[MLS] Note the wording in the press release announcing Landon Donovan's new MLS contract that states he's "free to pursue international opportunities." Translation: If a hefty offer comes in after the World Cup, or a year from now, or whenever, the league won't stand in his way, which it can do in many ways, most them involving the word "no" and numbers with lots of zeros skewing toward the right.
Even if there's no specified buyout clause, a pre-negotiated stipulation that contains a threshold price at which MLS is obligated to sell, getting a handshake agreement to that effect is good enough. MLS, sometimes prompted by its clubs, sometimes not, has declined dozens of substantial offers in its history, from the days of Marco Etcheverry to current employees Taylor Twellman, Shalrie Joseph and Sacha Kljestan.
However, when Glasgow Rangers offered $5 million for Maurice Edu, and Villarreal dangled $8 million for Jozy Altidore, bang, that was that. If Donovan truly wanted a move to Europe above all else, he wouldn't have signed a new deal; he could play out the option years and scrape by on a salary of less than $ 1 million per year until his contract expired, since no matter what the remaining portion of his contract, no way would MLS sell him for less than it did Altidore.
What Donovan wanted, and got, is a salary he deserves, given his value to his team and the league. He's certainly done more on the field than the highest-paid players in league history, David Beckham and Cuauhtemoc Blanco, and while he's still far short of Beckham on the earnings scale, he's in the Blanco ballpark at roughly $2 million per year, plus very achievable bonuses and other enhancements.
What he's also received is security, in case no move to Europe arises. And this is worrying, because as driven as he is, there's nothing like tougher competition and increased pressure and good old-fashioned desperation to force improvement.
In the past few weeks, DaMarcus Beasley has ridiculed the notion a player needs steady playing time to stay sharp; since asking for a transfer and being thrown onto the field, he's been incandescent for Rangers. There's no telling if he can maintain this form whether or not he moves in the January transfer window, and a few brilliant moments against Dundee does not a World Cup starter make, but his prospects have gone from negligible to minimal.
At the press conference announcing his new deal, one reason Donovan gave was a transformation of the Los Angeles Galaxy.
Last year, Donovan bitterly revealed how sick he was of losing. This year, the Galaxy won twice as many games as it lost (12-6-12), finished atop the Western Conference, and lost the title game on penalty kicks, one of which Donovan - regular season MVP for the first time in his career -- skied over the crossbar.
He's happy where he is yet wouldn't mind moving at some point.
All well and good, so why go to Everton on loan, when a tasty World Cup would entice far more offers than waltzing past the static Wolverhampton backline?
Will 10 weeks in the rain and slush and sleet for a team decimated by injuries and sagging toward the relegation zone significantly improve his condition and form and toughness? Maybe.
Or will he be risking what he's escaped for his entire career, the long-term injury induced by a kamikaze tackle with his foot trapped in the slop, as a marked man already hounded out a top European league several times, not to mention the key foe England must stop June 12?
Since last week, when word first surfaced in England that Everton and MLS were discussing a loan, strident disbelief has spewed from English media outlets. Here's just one example, from the Guardian, which is nothing close to the Rottweiler horde:
"The seasonal spirit isn't always a force for good, however. It can make managers do strange things or offer charity where none is required. David Moyes, for example, seems to have mistaken Landon Donovan for someone who can hack it in European football. " Other reports dismissed him as too soft, too coddled, too weak, too Southern California.
Is he doing this to prove a point, as he did last year by wrangling a highly publicized but ultimately benign loan move to Bayern Munich?
It's true he responded with the most consistent season of his career, and it seems logical for him to try a harsher environment with a World Cup on the horizon. It's also logical for him to rest up in December, put in his usual superhuman effort during the January national-team camp, buzz through Honduras, and head into Galaxy preseason camp fresh and sharp with an eye on proving his point in South Africa, not South London or Sunderland or Stoke.
Yet by gutting it out for 10 weeks, either dazzlingly or dourly, he'll show a lunch bucket, I-punch-the-clock-every-day reslience the foreign contingent, and much of the American segment, says he lacks. In several ways, there's a lot at stake.
Both with his contract and loan, he's getting what he wants. He must also believe they are what he needs.