End of An Era
No matter how much we want it to, nothing can last forever. Landon Donovan found that out today after being left off the USMNT’s World Cup soccer (or ‘football’ as it’s know internationally) squad. Manager Jürgen Klinsmann said that he decided to leave Donovan off of the squad because he was a few steps behind others who made the team. However, Donovan’s omission actually has a more obscure reason that most people don’t realize. It can be summed up in one question: Who’s the star of the team? The answer reaches far beyond the confines of football and instead lies in the fundamental sports cultures of the United States and Europe.
As the tired saying goes, there’s no “I” in team, but in some sense there actually is, at least in America. Here in the USA, our culture is centered on the individual. Americans spend a lot of time glamorizing certain people (eg; American paparazzi) and as a result, we end up having these prolific figures splashed all over the news to the point where they are almost mythological. European culture, however, is different. Essentially, there is a much bigger focus on “the people” instead of an individual player. This group mentality has been engrained in European culture for a long time, for reasons that I do not fully understand, but I’d like to take a shot at trying to figure it out. From my perspective, it seems that Europeans depend much more on one another than we do in the States..
The world of football mirrors this fundamental cultural difference. Let’s start with the obvious: football is the world’s sport. Well, everywhere except the U.S. For some strange reason, football has never gained a foothold here, though it’s started to gain popularity with the MLS. But Donovan’s omission brings to light this important cultural difference. Here in the U.S., football cannot be mentioned or even conceived of nowadays without bringing to mind Landon Donovan. He is the American icon of US football, and a lot of the reason why we understand anything about the game is because of him and his media exposure. So naturally, taking the man who personifies football in the U.S. and kicking him off of the World Cup squad is going to raise a few eyebrows, simply because many people think that he’s the best player we have. This is where Americans’ understanding of football fails. Many Americans don’t realize that football is a team sport. It takes all the players on the field working as a cohesive unit in order to consistently perform at a high level and score goals. It’s not the doing of only one or two individuals. In Europe, it’s actually the teams themselves that are the stars, not the players. This isn’t to say that there aren’t iconic figures in the football world, though. I’m only saying that the team carries more importance and prestige than just one player. For example, when a player becomes a free agent in the U.S., the rumor mill always talks about which team the player will choose, whereas in Europe, it’s much more about which player the team will choose. Simply put: in the US, the players choose, in Europe, the teams choose.
So, now that I’ve tried to explain this argument, all that’s left to be said is that Klinsmann, a European, used this mindset in putting together the USMNT World Cup squad. It was revealed that Donovan actually took a four-month sabbatical from the team earlier this year, something that understandably set him back and made Klinsmann doubt his commitment. Thus, Klinsmann left Donovan off, and the whole country is now up in arms because one of the “best American-born soccer players ever” won’t be representing his country. Even though it shocked me at first, I’ve come to realize that not including Donovan was a good decision and I side with Klinsmann on this one. After all, sacrificing the star for the good of the team might actually prove fruitful. In fact, it might even let the U.S. make a serious run at the World Cup. It might even make this year’s World Cup squad our newest hero.
Author’s Note: I just want to remind my readers that I’m from New York, so the opinions in this article are those of an American.