Bill Shankly, the legendary Liverpool manager, said: " If you are first, you are first, if you are second, then you are nothing. "Maybe a little extreme, but that was Shanks.
At 5' 8" and 145lbs, Landon Donovan would be in boxing circles, a Featherweight. Yet, through his class and actions over two weeks in October, he demonstrated the punch and gravitas of a Heavyweight. As a player, he has nothing to prove, but as a coach or, Brits say, 'gaffer,' he has everything. He's a new generation of leaders, ultra-competitive on the field, but someone who will embrace their social responsibility and use the pulpit that their professional standing affords for positive change.
Racism has been allowed to percolate in the global game for decades. With the advent of big money television contracts and sponsorships, FIFA has had to show genuine, overt concern and be seen as proactive. The coverage of games with advances in camera and microphone technology has meant that players and coaches have nowhere to hide for ninety-plus minutes once the whistle blows. Ask Rick Schantz, the Phoenix Rising coach. The tape captures everything and doesn't lie. Homophobic slurs are more recent in the game, and it's imperative that they, too, not be allowed the runway that racism was allowed. Respect is not just a verb for a badge to be sewn on a jersey.
Donovan, by his actions, eliminated San Diego Loyal from the USL Championship playoffs. In the great scheme, that's minor. There will be plenty of wins and silverware in San Diego's future. In gratitude and recognition, the USL should have credited San Diego six points for those two games. Donovan did service to a bigger cause, focussed worldwide attention, and percolated a much-needed dialogue. A benchmark was set. I'm under no illusion that the pressure of winning and making the leap to the next level for both USL players and coaches will see some revert to embracing old ways once this most recent storm passes. Let them remember a person's character counts for a lot in recruitment when handing out contracts. Hopefully, this resonates, and they mature, or should that be; evolve, adapt, grow up?
But, let's get back to Donovan. He clearly knows the game, and his Rolodex must be second to none. You get a call from this guy, and you're going to take the call or return the call pretty darn quick. That's going to serve San Diego well, putting together rosters, especially having access to loan players, which was certainly evident this past season's home stretch. The best coaches in the world aren't necessarily the best tacticians. The Jury is still out on him in this regard. They build a staff of assistants to compliment themselves. Most coaches don't have a significant part in preparing training sessions. Their role is more of a facilitator. Looking at chemistry, bringing order to chaos, having individual conversations, and inspiring talks with players. Managing the bigger picture, the conduit between ownership, front office, playing staff, fans, and media. Perhaps, that's where we got the term 'man management' from?
Donovan's certainly passed the test in this inaugural season. I'm certain when young talent looking to make the MLS grade want to learn their craft and understand what it takes to play at the highest level, this will be the guy and club that they turn to their agent and say; 'San Diego's my first choice, make it happen.' Donovan's calm demeanor served everyone well. We saw that as he worked through a string of mediocre results and found a way to win again.
John Donne, the English poet, wrote: " No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee ."
You lead by example. Solution driven, optimistic, and proactive. Donovan has been a refreshing voice of reason in a season and situation that did derail many of his peers. Time and actions will tell about his resolve and stamina, and I have a good feeling that whoever the visionary was that came up with the club name, 'Loyal' must have had an image of and spent time with Donovan.
A man for today, with a vision for a better tomorrow, while leading from the front.