EDITORIAL – Here at Last Word on Soccer, we’re still bored with soccer shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. So I’m going to revisit the Landon Donovan episode of BSI: The Podcast from last September. Donovan shared some interesting information about clubs he once almost transferred to.
Three Landon Donovan Transfers That Almost Happened
Each episode of BSI ends with “Ike’s Interigation,” where Minnesota United FC center back Ike Opara asks five very difficult and controversial questions. Some of them come from research Opara, Benny Feilhaber, and Sal Zizzo do. Some are fan suggested questions.Guests can choose to not answer one question (pleading the Fifth). The question of interest gets asked at 39:15.
Ike Opara (fan question): “What club were you close to joining that no one knows about?”
Donovan confirmed that the interest from Chievo was prior to national team teammate Michael Bradley’s stint with the club (2011-2012). After being asked by Opara, Donovan stated that these rumors happened during Donovan’s prime. Portsmouth F.C. went into administration beginning in 2010. They were in Europa League and the Premier League the prior season.
With Landon Donovan saying these moves came during his prime, that probably means at the earliest 2003, when he was winning with San Jose Earthquakes and on loan from Bayer Leverkusen. There’s an outside possibility his successful loan stints with Everton (Winter 2010 and 2012) could have had him on the radar of these European clubs. The latest these almost moves probably came about would be 2010. Once the LA Galaxy were trophy favorites, Donovan wasn’t leaving the club.
Looking at the archives on ye olde Google Machine, the Donovan to Portsmouth reveal might not have been much of a secret. Rumors from the English Football tabloids appeared in January 2004. Pompey finished midtable in the Engish Premier League that season. Donovan ended up staying in MLS; 2004 was his last year with San Jose.
There’s plenty of transfer rumors out of England that end up being false, but this makes sense, or at least it’s in the right time frame. Donovan would be known to Portsmouth and other clubs from his USMNT success.
Other Americans had established themselves at other EPL Teams (Brad Friedel, Tim Howard, Brian McBride), so Pompey wouldn’t have been opposed to signing an American. Plus, he was on loan from Bayer 04 Leverkusen and his contract was almost up.
It also makes sense that this rumor never caught fire. This was probably around the time Donovan was thinging/realizing he wanted to stay in MLS and potentially return home to Southern California to be successful and happy.
Portsmouth expressed interest. Donovan contemplated giving Europe another serious try. Ultimately, he makes his way to LA Galaxy and the rest is history.
There’s no significant reports of the interest from Chievo. The Flying Donkeys (yes, that’s their nickname) were promoted for the first time to Series A in 2002. Eventually, the club built up to playing in Champions League qualifies in 2006. They were relegated in 2007 but won promotion immediately.
I doubt a team in Series B would make a serious run at the best American in MLS. Given Donovan’s poor track record in Europe by then (post-Bayer Leverkusen, pre-Everton), a team on the brink of the Champions League Group Stage would not see him as a star, maybe not even a guaranteed starter.
Chievo probably came calling around the same time Portsmouth did or after 2008 when they were looking to reestablish themselves in the Italian First Division. There’s no reports on this, so it probably never got close.
Chievo and LA Galaxy might not have gotten close to agreeing on a transfer fee. Or Donovan didn’t see a good enough situation at Chievo to entertain the possibility with the Galaxy about to enter their championship window.
This one’s a bit harder to pin down. Let’s take the 2003-2010-ish window we have for the other clubs. Club America never had a downturn in that period. They regularly competed in Copa Libertadores. They were contenders for at least one trophy in Mexico every year.
There’s no easy way to narrow down a timeframe because of this. That said, there’s no way the club that plays at Estadio Azteca is signing the face of the USMNT after that WCQ in 2009, you know, the game where the stadium staff locked the bathrooms so Donovan and company peed on the field, then El Tri fans threw cups of bodily fluid at Donovan during the game, a 2-1 Mexico win.
Neither party would have been interested in the other after that. My guess is this happened after 2006 but before 2009. Donovan was becoming persona non grata just after the 2002 World Cup with his goal against Mexico in the Round of 16.
America wins the 2005 Clausura and the 2006 Concacaf Champions League. By then, Donovan’s established himself as the best American in MLS and future face of the USMNT. Whatever Liga MX brass thought of MLS at that point, Donovan had proven himself at the international level. He was about to enter his prime years as a player and wouldn’t becoming a Designated Player for the Galaxy till 2010.
Club America certainly had the money to give him the payday he would have been looking for and a transfer fee that would get the Galaxy’s attention. They’d get a star they could market abroad and Donovan wouldn’t have to learn a new language as he’s fluent in Spanish. Maybe America came calling when Donovan was having a power struggle with David Beckham, and this would have been a more tenable situation.
It’s a move that makes a lot of sense, other than the whole future captain of the national team’s most bitter rival part. That’s probably why this move never happened. Landon Donovan proved later in his career that he was comfortable exploring Liga MX unlike Europe. So, I could have seen him giving more thought to this than the others.