As much as Landon Donovan wants to catch on with Bayern Munich abroad, it won't be easy for the Los Angeles Galaxy to replace him, and they may not want to try.By Andrea Canales
It's now or never for American striker Landon Donovan to make such an impression at Bayern Munich that the club will consider making a serious offer for his services on a permanent basis.
His league debut for the German club is likely to come this Friday.
Donovan's statements not only to the German media, but to American outlets before he left, have made clear his desire to continue his career at a notable club in Europe, which Bayern certainly qualifies as.
His friends had no doubts as to Donovan's intentions.
"He's desperate to prove it, I think not only to himself, but perhaps some of his critics as well, that he can make it in Europe," said Galaxy teammate Eddie Lewis to Goal.com exclusively. "If it works out for him, I'd be pleased for him personally, and obviously disappointed to lose a great player. But I know those are his ambitions."
It was Lewis who provided the opportunity for Donovan's early shining moment on the world stage, when he struck a perfect cross in a 2002 World Cup game that a young Donovan headed powerfully into the goal. Lewis had a reasonably successful career in England for many years before returning last year to Major League Soccer, where he first began to play professionally.
The Galaxy are in the midst of preseason training without their two top players, Landon Donovan and David Beckham.
"It's a little awkward, knowing that David and Landon are both away at the moment and could possibly not return," acknowledged Lewis. "Certainly that's an issue with the team."
Galaxy coach Bruce Arena agreed that ideally, the entire team would be training together.
"In a perfect world, it would suit our best interests that those players were here," said Arena. "This is some of the baggage that goes on with those agreements. However, it is a long season and we have plenty of time to get those players in and adjusted to the team."
Arena refused to speculate on the possibility of Beckham and Donovan not returning.
"Never say never, but as I've stated before, we've entered into loan agreements in a professional way and we're going to continue that," said Arena. "If either club has an interest in anything else with the player, they should go through formal channels and do that properly."
At one point, back when he coached the U.S. national team, Arena seemed more disposed to Donovan playing for a club in Europe, saying "he should consider" the move.
"We need to get more of our younger, talented players in Europe," Arena said in 2006. "We need them in a year-round soccer environment. We need them playing in more intense games to help develop them mentally as well as soccer-wise."
Now, of course, Arena has a different set of priorities as Galaxy coach.
"We're going to live up to our end of the loan agreement with Bayern Munich," said Arena. "We've been very generous in support of Landon. We allowed him to go out on a loan for free. We're going to hold ourselves to that loan agreement."
Some Galaxy teammates were supportive of Donovan's pursuit of a place with Bayern Munich.
"I hope that he goes," said midfielder Chris Klein. "I think MLS owes him the opportunity to look at a deal that would be fair for both sides. They owe him that like they owe everyone else that."
Arena, however, gave no indication that any negotiations were taking place with Bayern.
"We have a loan agreement that ends March 8," Arena stated. "There's no agreement between ourselves, the player and MLS that we're going to entertain a transfer."
One obvious problem that could arise is if MLS and the Galaxy price Donovan out of Bayern's reach, forcing the midfielder's return even if the German club is interested in keeping him. Would a disappointed Donovan be able to focus completely on turning the Galaxy's recent poor results around? Or would he, as some have accused David Beckham of doing, merely conserve his efforts for national team performances in 2009? Would it be possible for Donovan not to begrudge whatever held him back from a European opportunity?
"There certainly would be an issue, if he's desperate to stay and it doesn't work out or it falls through," Lewis observed. "If his heart is still abroad there might be that hangover. It would be something to keep an eye on. It would be silly to think that couldn't possibly exist."
To a certain extent, then, Donovan's teammates might be rooting for the move.
"It would be great for Landon," said Klein. "I think he would do very, very well there."
Andrea Canales is Chief Editor of Goal.com USA.