Landon Donovan has been the face of US Soccer for more than a decade, but that didn’t stop coach Jurgen Klinsmann from saying adios to America’s most famous footballer before the US travels to Brazil for the World Cup. Sure, Donovan is the most accomplished player in US history–Klinsmann doesn’t dispute it. But the key word there is history, as in the past. The Donovan cut–a decidedly future-focused decision–came as a shock to fans, to Donovan himself, and no doubt to big money sponsors like Gatorade, which features Donovan prominently in its World Cup advertising. But it won’t have surprised those who know the German Klinsmann for his confidence and efficiency.
Klinsmann is a pragmatist who doesn’t go in for sentimentality. He wants to win–and he recognizes that youth, strength and speed are paramount in today’s game. Talking to the New York Times, Klinsmann said of Donovan’s recent performances: “I watched the games. What was I supposed to say? That he was good? He was not good.” You know who he compared him to? That’s right, Kobe Bryant–the Lakers star who hasn’t been to the NBA finals since 2010. Klinsmann said the Lakers signed Bryant to a big two-year extension because of what he’s done in the past, not because his future is bright. (“…why does he get a two-year contract extension for $50 million? Because of what he is going to do in the next two years for the Lakers? Of course not.”) True or not about Bryant’s potential, the US soccer chief refused to extend the same courtesy to Donovan, whose name will surface often if the US team has trouble scoring in Brazil. It won’t bother Klinsmann, though. He’ll be looking exclusively at the future.