LANDON DONOVAN believes US football should use the EFL as a yardstick to grow its game across the pond.
Donovan, 39, is rightly regarded the greatest footballer to herald from the States His record of 157 international caps and 57 goals in a remarkable career that spanned 20 years will take some beating.
But the former striker – who played for LA Galaxy, Bayern Munich and Bayer Leverkusen – fell in love with English football during his two loan spells with Everton.
And he is now working for League One club Lincoln as their strategic advisor while doubling up as head coach of American second tier club San Diego Loyal, which he co-founded.
Donovan’s brief is to help the Imps build networks and relationships across North America.
It is part of a “meeting of minds” project, which helps Lincoln tap into the ex-USA star’s vast knowledge while he can also learn from chairman Clive Nates, chief executive Liam Scully and director of football Jez George’s experience operating in the professional English game.
Donovan – speaking to me from his home in San Diego – said: “Sometimes I’m learning about what they’re doing and there are other times when they’re learning from me about America and the market here.
“I also know enough about English football to be dangerous and try to keep that in mind whenever we have our conversations.”
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But the huge difference between British football and the States is promotion and relegation.
Across the pond, there’s no such system with leagues only made up of franchises.
Donovan says the model – which the EFL invented back in 1898 before it became widespread – makes for a far more exciting and competitive environment, which is one main reason why English football is miles ahead of the States.
He said: “Lincoln must operate within the reality of promotion and relegation.
“It’s easy to make some decisions in America because you don’t have the threat of relegation and its obvious financial implications.
“So in the UK you make business and football decisions based on whether you can get promoted but you can’t do that in the US.
“I’m a massive supporter of promotion and relegation. It makes the sport more exciting and certainly makes the end of the season more thrilling.
“Often, over here, in sports leagues such as American football, football, baseball and basketball, there is nothing for many clubs to play for.
“So that isn’t good for supporters.
“As a fan I love the English way but, as a head coach, I’m glad relegation is not a threat I must worry about.”
Donovan has not yet visited the LNER Stadium but “fallen in love with Lincoln” after building close friendships there.
And the USA legend believes Lincoln are playing in “one of the most difficult leagues in the world”.
He said: “There has been a lot more learning on my side than theirs.
“They’ve been doing it for a long time in an environment which is ruthless when it comes to results and doing what the fan-base expects.
In the USA we build marketable clubs well even if we don’t always get the football right. That’s what we want to grow and get better while a club like Lincoln have ambitions and aspirations of getting promoted to the Premier League.
“I’ve learned a lot about League One because I didn’t know much about the standard.
“There is a misperception in America – just like in the UK about the game over here – about League One, League Two and non-league.
“It is that these divisions are about taking a touch, smashing the ball up-field and winning second balls.
“In some cases that happens but in a lot it doesn’t. There’s some good football played and talented players.
“League One is full of ex-Premier League clubs such as Sheffield Wednesday, Sunderland, Charlton, Portsmouth, Bolton, Ipswich, Wimbledon and Wigan. And, along with the Championship, it’s the toughest league in world football.
“It’s humbling for us because we’re trying to grow a small club here in America in a relatively new league and there are teams in the English third tier getting crowds between 20,000 and 30,000.
“There is a long way for us to go to reach that.”
But while the English model from a football point of view is far stronger, Donovan believes clubs on this side of the pond can learn a lot about branding and marketing from our American cousins.
He said: “Over here we build marketable clubs well even if we don’t always get the football right.
"That’s what we want to grow and get better while a club like Lincoln have ambitions and aspirations of getting promoted to the Premier League.
“This is an opportunity to grow it out in a way that’s more than 90 minutes on the field so you can have a robust club and infrastructure around it.
“Some great examples of the big clubs we’ve grown include LA Galaxy and LA FC.
“They’re building a brand around clubs that are recognised worldwide.
“Not a lot of people know much about Major League Soccer but they’ve heard of LA Galaxy and of course a lot of that had to do with a certain superstar called David Beckham.
“But that’s the point. Someone took a chance to bring a player over who was still in his prime to help grow the club.
“That was more of a football-marketing decision. Most decisions in England are made for footballing decisions.
“Where we’re at fault is making decisions for marketing and branding reasons rather than football.”
Donovan came into the Lincoln venture with American investor Harvey Jabara, who co-owns Major League Baseball club San Diego Padres and has bought a stake in the Imps.
One of the ideas is for Lincoln to set up partnerships with clubs Stateside and loan players to one another.
And the American believes Lincoln have a genuine chance of one day making the Premier League.
He said: “That is the beauty of the English system. Lincoln went close last season to going into the Championship.
“We’ve seen teams such as Burnley, Bournemouth and Brentford get into the Premier League and that is the reward for doing things the right way.
“I’ve been impressed with the work Liam, Clive and Jez are doing and I believe that group of people at Lincoln can give that club the chance to get there one day.”
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