It’s not very often that you get the opportunity to sit down with a genuine legend of the game. With six MLS Cups, four Gold Cups, four U.S. Soccer Athlete of the Year titles, and a World Cup Best Young Player Award to his name (just to name a few), Landon Donovan isn’t short of accolades to support that legend status. His career over the last twenty years has taken him from his native US to Germany and England, and now to Mexico, where he is playing for Club Leon in the Liga MX. His illustrious international career has seen him represent his country at three World Cups and score numerous important goals along the way. Through his achievements in the game, Landon has played a pinnacle role in the growth of soccer in the US over the past two decades.
BackoftheNet: Landon, thank you for taking the time to sit down with us.
Landon Donovan: It’s my pleasure.
BOTN: Let’s start off by talking about your experiences in Germany in the Bundesliga where you had spells at Bayer Leverkusen and later at Bayern Munich under Jürgen Klinsmann. How important were those moves for you in terms of your development as a player? And what lessons did you take away from that time in Germany?
LD: My time in Germany was extremely valuable to me in many different ways. On the field, I became a much better player because of the training and playing environment I encountered in Germany. Off the field, having the ability to travel and experience a different culture is something that will help me the rest of my life.
BOTN: The majority of your career was spent in the MLS and as a pivotal player in the league you have been part of its rapid evolution. How far do you think the league has come over the past twenty years, and do you think there will ever be a time when soccer becomes the No.1 sport in America, ahead of the NFL, NBA and MLB?
LD: It’s only a matter of time until soccer becomes equal with all of the other major sports in America. You have to remember that MLS has only been around for 20+ years while the other major leagues have been around for significantly longer. I’m extremely proud of the progress we’ve made and I look forward to seeing it continue to grow.
BOTN: Let’s move on to the Men’s National team. You are widely considered to be the greatest American men’s soccer player of all time. Having been capped over 215 times for your country at various levels, including playing in three World Cups, you must have some special memories in that shirt. What were your defining games and goals for your country?
LD: My defining games were the games that I played in World Cups and the games where I won championships. As a soccer player, the ultimate goals are to play in a World Cup and win trophies at every level. I was fortunate to be a part of many teams that were successful and those were the most meaning accomplishments for me.
BOTN: How far do you think the US is away from winning the World Cup?
LD: The US still has a way to go to win a World Cup but I believe we can absolutely achieve it if we focus our energies in the right way.
BOTN: You had two short spells on loan in England with Everton in 2010 and then again in 2012. It’s fair to say that despite your limited time there, you became somewhat of a cult figure. Did you ever have the opportunity to make that loan deal permanent? Where there other clubs who were interested? We hear that Fulham and Manchester United made enquiries at one stage.
LD: I absolutely loved my time at Everton and fell in love with the club. Although I did have the opportunity to make the loan deal permanent, I wanted to keep my word to the Galaxy that I would return to the club after my time in England.
BOTN: Recently you came out of retirement again for the second time to sign for Liga MX side Club Leon. What was the motivation behind that decision – was it simply a burning desire to get back onto the pitch or was the opportunity too good to refuse?
LD: There were a few reasons I wanted to return: Leon made a great pitch to me and my family and really made me feel wanted, I’ve always wanted to play in Liga MX, and this was a life experience for my family that I simply couldn’t pass up.
BOTN: In the past you have talked openly about how you suffered from depression throughout your life and career. Do you think enough is being done to help players who suffer from mental health issues, including depression, both at the club level and by the governing bodies? In your opinion, do you think players feel like they can talk about it openly to their colleagues?
LD: I don’t feel there is enough being done for the population in general about mental health, not just within sports. Society as a whole suffers greatly from mental health issues and I think our world would become a much happier and safer place if we put more emphasis on helping those in need. My hope is that the stigma is slowly waning and people will feel comfortable and safe to speak up about their feelings. Additionally, on a sporting level, I do believe clubs and organizations can do much more to help athletes speak openly about their emotional/mental issues just like they do with physical issues.
BOTN: When you eventually do hang up your boots, will we see the evolution of Landon Donovan the player to Landon Donovan the manager? Do you see yourself as US men’s national manager one day?
LD: I do have some desire to become a manager one day but I have a lot of learning to do before that may become a reality one day.
BOTN: Recently you became a dad for the second time – congratulations on that! How has fatherhood changed your perspective on life and your plans for the future?
LD: The main way fatherhood has changed my life is that I have become ultimately selfless. Life is now about my children and trying to give them the tools to become healthy and happy human beings.
BOTN: Finally, your former teammate David Beckham revealed that one of his sons did not want to become a professional footballer because the pressure of following David and the legacy he left in the game would be too much to cope with. Will you be encouraging your sons to follow in your footsteps or do you believe that the expectations may be too much as well, given all that you have achieved in the game?
LD: My sons can do whatever they want in life, whether that includes soccer or not. Most of all, I just want them to be happy and have meaning in life.
BOTN: Landon, thank you again for talking with us, and good luck for the rest of the season!
Landon supports the work of a local San Diego Charity called TravelingStories which empowers kids to outsmart poverty by providing the literacy and money management skills they need to become productive members of society.