There were a few smirks and sarcastic nudges among the Spanish press corps on Tuesday when Landon Donovan admitted his desire to play in La Liga.
No one is laughing anymore.
The USA playmaker has heard all the doubting and sniping for years and is well accustomed to others not sharing his own confident view of his ability. Yet with his performance in the Americans' 2-0 Confederations Cup semifinal triumph over Spain, the best team in the world, Donovan greatly increased the chance that he will get to prove himself on one of the greatest stages in club soccer.
With respect to the Los Angeles Galaxy and Major League Soccer, the U.S. domestic league is not a suitable platform for Donovan to fulfill his potential. At 27 and at the peak of his powers, he must stretch his boundaries now because there may not be many more opportunities. Three separate stints in Germany, the most recent with Bayern Munich, did not work out, and occasional linked reports with English Premier League teams never came to fruition.
His latest excursion to Germany proved once and for all that that country is not the answer. The loan deal with Bayern at the end of the last MLS season ended on a sour note, as his chances for a permanent transfer decreased along with the declining stock of head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who was ultimately fired.
Bayern general manager Uli Hoeness even used Donovan's failed stint as ammunition with which to take a final parting shot at Klinsmann.
"Klinsmann's only idea for strengthening the squad in January was Landon Donovan," Hoeness said. "Hermann Gerland (Bayern's reserve team coach) told me the guy wasn't fit to play for his reserves."
That Donovan and Spain should be an ideal match makes so much sense. Not only is he a Spanish speaker, but his game should fit nicely with the skillful and cultured rhythms of La Liga. A transfer fee of around $10 million, seven million Euros at current rates, may not seem too exorbitant for a Spanish club with lofty ambitions.
Donovan is still an unknown quantity in Europe, but he comes with a big upside, as the Confederations Cup semifinal showed. And with three of the richest clubs in the world – Manchester City, Real Madrid and Chelsea – all looking to spend heavily, the English Premier League and Spain's La Liga are not suffering too badly from the credit crunch. Plenty of that cash will filter down and the timing of Donovan's big effort against Spain could not have been better.
Donovan was inspired and aggressive against the top-ranked Spanish, and more than anything he served as a leader despite not wearing the captain's armband. He cajoled better performances from those around him and led by example.
"Donovan was excellent," Spain's midfield superstar Xavi said. "We knew he was a good player, but he really didn't do anything wrong in the whole game and made it difficult for us."
"Most teams respect Spain a little too much and back off them," Donovan said. "We did a good job of being harder and more aggressive."
That mentality gave the Americans another crack at Brazil, which beat them 3-0 in the group stage. The next two months of the European transfer window will show if that landmark win over Spain has given Donovan another shot at elevating his career to a new level.