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Donovan ponders his future with Leverkusen, U.S. training invitation.


By Christopher Courtney
Special to SoccerTimes

LEVERKUSEN, Germany (Wednesday, December 13, 2000) -- Following a promising performance in earning his first full international cap recently for the United States against Mexico, a game in which he also scored his first American goal, the question on everyoneís mind seems to be what is next for Landon Donovan?

Fans question his future on a team that is undergoing several changes in the coming year. Currently hovering in and out of first place in the German Bundesliga, Bayer Leverkusen is in its second month under former German national team coach Berti Vogts. The team just signed two international defenders, 22-year-old Brazilian Lucio and 23-year-old Argentine, Diego Placente. Both signed multi-million dollar deals which start in January.

Placente carries an Italian passport so he will not count against the game limit of three non-European Union players on the field, a restriction which often affects U.S. players. German midfielder Michael Ballack is the transfer target of Real Madrid and star defender Jens Novotny has drawn strong interest from numerous European clubs. This week the team also signed American Frankie Hejduk and German Bernd Schneider to two-year contract extensions.

In his second year at Bayer Leverkusen, Donovan, 18, continues to play regularly with the reserve side, but has yet to dress or play with the first team in league play. An earlier attempt to arrange a loan of Donovan to Major League Soccer failed due to the American leagueís unwillingness to bring in players not owned by the league. Rumors of MLS attempts to buy Donovanís contract for the coming season have been whispered in soccer circles, but no definitive word is out yet. Other rumors tell of a possible loan to an unidentified Second Bundesliga side. SoccerTimes caught up with Donovan this week to find out the answers to some of these and other questions.

SoccerTimes: U.S. coach Bruce Arena has sent the message that to be considered for the national team, a player must be playing well and regularly for his club team. Since you have not had a chance yet to do that at Leverkusen, what are you going to do about it?

Donovan: Hopefully be playing because I need to. My agent and I are talking with my club in January to see what will happen next. My contract has a buyout clause where another team can buy my contract at a price set in the contract and the club must release me. Iíd rather not say what that amount is. The club now wants to renegotiate and remove that clause from the contract. I need to know how I fit into their plans and whether Iíll have a chance to play with the first team before I can make a decision. In January weíll know a lot more about what comes next.

SoccerTimes: Tell us about your recent six-game suspension.

Donovan: "In a reserve match, I protested what I thought was a bad call and said something to the ref. He thought I said something different and took it to a board of officials who decided to suspend me for six games which is until the 17th of December. That is until the end of the first half of the season."

SoccerTimes: Have your chances for first team play changed under new Coach Berti Vogts?

Donovan: "Yes, Iím optimistic. Berti is a great coach and he has been giving a chance to some of the younger players. Weíve had three reserve players including two 19-year-olds dress with the first team in the past few weeks. If I did not get that red-card suspension I think I might have played or at least been a sub."

SoccerTimes: What advice do you have for your Olympic teammate Conor Casey who just signed with Borussia Dortmund?

Donovan: "I have not talked with him yet, but Iíd say its important to get the off-field stuff taken care of early. You have to learn to live a different lifestyle over here and do it while making new friends. Itís a pretty big adjustment to be away from your friends and family and living in another country."

SoccerTimes: Are you still glad you came to Germany? What have you learned?

Donovan: "Yes, Iím glad I came here. Its been a humbling experience to come from high school and the (United States under-17 national team) to working with so many great players. Iíve learned a lot, especially about how to deal with tough situations. Iíve also learned to value my family and friends more since Iíve been over here. Iím heading home this Friday after training so it will be good to see them. All of these experiences have been good for me."

SoccerTimes: Has Bruce Arena called you for the national team training camp in January?

Donovan: "He has told me he wants me there, but Berti Vogts wants me in training camp with the club. If Berti wants me to stay, I need to play. If not, I want to go to the U.S. camp. I just want to play."

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