Club Focus – Everton – Goodbye Landon, for now...
Everton’s 5-1 romp over Hull City on Sunday was more than just the Blues’ biggest win of the season - it was, barring a late change of mind from LA Galaxy - Landon Donovan’s last appearance at Goodison Park. The American’s loan expires the day after Everton face Birmingham City next Saturday and, as things stand, he will return home until at least July, when the summer transfer window opens.
Few knew what to expect when Donovan’s signature was announced in mid-December. In truth, all that was known of the player was his role as David Beckham’s teammate at Galaxy and that he had tried and failed to make it in Germany. Tim Howard, Everton’s American international goalkeeper, talked up his friend and colleague but that was to be expected. Even the usual scouring of Youtube clips was a meaningless task because examples of Donovan’s ability came with the caveat of the standard he was facing in the MLS.
Imagine Evertonians’ joy, then, when the new boy proved from the off to be another shrewd David Moyes’ loan signing - a high standard considering Joseph Yobo, Mikel Arteta and Steven Pienaar all arrived at the club in that manner. Those three players have gone on to become integral parts of life at Everton and, if Donovan returns, it is the status he is on the road to and has been since his debut, away to Arsenal just days after setting foot in England for the first time. Against the Gunners, Donovan created a goal from a corner and entered an impressive, all-round performance, the likes of which have continued up to his cameo against Hull on Sunday.
In true Hollywood style, Donovan made a glorious final bow worthy of the silver screen, coming off the bench to score one goal and set up another, generating thunderous chants of ‘USA! USA!’ from all sides of Everton’s grand old stadium. After the final whistle, once the initial cheers celebrating three points had dissipated, eyes turned to the Toffee’s No.9 as he turned to each of Goodison’s four stands and applauded in receipt of the support he has received since arriving on Merseyside in January. Everton’s delighted fans recognised their new hero’s gratitude and responded in kind in a moving scene.
With the emotional final appearance on Goodison’s turf in mind, it would be something of an anti-climax to see Donovan’s name on the teamsheet when Everton next play at home against Bolton Wanderers. That will not concern anyone who witnessed Donovan’s contributions during his time at Everton, however, and instead there will be relief that the Blues’ have held on to a player that offers something no other midfielder at Goodison can - pace. Donovan’s direct, rocket-fuelled running has been the key to his success in England and he has been a valuable component of Moyes’ plans.
Playing primarily from the right of midfield, Donovan’s attacking instincts have added to Everton’s goal threat while his speed has constantly unsettled defences, none more so than against Manchester United, although the USA captain played from the left-wing that day and tortured Gary Neville incessantly. His capture presented more attacking outlets for Everton, who too often relied on the combination of Pienaar and Leighton Baines on the left flank to get behind defences. With Donovan stationed on the right, Everton have been a much more dangerous proposition and as a converted striker Donovan does not need asking twice to cut inside and support the front man.
It looks unlikely Donovan will return to Goodison Park this season, as Galaxy manager Bruce Arena has been adamant he wants his captain back for training a few weeks prior to the start of the MLS season in April. Donovan will only play a handful of games stateside before being whisked to South Africa for the World Cup and once the summer tournament is over a return to England seems much more likely. An impressive showing on the world stage could add a few million to his price tag, leaving Everton scrambling to match the asking price.
His success over the last few months has certainly alerted other managers to Donovan’s potential, giving Everton competition for his permanent signature, but the bond formed between Donovan and the Everton fans, players and staff could be the deciding factor in where his long-term future lies. As Donovan prepares to return home to California, paraphrasing the most famous words of the state’s Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, seems the best way to sum up the situation. Indeed, just like The Terminator , he’ll be back.