon in Sochi at 11 a.m. ET live on Telemundo Deportes.

Chile and Germany are in the driver’s seat in the group, each with four points to Australia and Cameroon’s one. That means a draw or win for either favorite will see them through. However, there are no teams yet eliminated, and anyone can make a move with an upset.

[ WATCH LIVE: Chile vs. Australia live on Telemundo Deportes ]

To advance, both underdogs would need not only the three points, but also enough goals to overcome their goal difference disadvantage. Australia’s -1 goal differential sees them two behind Germany and three back of Chile, while Cameroon sits at -2. Therefore, each team would need a win by at least two goals to have a shot at moving on.

For Chile, Claudio Bravo is back between the sticks after missing the first two games with an injury. Alexis Sanchez leads the front line with Bayern Munich midfielder Arturo Vidal holding down the fort in the center of the pitch. Gary Medel is rested after coming off injured in the 74th minute of Chile’s draw with Germany, while Jean Beausejour is also moved to the bench after playing the full 90 minutes in the competition’s first two games.

[ WATCH LIVE: Germany vs. Cameroon live on Telemundo Deportes ]

Germany sports another young lineup, highlighted by Hoffenheim attacker Kerem Demerbay’s first competitive start for his country in his second-ever cap. Marc-Andre ter Stegen mans the sticks for the second straight match in favor of Bernd Leno, both of whom have looked shaky in this tournament. Bayern Munich youngster Josh Kimmich has gone the full 90 minutes (or more) in 16 straight matches for Germany and again gets the start.

LINEUPS

Chile: Bravo, Jara, Diaz, Mena, Isla, Silva, Aranguiz, Fuenzalida, Vidal, Sanchez, Vargas.

Australia: Ryan, Sainsbury, Troisi, McGowan, Milligan, Luongo, Eraltay, Irvine, Juric, Cahill, Kruse.


Germany: Ter Stegen, Plattenhardt, Sule, Ginter, Can, Rudy, Rudiger, Kimmich, Werner, Draxler, Demirbay.

Cameroon: Ondoa, Teikeu, Ngadeu-Ngadjui, Fai, Mabouka, Siani, Anguissa, Mandjeck, Aboubakar, Moukandjo, Bassogog.

Report: Swansea rejects Everton bid for Sigurdsson

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Everton, a club not known for its vast spending power, just continues to put on a show this transfer market.

According to a report by ESPN’s Pete O’Rourke, Swansea City has turned down an initial offer from the Toffees for playmaker Gylfi Sigurdsson. The report states the bid was valued at $34 million.

Sigurdsson is regarded as a player of higher quality and has been the subject of transfer rumors for years. According to Swansea City chairman Huw Jenkins back in February, the 27-year-old was the subject of “substantial offers” this past winter. It’s no surprise that a club such as Everton would look to Sigurdsson to boost its attacking play.

The Icelandic international had a prolific year this past season, scoring nine goals and assisting 13 others. In addition to his playmaking talents, Sigurdsson is also known as a set-piece specialist, scoring four goals from direct free-kicks over the past two Premier League seasons.

Despite all the interest, Sigurdsson said last month he was happy at Swansea, and would not force a move unless the club decides to sell. Sigurdsson would fit well into the Everton attack that saw Ross Barkley regress last season and Kevin Mirallas continue his streaky form.

Everton has been a major player in the transfer market so far this summer. They have already spent well above $50 million this summer on the purchases of Jordan Pickford and Davy Klassen, and have been linked with other big-money move. It’s likely the club is banking on a massive haul for Romelu Lukaku, who has stated multiple times he does not wish to return to Everton. Lukaku stated a month ago that he had already agreed to terms with a club, suggesting that Everton probably at this point has a general idea of what they will net from his departure.

However, the Toffees have not been heavily linked with any big-name strikers to replace the big Belgian. This might suggest they could look in-house to fill Lukaku’s shoes, an admittedly tall task no matter the replacement.

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Walker to City close, Inter wants Szczesny

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With the start of preseason getting closer, teams are hoping to do their business in time to get new players a full bill of health and fitness before the new season. With that in mind, the transfer action truly begins to heat up with clubs under the crunch of time.

With Manchester City heading to the United States for a preseason tour of America, they’re looking to do deals before the trip begins to have everyone on board. Kyle Walker has been heavily linked with City, and it looks like Daniel Levy’s steadfasness will pay off yet again for the London side.

[ MORE: Saturday Roundup | Fri | Thurs ]

According to a report in the Daily Mail, Tottenham will wriggle nearly $62 million from City for Walker’s services. Levy knows that Pep Guardiola is desperate for top-tier full-backs after seeing his full bank of players in that position struggle mightily. Now, Levy may successfully extract a small fortune for his England international, and with plenty of time to re-invest on his replacement. The report suggests the deal could be done in time for Walker to face Spurs in their friendly on July 29th in Nashville.


Sticking to full-backs, Juventus may be looking to replace both its standout performers on the flanks last season. Dani Alves seems set to move on, while Alex Sandro has been heavily linked to Chelsea.

Hoping to pull in top-level replacements in a position that proves to be quite top-heavy throughout the world, Juventus has turned to Southampton’s Cedric Soares. The 25-year-old has enjoyed a bright Confederations Cup on duty with Portugal, and may have turned heads in Italy as a result.

The report from Italian publication Tuttosport linking Cedric to the Old Lady states that, while Juventus will first look to pry Danilo from Real Madrid, Cedric could be a cheaper option with his price tag under $22 million. The article also mentions Valencia’s Joao Cancelo as an option for Juventus at the right-back spot.


Alexandre Lacazette is a top striker option on the market this summer, and while it feels like his domino is waiting to fall after Kylian Mbappe’s, there could be a wrinkle involved with the Lyon frontman.

Atletico Madrid was heavily linked to Lacazette as a replacement for Antoine Griezmann before their transfer ban was handed down. Now, with Griezmann staying, those links cooled as Atleti is unable to register new players until the January transfer window. Yet, there may still be a chance for the Spanish side to land yet another French striker.

According to loose-lipped Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas, Atletico Madrid submitted a large offer for Lacazette, and the Spanish side is still a heavy player in the story. Should Atleti’s bid be accepted, Lacazette would likely stay at Lyon for the first half of the season and complete his transfer to Spain in the winter transfer window. Aulas said Atletico’s offer was in the area of $75 million, including bonuses. That’s some stiff competition for Arsenal or any other big-name club hoping to secure Lacazette’s signature.

Aulas also confirmed he met with Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger on June 13th during the match between England and France. Just yesterday, there were reports that Arsenal was preparing a large bid for the Frenchman.


In the same interview, Aulas also confirmed that Chelsea youngster Bertrand Traore is close to a move to Lyon. Aulas said that the 21-year-old is currently in Lyon to finalize the move, although the fee had yet to be finalized, only saying that it was “considerable.”

Traore, a Burkina Faso international, was an AJ Auxerre youth product before joining Chelsea’s youth ranks in 2013. The young attacker spent last season on loan at Dutch club Ajax where he made 39 appearances across all competitions, scoring 13 goals and assisting six.


Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny has benefitted greatly from his two-year loan spell at AS Roma. Despite his future looking bleak with the Gunners, Szczesny is a wanted man in Italy.

Linked with a bid from Juventus earlier this month, Szczesny has now been heavily connected to his former Roma manager Luciano Spaletti who has recently taken charge at Inter Milan. Spaletti already has one of the best pure shot-stoppers in Europe in Samir Handanovic, but according to reports in Italy, Spaletti wants Handanovic to improve with the ball at his feet, something which he praised Szczesny for earlier this week.

Spaletti, hoping to diffuse interest in Szczesny, told Sky Sports Italia on Thursday, “We already have Samir Handanovic, who is very experienced and strong. I’ve already worked with him and I know his quality. For the moment we’ve got him. Obviously Szczesny is a modern player, because he can use his feet and in modern football you need that to start moves from the back.”

Now, reports in Italy say Spaletti has asked Handanovic to undergo targeted training hoping to improve his ability with the ball at his feet. Should he refuse, the club would look to sell the Serbian in favor of Szczesny, a move which could also potentially net the club some cash.


With Romelu Lukaku rumors seeing renewed fervor after the player enjoyed a pickup game on a field branded with Chelsea logos, the Everton striker has taken to social media to vent his frustration.

Lukaku has told reporters multiple times that returning to Everton is not really an option, and that he has an agreement with a club already, but otherwise, the Chelsea links are all fans have to go off at this time.

Report: Donnarumma may still re-sign with AC Milan

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With Gianluigi Donnarumma’s future still very much up in the air, the public airing of his contract dispute may be weighing heavily on the young goalkeeper.

With a single year left on his contract at AC Milan, the club announced he had turned down a lucrative offer for a long-term extension, thus forcing them to sell. Milan fans turned on the player instantly, calling him disloyal and disrespectful.

Now, the 18-year-old may be having a change of heart.

According to Italian journalist Gianluca di Marzio, Donnarumma is set to meet with Enzo Raiola, the cousin of his superagent Mino Raiola, in Krakow where he is with the Italian U-21 team for the U-21 European Championships. According to the report, Enzo – who happens to be the closer with Donnarumma than Mino – will discuss with the youngster his wishes for the future, and re-upping with AC Milan is very much still on the cards.

This meeting has the feel of an emergency get-together, with reports flying that Donnarumma is frustrated with how his situation has been handled and plans to fire the Raiola crew as his agent.

AC Milan’s strategy through all this has been to air their side of things publicly in the hopes that pressure from fans will help change the goalkeeper’s mind. In that sense, it’s worked, as Donnarumma was showered with fake money during a game while manned the sticks for the Italian U-21 team a week ago. At the very least, it looks to have turned his head slightly.