Landon’s League: Poor Move Garber

Wasn’t this supposed to be Thierry Henry Day.

Oops! Think before you speak.

Upon little prompting, Don Garber today issued a proclamation that Landon Donovan would be enjoying sunsets right where he is now, in California for the foreseeable future…..with an MLS paycheck.

His precise wording:

“He’s become a real soccer hero,” Garber said. “MLS needs soccer heroes, and we have a great American soccer hero playing for us in LA, holding the torch for the sport in our country, and that’s very important. I don’t believe that it’s something we can do without.”

Garber’s words are completely rooted in fact. I asked the question on Twitter last week if a .3 rating (it was actually .39) was low for the Donovan MLS return match on the evening of July 4th.

Turns out the Galaxy-Sounders match was actually the highest rated MLS match on the season. Tells you all you need to know right there.

The Shin Guardian is, per usual, less interested in the emotional side of this. The question of whether Donovan should be “allowed” to go and “pursue his dreams” is not our focus.

The main question here for Don Garber and friends is “Can MLS achieve a transfer fee that takes into account Donovan’s present and future value if Landon were to head to England or elsewhere?”

That financial number is hard to quantify; but it’s easy to see the league cannot afford to see Donovan leave right now and, worse, is not ready for it.

The first addendum is–who picks up the slack for Donovan and bears the torch of the league? Frankly you’re looking for a someone with an appetite for scoring or attacking, with some brand currency, and who is likely American.


If you’re thinking Stu Holden as the next in line, you’re probably correct, alas Holden is looking to test the goalkeepers in the EPL.

After that? Not Sacha Kljestan–who is now gone and closer to playboy than icon.

If you’re looking beyond American offenders, you’ve got names like David Beckham (injured and forever identified with England), Kyle Beckerman (not skilled, sexy or dynamic enough) , Thierry Henry (who has yet to play a match in MLS), Robbie Findley (the World Cup attendee hardly scores and doesn’t start.) or Edson Buddle (inconsistent and recently retired from personal issues).

In short, who has MLS groomed? Anyone? Anyone? That’s your fault MLS.

So with no heir apparent, MLS has to fetch a decent pound for Donovan as Donovan is the torchbearer.

Thus, there is really no reason for Don Garber–on a day when MLS is adding a celebrated player–to make his Donovan statement.

In short, if Garber wanted to send a message to EPL teams chasing Donovan, here’s what you say: “No.”


By Garber issuing the Donovan statement today, it only has a negative effect.

Donovan: "Someone owes me some equity...."

First, it offers Donovan an even stronger negotiating position. Yes, I know Donovan just signed an extension, but with these statements, Donovan–though he likely won’t–could make some demands to MLS and the Galaxy.(“Hey, I need some time off.”)

If Donovan is carrying the league, why not ask for a percentage of it. Seems fair with Don’s declaration today.

Next, it disrespects all the other stars in the league that have helped to grow it. Players like a Brian Ching or a Brian McBride. Is it really just a one player league. What about the other ambassadors? Nice slap in the face there.

Finally, it sells what the league has become short. This is a league that just “acquired” Thierry Henry, built a magnificent new stadium and is expanding. Way to send the message that as Donovan goes, so goes MLS.

You think advertisers–Castrol–want to or should hear that?

Who knows if this was just a negotiating ploy by Garber or not. What I do know, is that the commissioner of the league–it’s spokesperson–made a statement today that only can cause a little bit of strife and sold the recent growth of MLS short.

Poor move, Don Garber.


P.S. If you are a fan of business strategy–specifically competitive business strategy–and want to understand the relationship between public relations (and statements like today’s by Don Garber) and business competition, I highly, highly recommend Michael Porter’s Competitive Strategy. Best business book, I’ve ever read.

21 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by K1p on 2010/07/15 at 7:19 PM

    You said it. I wish he would not have signed an extension, but he did. As far as Stu goes, if his star keeps rising, I wouldn’t expect him to be back in the MLS anytime soon.

    The league is getting better each year, but can it gain audience fast enough to allow for the type of growth we all would like to see?


  2. Posted by matthewsf on 2010/07/15 at 8:58 PM

    …and one more thing. How are you going to backtrack from that statement if you in fact do sell Donovan?


  3. Posted by dude on 2010/07/15 at 9:29 PM

    More reasons to think Garber isn’t handling Donovan the right way? I’ll take it!


  4. Posted by dikranovich on 2010/07/15 at 9:41 PM

    i dont know what the rest of the people think, but to me this report reads like a pretty emotional appeal. whats really the point, MLS is not going to give away there top player, is that what MLS is saying? maybe some euro side like everton would be happy to pay five or six million, but MLS would be happy to hold out for at least two times that, or maybe three times that. donovan is worth between ten to fifteen million.

    whats the point of donovan going to europe anyway, its not like he is stuart holden and needs seasoning in a top league, donovan needs to be in MLS and when galaxy go to these towns people will want to go out and see the team and as an extra bonus, people will be treated to good display from donovan nd the rest of the good galxy team, with many potential us mens team players.

    what made lippi so great in 06, but so poor in 2010? it is an interesting question, because it is probably the same thing that has made donovan a hot property today, when he was not so much just couple of years ago. and its the same thing that might just make maradona look like a genius in four years, if argentina win the world cup, like another article that was not emotional, per usual.


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2010/07/15 at 9:49 PM

      I think you missed the point here.

      There is what is going to happen with Donovan and then there is the commentary around it.

      It serves no value to make the commentary today–whether you retain Donovan in MLS or he transfers to Europe.

      A league isn’t–or should strive to be–a good league indepedent of stars. That stars are needed is a given. That’s why David Stern is so revered–for his the development of the NBA beyond Bird, Magic, Jordan.


  5. i couldnt agree more…there are plenty of young American risers in MLS to pass the torch too…Robbie Rogers, Dax McCarty, Geoff Cameron, Luis Gil, Danny Cruz, Justin Braun, Tristan Bowen, etc

    MLS/ Don Garber is in no position of power in the soccer/football world to say what the greatest American player of all time can or can not do. What’s wrong with selling him, making some $12 million, thanking him for his wonderful service, and then bragging about how well MLS developed him while he dominates the EPL (or wherever)? That seems a lot more logical to me than keeping him and wasting his talent in a domestic league that basically isnt seen outside of the USA, Canada, and maybe somewhat in England.

    The MLS is not the EPL and they quickly need to realize that. They let guys like Cooper, Kljestan, Holden, Clark, Beasley, Dempsey, Bocanegra, McBride, etc…go overseas. But not Donovan. What’s wrong with this picture. Are you telling me that if Barcalona called Donovan up, promised him a starting job in their midfield, and offered MLS $20mil for him that they would turn it down?? I dont think so…


  6. Posted by dikranovich on 2010/07/15 at 10:45 PM

    come on fellas. i think the point is that donovan signed a contract with MLS. he did so knowing europe could be an option. dont you find it strange that he signed the contract just before going on loan to everton. so everton works out well and he has his MLS contract and he has european interest. if the interest meets the MLS demnds, donovan can be playing in europe in a couple of weeks. really donovan has been playing so much, with his loan move and world cup, that if donovan went off to europe this fall, it would probably be tough on him. sort of similar to what happened to feilhaber when he went to derby after playing in copa oro, copa america and bundas league.

    it really seems like the point of this post matthew is to affirm the view that many people would rather see donovan playing in the epl over MLS. thats what it sounds like to me. whats the point? read some book on business and that will explain why don garber is right or wrong to make his statement. rumminegga say schweinsteiger is not for sale, scweinsteiger says he would not mind testing his skills in other leagues. now those sound like conflicting statements.


  7. Posted by FulhamPete on 2010/07/16 at 12:11 AM

    I think Donovan knew EXACTLY what he was doing in signing the MLS contract right before loaning to Everton. He had his life figured out at that point, after seeing his therapist and having the remarkable support of Bianca (do not underestimate the importance of him getting his head right). He *knew* he was going to succeed in Merseyside before he signed that MLS contract. That only boosted his transfer value. THEN he’s one of the stars of the World Cup that stood a great chance of best XI if USA gets past Ghana. Cha-ching. NOW Garber says that he’s too valuable to the league? Cha-CHING. Someone’s gonna come up with the money, and Garber will lose, in his estimation, his only star, and Landoninho will be a VERY rich(er) man.

    Someday, we will look back at this summer, and realize just how short-sighted the labor structure is for MLS, and Landon will be the League’s version of Curt Flood.

    If you love something set it free. It’s time to let the Talisman spread the general American interest in soccer across the pond. It can only be good for the MLS in the future.


  8. Posted by kaya on 2010/07/16 at 2:42 AM

    Idk, I thought this kind of big talk was the rule more than the exception for transfer negotiations. The words coming out of his mouth may be “American soccer hero… bla bla bla”, but all I’m hearing is “I want *this* much money.” I don’t speak caveman testosterone sports negotiation-ese, so I didn’t make out the exact fee.
    Seriously, I don’t see how Donovan is going to make a huge difference to attendance or TV ratings. MLS is slowly becoming a viable option for a sports’ night out, but expecting one guy to make a difference for the league is like expecting Beckham to come over and turn the Galaxy into a Champion’s League-level team.
    Btw, I just saw on soccernet an article lending more credence to the Bradley to Fulham rumors. I still find that mystifying.


  9. Posted by Robrod07 on 2010/07/16 at 5:59 AM

    While I agree that the commentary by Garber was unnecessary and foolish, I think we should be talking about Thierry Henry and his impact (or lack thereof depending on which side of the fence you sit on) on the MLS. Personally, I think Henry is a great addition to the NY Red Bulls and could be the spark the team needs to put in a solid run at a title. I’ll have to try and make my way to Harrison to see Henry play sometime soon (I saw Becks at Giant Stadium).


  10. Posted by JG on 2010/07/16 at 6:14 AM

    I think this post is dead on but that the negative effects on the league from this poorly thought out public declaration go even further (although Matthew mentioned the main ones). The biggest one not discussed is that this also likely negates or at least dampens the rumors of big clubs attempting to buy Donovan. These kinds of rumors raise both Donovan’s personal profile and the leagues overall credibility by positioning Donovan, and by extension MLS itself, as a player and product to be desired.


  11. Posted by Robrod07 on 2010/07/16 at 6:47 AM

    There’s also a very interesting swirl with the transfer market right now with lots of moving pieces…. i.e. Donovan to the EPL = Ronaldinho to Galaxy = Dempsey to Milan = Bradley to Fulham… I mean it might not go down exactly like that, but the various prospects and speculation seem pretty interesting to me.


    • Posted by Aaron on 2010/07/16 at 2:07 PM

      I was thinking exactly the same thing. Ronaldinho could replace Donovan in the MLS and people will now turn to EPL games if they see Donovan on the screen, which then grows the sport. Why not wake up Saturday or Sunday morning to see Donovan on the TV screen in the EPL, some outsiders might then be curious and then be attracted. Maybe this is all just hopeful wishing.


  12. Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/07/16 at 7:48 AM

    Without knowing the specific financial details of Donovan’s lastest MLS contract, it is hard to speculate. His base is rumoured to be about $2M. However, at 28 years old, I would guess that he thought long and hard about this, as historically this is the age where players get that ‘final’ big contract. I am positive he could have made a lot more than than sum if he moved, even to a middle-tier EPL team like Everton. I don’t think Donovan honestly thought he would have such a good World Cup because he has lost a lot of bargain power by signing a new contract – so in my humble opinion, he did *not* know exactly what he was doing.

    The other issue is Landon Donovan’s *true* transfer value vs. Landon Donovan’s value to MLS. After a successful loan period at Everton, and a great World Cup performance, surely his value to MLS and US football in general, exceeds his true transfer value. So, here comes the next question: what would MLS sell him for, i.e., which value do you use?

    My point is that is makes sense for the MLS to use the latter number, but by definition, that would be overvaluing a player. In Donovan’s case, which clubs would pay this ‘premium’ for a 28 year old, knowing that they wouldn’t recoup this value if they sold his later on? Basically the clubs that aren’t that price sensitive, and perhaps title-chasing and CL-chasing clubs if they feel Donovan can help them land the silverware…


    • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/07/16 at 7:55 AM

      Oh and Matt, when it came to Corporate Strategy, I always preferred Kenichi Ohmae to Michael Porter!


      • Posted by matthewsf on 2010/07/16 at 8:03 AM

        (Quick non-soccer aside) Michael Porter’s the tops–Ohmae, frankly, values customers too highly.

        For example, Google just bought the backend engine that provides Farecast/Bing Travel with all it’s prediction data. Porter would have loved this–not Ohmae.

        Google…just evil. :>


  13. I’m a bit torn here. I can see what Garber is saying and why he wants him to stay, but at the same time the reason Donovan is respected as much as he is is because of what he proved in Everton last season.

    His statement, however, is terrible. It’s a lose-lose, he currently comes off as a controlling jerk and sounds a bit like a 5 year old (“he’s ours and you can’t have him”). If he does in fact get a massive offer for him from Man city or Chelsea that can’t be refused he’s going to say…what? “He’s not available for sale…unless you offer us THAT much.” And, as said, you get absolutely zero mileage out of it, it does nothing positive for you Garber or MLS at all.

    I wonder if a situation could be worked out that allowed Donovan a loan the other way? Maybe he’s signed by a Euro club that he plays for from January though May who then loans him back to MLS for June to September…or something like that.


  14. Posted by Nick T. on 2010/07/16 at 10:38 AM

    Where are you hearing that Edson Buddle is retired?


  15. […] team to benefit his league which of course ultimately benefits soccer is without question true. His identification of Donovan as the point man, as Matthew at the Shin Guardian wrote here, is also correct. It is the notion that we can’t do without him that is the terribly […]


  16. […] Here, our thougths on Don Garber’s commentary on Donovan from a week ago. […]


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