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Tuesday, June 29, 2010
Donovan should just say no

By Jeff Carlisle
ESPN.com

JOHANNESBURG -- Just because Landon Donovan could join Manchester City doesn't mean he should.

Yahoo! Sports is reporting that the English Premier League side is ready to table a bid in the neighborhood of $12 million for the U.S. international as it looks to launch a full-scale assault on qualifying for the lucrative UEFA Champions League.

But if Donovan's prior forays into European soccer have taught us anything, it's that his choice of club, and the country wherein he resides, play a huge role in his subsequent successes or failures.

Donovan never really warmed to life in Germany during his two stints with Bayer Leverkusen, as well as a loan spell with Bayern Munich. His stretch with the Bavarians ended on particularly poor terms as he found himself caught in the crossfire between Bayern executives Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Uli Hoeness and then-manager Jurgen Klinsmann. Hoeness, in a bid to justify Klinsmann's eventual firing, said in 2009, "Klinsmann's only idea for strengthening the squad in January was Landon Donovan. [Bayern reserve team coach] Hermann Gerland told me the guy wasn't fit to play for his reserves."

This only reinforced the fact that, for Donovan to thrive, he needs to feel the support of club management, his coach, his teammates and fans.

Donovan found all of these things during his loan stint last winter with Everton. Toffees manager David Moyes showed confidence in Donovan by starting him against Arsenal shortly after he arrived, and deployed him in a supporting role that was well within the U.S. international's abilities. Donovan repaid that faith with interest. While he endured the occasional quiet game, he delivered a string of mostly solid performances, and Everton fans warmed to Donovan's work rate and ability.

Combined with his clutch performances for the U.S. at the World Cup, Donovan is now in demand. The fact that published reports have claimed that a British woman is carrying his child means he'll have to exercise even more caution in choosing his next club, despite whatever millions of dollars Manchester City might throw his way.

And boy does the club have millions to spend. Ever since Manchester City was purchased by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, a member of the ruling family of Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, the club has embarked on a massive spending spree. Oftentimes it has looked as if the Blues were more interested in preventing other teams from acquiring players rather than actually having a plan to build the squad. In the last year, the club has spent nearly 110 million pounds in transfer fees.

Having such a war chest points to an atmosphere in which the club tries to spend its way out of trouble if things go poorly. Manager Roberto Mancini also has the reputation as being standoffish in his dealings with players. That's not the kind of environment in which Donovan has historically thrived.

Donovan can also expect to encounter some stiff competition for playing time if he were to join the Blues. English international Shaun Wright-Phillips and rising star Adam Johnson are already on the books, as is Craig Bellamy, who, despite rumors that he would leave the club, now looks to be back in Mancini's plans.

If Donovan were to leave MLS, he might be better served returning to Everton, where he is clearly valued by Moyes and his path to playing time is free of obstacles. For that reason, the choice would appear to be easy, but money has a way of clouding the decision-making process. MLS, which holds Donovan's contract, is obligated to get the best deal it can for him. The chance for him to land a fat contract may be too good to pass up.

But if Donovan knows what's best for him -- and at this stage of his career it's likely that he does -- he'll take his considerable skills to Everton, or to a club similar to it. And he'll just say, "No" to City.

Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPNsoccernet. He is also the author of "Soccer's Most Wanted II: The Top 10 Book of More Glorious Goals, Superb Saves and Fantastic Free-Kicks." He can be reached at eljefe1@yahoo.com.