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Landon Donovan

Kickin Back With Soccer’s Young Gun
Summer/Fall 2002
Finish Line Magazine

Don’t be fooled by his playful attitude and laid-back personality

Landon Donovan’s boyish face is deceptive. Although he may attempt to look and act the part of the typical 20-year old male, the life he leads at such a young age is a little more complex than he lets on.

At the age of 16, Landon Donovan became one of the youngest American soccer players to sign a professional contract with a European team. While others his age were getting their driver’s license, Donovan packed up his things, said goodbye to his family and his twin sister Tristan, and hopped on a plane bound for Germany and his new team Bayer Leverkusen.

But Germany did not sit well with Donovan- perhaps that’s because of culture shock, or the fact that he spent all of his time on the bench. “It would be different if the people were nice, and welcoming and accepting of Americans,” Donovan says. “It sucked. I wanted to be accepted, and I just never felt that way.”

“To be honest, I wasn’t happy. After a lot of consulting and talking to people, they made me realize that I need to be happy to do anything. I wasn’t playing well because I wasn’t happy, and life was just miserable.”

So Donovan found his way home. Back to his family. And home to California where he’d spent most of his life.

Landon is the epitome of a California boy. Despite the fact that he doesn’t surf, his tanned face reveals countless hours spent outside year-round. “I like to golf,” he says. “And I love the beach- who doesn’t?”

Donovan has no problems revealing what he does on those rare occasions where he’s actually inside. “I sleep,” he says emphatically. “Unfortunately, off-days have been few and far between this year. So, sad to say, it’s pretty much just resting. I don’t really have the energy right now to get up and do much.”

Well, to be fair, he either sleeps or plays video games. He even admits to playing FIFA 2002 World Cup- as himself. “I was a big video game player growing up,” he says. “And everyone says once you’re in a game, you know you’ve made it. That’s kind of cool. It’s so weird. I don’t even know how to explain it.”

All soccer all of the time on the field and on video games can be a little much- so Donovan and his friends tend to play other games as well. “Right now, my favorite video game is this snowboarding game,” he says. “It’s called SSX Tricky, and there’s this really hot chick from Canada,” Donovan adds quite seriously.

Okay, so the jury is still out on whether Donovan plays because he enjoys the game, or if he only does it for the good-looking girls. Either way, the female population might be relieved to know that aside from being enamored with some video vixen, he isn’t tied down at the moment. “Am I dating anyone?” Donovan says, a bit caught off-guard. “No, I’m not- it’s hard to date.”

This is not to say that he isn’t out there trying to charm girls with his charisma and sense of humor. Rather than being a turnoff, Donovan’s extreme self-confidence is magnetic. The most likable aspect of his personality is his tell-it-like-it-is attitude, and honesty and candidness that includes the ability to laugh at himself.

Unable to come up with a song that describes him, Donovan shouts to his roommates, “Hey what’s a theme song that describes me- besides I’m the World’s Greatest? He says laughing.

With very little hesitation, they fire an answer back at him, “I Want It That Way,” – a playful jab at their roommate who might, because of the circumstances of his life, be a tad bit self-centered.

But look at where he is. He knows what he wants, and he goes and gets it. Everyone should treat themselves like that. If they did, then maybe more people would find themselves in a position to realize their lifelong dreams- just like Landon Donovan has with the U.S. National Soccer Team playing for the World Cup 2002 in Korea/Japan. “It actually just hit me,” he says. “I was sitting down and I realized that it’s truly what I wanted to do my whole life. So I want to make the most of it for sure.”

Certainly, being an extremely talented and gifted athlete has a lot to do with Donovan’s success and happiness in life. But in reality his success is more about this hidden edge that he possesses. Despite being playful, boyish, and teasing on the surface, Donovan clearly exhibits a steely determination, going about everything he does with intense passion. He would not be a good choice of someone to butt heads with- on or off the field.

It’s difficult to pinpoint where he gets this edge- it could be the result of the miserable experience he had in Germany. Maybe it’s the result of being ripped away from what most would consider a ‘normal’ young lifestyle. Or perhaps it’s the result of the tough shell Donovan uses to protect his more sensitive side from the tougher, physical worlds of soccer and manhood.

Whatever the reason, the exterior is still deceptive. Because Landon Donovan is wise beyond his years. He’s just trapped in the body of a 20-year old. It seems that the circumstances of a career in professional sports required him to grow up a little faster than he would have liked. “I know I’m missing out, and that sucks,” he says. “I try to do my best to stay young and do young things whenever possible- sometimes it’s hard.”

Landon Donovan is an open-book, despite efforts to conceal his desire to be a normal 20-year old. His life is completely different from everyone he grew up with- including his own sister. And it’s changed him “I think it’s natural to be changed somewhat, and in some way,” he says. “But I would hope not in any important way. Constantly being around people that are so much older and seeing what they go through on a day-to-day basis- I’ve grown up a lot.”

Donovan relies heavily on his family, especially his sister and his agent, to keep him grounded and on the right track. “If I say something or do something that they don’t like or that they realize I shouldn’t be doing, they let me know. And I respect them, so that’s how that works.”

It’s obvious that Donovan cares more about what his sister thinks than most. He can relate to his twin better than anyone else, and he completely admires her. “Tristan would do anything to make someone else’s life better- and she does constantly,” he says. “We just relate well. We don’t need to talk that much. We don’t have to communicate all of the time, but we always know what each other is going through. If there’s something we need, we know we can always go to each other.”

As he continues along this fantastic voyage that includes appearing in Nike commercials, having his own bobblehead doll, being in a video game, seeing kids wearing his jersey, signing autographs, and of course, starting and scoring in the World Cup, it’s a good thing he has someone like his sister to accompany him. Even if they don’t get to see each other that much, she has the ability to keep him focused on what’s really important.

“Long-term, whatever happens, I want to be happy,” he says. “I was fortunate enough to learn that at an early age. Whatever I’m doing, soccer or no soccer, I just want to be happy- plain and simple.”

Plain and simple, huh? For someone who appears, and is, so young, Landon Donovan sounds like a man of weathered experiences- someone, who despite all of the complexities of his own atypical life, has got it all figured out. Landon Donovan is anything but plain and simple.

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