Thursday, 28 January 2010

Landon Donovan’s European Internship

Landon Donovan’s successful start to his Everton career is heightening speculation about an extended stay for the US star in the English Premier League.

Ask your average LA Galaxy fan which player would they be most disappointed to lose to an European club; and the answer quite simply for most will be Landon Donovan. Not the global superstar, ex Man Utd and Real Madrid, England international, David Beckham; who is by far the most well known player in the club’s history. In fact, conversations between Galaxy fans over the past few week or so have focused on Donovan’s performances in the Premier League, rather than the speculation regarding Beckham will he or won’t he retirement post this Summer’s World Cup.

LA Galaxy fans were dismayed by Beckham’s assertions to instigate a move to AC Milan last season. There was a general feeling of disappointment amongst fans of a player who had signed a huge deal to move to LA, but was seemingly reurning very little both on and off the field to the club. Donovan, who joined Everton on loan in early January; is already making Beckham like noises regarding a potential extended stay in the Premier League.

Donovan is quite possibly the most gifted American player of his generation, and and did not receive anywhere near the hype surrounded by compatriot Freddie Adu when first emerging as a player. When Donovan moved to Bayern Leverkusen in 1999, US based followers identified him as the first true potential World-class player produced in the USA; a player who would establish himself at the upper echelons of the European leagues. A player capable of finding home amongst one of the elite ‘big clubs’ of Europe and not amongst one of the marginal clubs like the majority of his US European based compatriots.

However, things did not go according to plan for Donovan, his entry into the Bayern Leverlysen side corresponded with a break up of the successful side, which lost key players such as Ballack to bigger clubs. Donovan’s inability to fulfil his potential and poor form of his home club left him transferred back permanently to the MLS in 2005.

Donovan, who would not have been the first hyped US player to return to his home league after failing to fulfil the promise believed in him, set out to carve out a career in his domestic league. Then last year after establishing himself as the USA’s key player on the international stage and winning plaudits and awards aplenty for his performances in the MLS; Donovan took another crack at Europe, signing for Bayern Munich on loan. But yet again a lack of game time meant he was unable to convince on a European basis that he could cut the mustard.

This season’s loan move to Everton may be a more under the radar move for Donovan, but his early performances have hinted that he may have found a suitable fit in Everton; a club who despite their history and traditions are not immediately as scrutinised by the media as other higher level European clubs. Donovan’s first few games have shown a player which has the capability to become both a success and asset for an EPL side. In particular he will benefit from the small squad roster at Everton, which will give him opportunities for game time.

Donovan’s fit for the EPL is also based on his attributes, his pace in particular will be more use in this league than the Budesliga and will be more than useful to an Everton squad who are at present deficient in this both pace and width.

What Donovan also has in a favour is a good manager in David Moyes, a man who in most cases is able to bring the best out in the player. Moyes has often taken in underperforming but clearly talented individuals and enabled them to reach the true potential; Steven Pienaar are Mikel Arteta being two examples.

Another positive factor is Moyes’s clear knowledge and apparent interest in the US gam. Moyes has brought US national goalkeeper Tim Howard to the club, was responsible for Brian Mcbride’s first and second stint in English football and has also added some US born players to the clubs academy and coaches to the backroom staff. It is also rumoured that Moyes has also cast an eye on US team boss’s son Michael Bradley as a potential future signing for the club.

If Donovan has a successful few months with Everton, there is no doubt that more prominent questions will be asked of the player’s ambitions to mover permanently to the Premier League. The complexity of the issue is that Donovan signed a new Four year deal with LA Galaxy just prior to his leaving for England in December; and whilst contracts are always secondary to player power; the contract does undoubtedly increase the transfer value of the US star.

Everton, may be interested in doing a deal, but will be keen to keep price to a minimum, due to the meagre budget that their manager will more than likely be allocated to do his summer spending. A situation which may put Donovan on the radar of other EPL clubs who would be willing to meet Galaxy’s demands and more than likely increase the player’s salary. However, Donovan may need to learn from the lessons of the past and realise that foregoing a higher salary may be needed to stay at Everton to prove that he is a player capable of meeting the demands and standards of a major European league.

If Donovan does decide to leave, there will be many at LA Galaxy and in the MLS that will compare him to Beckham; as a player who was only too willing to take the money in the US when their value and skills were not required elsewhere, only to jump at the chance when a better alternative was offered. But the club and US soccer in should be grateful to Donovan for spending most of his (best) years in the MLS, contributing to the increasing popularity of the game stateside, Arguably is contribution to the US leagues many will say which has gone a lot further in influence than a certain other LA Galaxy right side midfielder.

TOP 5 US based European players

1. Brad Fridel – a keeper which has been amongst the steadiest in the Premiership over the last decade or so. His inability to establish himself at a regular in Liverpool at the start of his English based career did not preclude him from becoming a mainstay for Blackburn Rovers and now Aston Villa.

2. Tim Howard – another American keeper. Howard’s early exploits at Manchester United hinted towards the fact that Sir Alex Ferguson had found the solution to his longer keeper problem. A glut of mistakes in big matches, left Howard dropped and eventually shipped out to Everton; where regular game time and experience has allowed him to become one of the better keepers in the EPL over the past 3 years or so.

3. Claudia Reyna – A player who enjoyed success in the German, Scottish and English top divisions. He earned a reputation particularly in the Premier League as a talented creative midfielder; his career in England though was blighted by a succession of injuries, which led him back to the MLS before his retirement in 2008.

4. Brian Mcbride – A player who had spells with Preston, Everton and Fulham in the Premier League. Led the line as a target man particularly well for Fulham and maintained a respectable scoring record throughout his time in English Football. Had he joined an English side sooner in his career he may have seen more success.

5. Clint Dempesy- Why do many US players end up at Fulham. Dempsey’s talents have led him to establish himself as a key part of the Cottagers squad, achieving the highest league position in their history last season. A factor, which has fuelled speculation of potential interests of other ‘bigger’ clubs such as Liverpool.

One to Watch Michael Bradley – Despite question about his attitude, Bradley is beginning to show a player which is capable of establishing himself as a one of the best midfielders in the Bundesliga.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent analysis and good reading. You have a thorough understanding of American Football (soccer) and it shows. It has been great to see Landon flourish in Everton, I too agree that Landon's pace and game are far better suited to the generally more skillful EPL versus the grinding, plodding style of the Bundesliga.

    Landon though is the one player that can become the first American to be a true international star, unfortunately his Bundesliga experience early-on probably kept him in the MLS. Had he gone to an EPL team or even a Spanish league team instead of Germany he probably would have been an established star by now.

    That being said though, his new contract with the Galaxy as well as being a Southern California native, living on the beach in Manhattan Beach and married to a pretty actress wife might make the lure of the EPL not as strong as it may have been earlier on when he was single. However, if the two are seperated as rumored, perhaps this might be the perfect time for Landon to 'step away' and start anew in the superior EPL, rather than stay in the MLS. He's already played an important start in getting the MLS to where it is, he can now work on improving his own game and testing his skills in the best league in the world.

    Thanks for a great read.