Posted by: stan chelney | February 13, 2010

Landon Donovan’s Contract Conundrum

Landon Donovan is the most accomplished US international in history.  He is the leader of the U.S. National Team and the single greatest factor behind American success or failure in South Africa 2010.  He is also the best player in Major League Soccer not named David Beckham (and maybe outright).

It should surprise no one, therefore, that Donovan’s loan to Everton is proving just how our of place Landon has been in MLS from a pure soccer talent standpoint.  In just six games for the Toffees, Donovan has established himself as an effective and dangerous Premier League midfielder.  It is no coincidence that Donovan’s insertion into the starting eleven at Everton has sparked a run of good form for the club which has included wins over Manchester City, Wigan Athletic, Sunderland, and most recently, league leaders Chelesea, whom Everton had not beaten in ten years.

From a pure soccer standpoint, there is no question that Donovan belongs in a top flight league such as the Premiership. At 27 years old, Donovan is in the prime of his career and he will continue to develop only when consistently competing against the best players in the world.  Staying at Everton beyond the term of his current loan makes sense for Donovan’s career (not to mention the US National Team’s prospects at the World Cup and beyond); returning to MLS’s L.A. Galaxy, in economics terms, would not optimize Donovan’s soccer utility.

The complication, of course, is that Donovan recently signed a contract with MLS to stay with the Galaxy for the next four years.  While the full terms of that agreement are not disclosed, it has been widely reported that Donovan’s representatives anticipated the possibility of a full-time transfer to Europe and negotiated a buy-out clause into the contract, meaning that Donovan would be free to sign with another club so long as a minimum transfer fee were paid.  Exactly how high is the transfer price in Donovan’s contract?  No one seems to know.

Everton coach David Moyes intimated after the Chelsea game that the answer is “too high.”  Asked about Everton’s plans to keep Donovan after his loan expires, Moyes acknowledged the player’s stellar play but responded, that “for the moment” the asking price was in excess of what Everton was prepared to pay.  MLS sold Clint Dempsey to Fulham in 2006 for $4 million and then Jozy Altidore to Villareal for a record $10 million in 2008.   It would be difficult to see MLS agreeing to move Donovan for under $10 million (GBP 6.3 million), though the asking price is likely considerably higher.

By contrast, Everton recently paid Lokomtiv Moscow GBP 9 million ($14.1 million) for midfielder Diniyar Bilyaletdinov.  In 2008, Everton bought Marouane Fellaini from Standard Liege for GBP 12.9 million ($20.2 million).  Donovan’s quality is at least as high as Bilyaletdinov’s though probably somewhere short of the electric Fellaini’s.  This suggests Everton should be willing to pay in the range of $15 to $20 million as a transfer fee for Landon Donovan.

The other option would be a sale to a club other than Everton, likely after the World Cup.  It is hard to say how much interest Donovan has in playing outside of England this time around — his struggles in the Bundesliga are well documented — and all accounts suggest Everton has been a great fit for the American.  If Everton passes, and Donovan excels in South Africa, it is safe to say another Premier League club would make a bid for the US captain.

All of this suggests that Donovan’s MLS days are likely behind him and a transfer to a European club is sensible, both from a soccer and an economic perspective.  Where in Europe Landon lands will depend on exactly how high his MLS buy-out amount is.  If that number is around $15 million, it seems likely that we will see Donovan torching opposing defenders in Everton blue for years to come.  If it is closer to $20 million, perhaps a bigger English club will retain Donovan’s services.  In either case, the move away from MLS benefits all parties.



  1. Nice post, I appreciate the details. Seems about right that Donovan would fit in somewhere between Bilyaletdinov and Fellaini. One can only hope that the Galaxy haven’t overplayed their hand and set his transfer requirement so high that no one will be willing to touch it.

    Also, isn’t Carlos Bocanegra the USA captain?

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