Overshadowing preparations for Brazil
28 May ~ It has been obvious for some time that US head coach Jürgen Klinsmann and star midfielder Landon Donovan don't get on. Yet no one ever really imagined that the Klinsmann family might sit around their minimalist Californian villa and openly laugh at him during nutritionally fulfilling mealtimes. This is what was suggested by a mocking tweet from Klinsmann's 17-year-old son Jonathan, hours after the player was dropped from the US World Cup squad last week. Jonathan, a national youth-team goalkeeper, has since apologised and shut down his Twitter account.
His father expressed disappointment and claimed that Jon has a Donovan shirt hanging in his bedroom, which seems pretty unlikely. But the furore that exploded over the LA Galaxy player being left out of the squad for Brazil is currently overshadowing US World Cup preparations.
Klinsmann Senior said that the players in his squad are "a little step ahead of Landon in certain areas". Instead of Donovan, who has scored 57 goals and made 156 appearances for his country, Klinsmann picked a number of inexperienced but highly rated young players. Chief among them is 18-year-old Julian Green, who was raised in Germany but made his brief US debut in April. Domestically, Green currently turns out for Bayern Munich reserves in the Bavarian regional league.
Yet Donovan is also a hugely divisive figure. The majority of commentators were aghast and enraged, believing that the US will miss his experience, goals and performances in a difficult group of Germany, Ghana and Portugal. Bleacher Report referred to a "power play that is impossible to believe", while Grant Wahl of Sports Illustrated warned: "There will come a time in this World Cup when the US could use Donovan."
LA coach Bruce Arena added: "If there are 23 better players than Landon, then we have a chance to win the World Cup." A clearly incandescent Wikipedia critic even edited Donovan's page with: "He was left off the roster for the 2014 FIFA World Cup by coach Jürgen Klinsmann because Klinsmann is an incompetent boob." Many were angry with Klinsmann for they see as a personal vendetta against the player, down to Donovan's perceived mental weakness that manifested itself in a self-imposed playing exile during initial qualifying for Brazil. There was also a possibly inadvisable kickabout in Cambodia before Donovan came back to star in last year's Gold Cup.
Indeed, Donovan is far from uniformly popular. He was nicknamed "Landycakes", after being viewed as soft, entitled and unwilling to test himself permanently outside the comfortable existence of MLS. Many also argued that the decision to drop him was correct.
After a seven-game scoring drought for LA Galaxy, Donovan scored two goals on Sunday, taking his MLS tally to 135, an all-time league record. This just added new fuel to the debate. Klinsmann, who last year signed a contract extension until 2018, has an unusually large mandate in control of many aspects of US football. He's clearly stamping his authority on this World Cup squad, upsetting a lot of fans and journalists in the process. But at least his family meals will be a chuckle. Ed Upright