Landon Donovan has spoken for the first time about his role as part of the American ownership group headed by Stephen Kaplan and Jason Levien who took over at Swansea City this summer.
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A legend of U.S. Soccer, Donovan, 34, is certainly not resting up after his retirement from the game in December 2014. Far from it.
As well as his stints as a soccer commentator with Fox, plus his constant involvement with many Major League Soccer initiatives and having a new born son, Talon, Donovan is a busy man.
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Speaking exclusively to ProSoccerTalk as part of Captain Morgan’s Under 35 POTUS petition, the former Bayer Leverkusen, San Jose Earthquakes, Bayern Munich, LA Galaxy and Everton forward is excited about the opportunity to be part of the Swansea organization and is eager to help in whatever way he can.
[ MORE: Donovan on Olympics, player development ]
So, what exactly will the USMNT superstar be doing for the Swans?
“I’ve always had an interest in being an owner of a sports team and a football team in particular,” Donovan explained. “The new owners met with me a few months back and said this is likely going to happen and admitted that they didn’t know a lot about football and said ‘we know that you know the game and you’re passionate about it, you played at Everton, spent time in world football and sort of understand it a little better, would you be willing to help us, advise us and consult with us on certain things?’ I said yeah, that would be great and that’s something I am certainly open to.
“I made it clear from the very beginning that this isn’t going to be a situation where I am going to be in there telling them what players to sign. They’ve got a chairman there in Huw Jenkins who has been arguably as valuable to a team as anybody in the Premier League. He has brought them from the lower leagues in England all the way to the Premier League and has done an incredible job.
“For me, I want to be someone who can help behind the scenes but this is not a situation where I think I know it all and I am going into it thinking that I am going to have some huge impact. I just want to be able to help. It has already been enjoyable with the transfer window open now. They’ve had some questions on certain players and a lot of these guys I’ve played with or against or I know people who are very close to them and have played with them. So I can give some good insight on certain things that hopefully helps out.”
So, LD has already been helping the Swans rebuild their squad under manager Francesco Guidolin as major outgoings Andre Ayew and potentially Ashley Williams have been offset with the signings of Fernando Llorente, Mike Van der Hoorn and striker Borja Baston is on his way for a club record fee.
Donovan isn’t quite Billy Beane yet, but he’s on his way.
The Californian revealed that he plans to be in South Wales soon, earmarking Swansea’s home game against Chelsea at the Liberty Stadium on Sept. 11 as a potential visit, and he also gave some insight into why PL clubs are so attractive to American investors.
After all six PL clubs — Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Sunderland, Crystal Palace and Swansea — are now owned fully, or partly, by Americans.
“One: they (Americans) see it as a great business opportunity because I think teams in the Premier League for a long time haven’t been run perfectly. So I think they see it that way,” Donovan said. “Also I think in this case I cautioned them and said if you get into this as a business opportunity, you are risking a lot because for the fans of these teams this isn’t about business. This is their life. So I think a lot of American owners have gone in very naively in the past and said ‘well, we will do this, this and this’ and they would run it how they’d run a sports team in America. You can’t do that.
“We don’t own the team. The Swansea City fans own the team. That’s the reality and I believe that and they believe that and that’s the way it should be. Are we going to try to do everything we can to make everything better? Yes. Absolutely. But at the end, they own the team and we have to go in knowing that.”
With Manchster United spending over $120 million on Paul Pogba this week, plus a total of nearly $1 billion spent on transfers so far this summer by PL clubs, what does Donovan make of the incredible sums of money being spent?
“It is unbelievable,” Donovan chuckled. “I saw John Stones went for 50 million pounds but the reality is that the market can bear it and now with the new TV deal coming in, teams can afford it. It is going to be the norm and teams need to get used to it.”
Speaking about another league which has been dishing out huge transfer fees over the past 12 months, Donovan was asked about the Chinese Super League (CSL) and it’s push to attract star players in their prime.
Compared to a league like Major League Soccer which rarely pays transfer fees for players, is the CSL’s model something MLS will eventually have to get on board with?
“I’d be surprised at that level if the Chinese Super League is still around in 10 years. There’s just no way that’s sustainable. I think Major League Soccer has smart people who know you can’t do that if you want to be a sustainable league.”
On MLS, Donovan does believe there’s a big issue currently in North America’s top flight: a lack of minutes for promising youngsters.
“We do have an issue know where we do have some very talented young players but their problem is they aren’t getting a chance to play,” Donovan said. “If you’re an MLS coach, you have to win on the weekends. That’s your job. If you have a player on your team who is 19 years old and has the potential to be a nine out of 10 type of player but you have another guy who is already a 7.5 out of 10 and he’s 30 years old, you’re going to play the 7.5 out of 10 guy every time because the coach wants consistency and to win and keep your job. The problem is those young kids with potential aren’t playing.”
Part Two of our chat with Landon Donovan is available here as he speaks about the USWNT at the Olympics, his own Olympic experiences and tackles the bigger issue of developing young players in the USA.