Landon Donovan: I'm starting to get the itch to coach but playing days are over

The MLS legend spoke to Goal about the state of the U.S. national team, social media, his possible future in coaching and more in an exclusive interview.

GOALEXCLUSIVE

One year after retiring from soccer, Landon Donovan is in St. Louis, preparing to attend the USA's opening World Cup qualifier against St. Vincent and the Grenadines. One day before the game, Donovan spoke to Goal about a variety of subjects, including his newfound interest in becoming a coach. Donovan appeared courtesy of LIberty Mutual, a U.S. Soccer sponsor which supports the sport from youth through elite levels.

Goal: It’s always interesting to me when professional athletes retire because they’re usually at an age when most people are just getting going in their career. You’re 33 and retired, so what’s retirement like for you? What’s an average day like?

Donovan: [During my career] it used to be very regimented and I would know exactly where I was going, when I was going, what I was doing, what I was wearing and now it changes from day to day quite a bit. But most days I wake up early with my dogs and either play tennis or go workout and then do whatever I need to do for the rest of the day, whether it’s errands or some fun different things still connected to the soccer world. It’s been an interesting challenge because like I said, you’re so used to having your schedule sort of made for you and now all of a sudden you’ve got to figure out what you’re going to do with your life every day. At first it’s a little daunting but as time goes on you start to enjoy it more and more.

One thing you’ve been more involved with is Twitter. During your playing career your Twitter account was pretty slow, but now you’re interacting a lot more with fans and providing analysis.

When I was playing it was always tricky because you had to be really careful about what you were saying and doing, but now I have a little more freedom to actually show some of my personality and opinion – sometimes it’s appreciated and sometimes it probably isn’t. It’s enjoyable for me to interact with people and let people know what we see as players or former players. I do the same thing with other sports – I get this idea in my head that I know exactly what I’m watching when I’m watching a basketball game or a football game when the reality is that I really don’t know. When you’re not on the inside of it and really understand what’s going on you really don’t know. So it’s been fun for me to help try to provide some insight to people and I’m really enjoying that part.

It hasn’t gotten too negative for you? It can get a little rough out there sometimes.

It’s part of it and I think everyone understands that when people have this sort of mask of the internet that they can act however they want. It’s probably the same people that if you meet them in person, they’re really complimentary and nice to you and agree with everything you say. But it’s fine for people to have their opinions too. I think it’s good that soccer has reached a point now where people actually care enough to spend time on these things and talk about it.

It’s been a rough 2015 for the U.S. national team, especially these last few months. What has the U.S. been doing wrong and what do they need to do to get out of this rut?

It’s funny because you touched on the Twitter stuff and all these people’s opinions, and I keep reading these comments saying our players aren’t good enough and I think to myself ‘that’s ridiculous.’ They were good enough to get out of a really hard group in Brazil but now they’re not good enough to beat Jamaica in a Gold Cup?

It’s just my opinion again, not being on the inside of the team you don’t know exactly what’s going on. Obviously I talk to a lot of the players still but I think what’s probably happened is there’s a little too much inconsistency within the team and the players in terms of who’s playing. When you come from your club team you play one way and when you come to a national team, it’s inevitable that you’re going to play a different way based on what the coach thinks or based on other players you’re playing with, so you need some semblance of continuity and the ability to get to know the people around you. I think there’s just been a little too much mixing and matching of players and positions. Our players are definitely good enough and they know they’re good enough but I think they need to be put in positions to succeed and then have some time to jell together.

One player who is not there right now is Clint Dempsey. Jurgen Klinsmann said he spoke to him and it was fine. Do you think this is a situation where Jurgen just wants to really see some younger options at Clint’s position or do you think this is the beginning of Clint being fazed out of the national team?

Only Jurgen really knows that or maybe Clint but if I’m the manager, I want Clint to be part of what we’re doing – period, end of story. Maybe if it’s a friendly game that’s different and you can start to look at other players but in a World Cup qualifier, there’s no room for error. This round of qualifying on paper isn’t as difficult as the final round of qualifying but there are only six games. If you throw away a game or two games you might not even advance to the next round.

I didn’t agree with it. I think most of the U.S. soccer community didn’t agree with it. But it is what it is. Clint accepted it and did a good job at least publicly of dealing with it, but I would still want him on my team. If I’m a guy in that camp, I’m saying ‘I want Clint on this team.’

Your views on coaching seem to be evolving a bit. Right before you retired you said you didn’t have a lot of interest in coaching but then after you coached the Homegrown Game at the All-Star Game last year you appeared to be changing your mind on that subject. Where are you at with that right now? Do you have an interest in moving into coaching?

It’s funny you ask at this time. Just in the last month I’ve talked a lot to my agent and my wife about starting to get the itch to coach. I’m not sure what that means and at what level but I’ve started to get that itch. I think what it evolves from is being able to help and being able to improve the game in a way. What all of us want to do when we get out of the game is we want to have the ability to go back and make an impact and help others. I didn’t have anybody at 16, 17, 18, 19 that was telling me what to do or how to react or how to act in certain situations and I wish I would have had that. Having been through these experiences when you’re on the outside usually you can see it a lot more clearly than when you’re in it, and I want to have the ability to impact people in that way and to affect change in a positive way, and I think I have a lot to give in that way. So I’m going to start considering that path a lot more seriously and see where it ends up.

Have you pinpointed a specific age that you’d like to coach?

No I haven’t. Before I thought I wouldn’t want to be a coach of grown men but now that I’ve been out of it for a while, I see it differently. I think when you’re in it it’s easy to want to get out of it quickly and remove yourself because it was such a huge part of my life for so long that I needed time to step back and get away from it. But now I would consider it. It would obviously have to be the right scenario and there’s a lot of work that would need to be done before I would be ready for that, but I think my experiences have taught me a lot and I think I’d be able to surround myself with the right people to be successful, so we’ll see what happens.

Speaking of getting the itch, I have to ask. It’s only been a year since you won MLS Cup, you’re still only 33, and you said you’ve been working out. You posted a picture on Twitter working out with the Galaxy where you may or may not have nutmegged Gyasi Zardes three times. Are you getting any kind of an itch to return to the playing field at this point?

Not in a real way. When I watch games sometimes I think ‘gosh it would be fun to be out there.’ I’m in St. Louis right now and it’s enjoyable to be here at the match. It would be fun to go out on the field and play but I realize that those days are over now. I think I can be more impactful and helpful in other ways, but it doesn’t mean that when I watch the games I don’t get excited or I don’t wish that I was out there playing. It took a while to get to that place too – I didn’t touch a ball for probably eight months or so but now it’s been fun to have some pickup games, to train again and get back into the game.