LA Galaxy’s Landon Donovan will join Everton in January on a short term loan. The Blues are bleeding goals and have an injury depleted roster and a woeful financial situation, so this is looking like a reasonably shrewd move by David Moyes. The loan market is loaded with rubbish, and while Donovan isn’t a physical player, he can add skill, pace and versatility at no risk. He’s like a Honda Civic, that one. Trouble is, he’ll be a Civic on the Autobahn, and I don’t think he has the heart, grit or tenacity for the ride.
That Donovan can be a cracking player when his mind is right is a fact that cannot be denied. If he musters even half of Mikel Arteta’s creativity while at Goodison Park, Everton will have scored a helluva bargain and Donovan will win a permanent job in Europe. But that’s a massive if for a man whose career has been defined by them.
"If he’d been more mature at Bayer Leverkusen…"
"If he wasn’t buried on the depth chart at Bayern Munich…"
"If he didn’t disappear in the 2006 World Cup…"
"If he hadn’t sailed that penalty kick into the night sky."
"If his head is in the right place…"
In a nine years as a professional, Donovan has spent the last five choosing comfort over sacrifice; whinging instead of leading; and choking when the lights burn brightest. Sure he’s been quality for the last six months but that didn’t stop him from flaking out in the MLS final – a match he should have owned. After a beautiful assist, he disappeared, only to reappear during the penalty phase and blow it. You know what he said about all that?
"I just put it in the air," Donovan said. "It’s probably partially due to tired legs and not concentrating in that moment… "I’m not sure what happened on their goal. It was pretty sloppy. But in the end, they probably deserved to get a goal at some point."
There is a spineless weakness about this quote that makes me ill. Great players focus when others fold, and when they’re beaten, all they can say is "too good. Get em next time" because they have no regrets. But then, Landon Donovan isn’t a great player is he? He could be. He should be. But right now, he’s just a good one who has flashes of brilliance against class competition. Sometimes he plays with tenacity and shocks the world. Other times you wonder if he left the match and got back on the bus.
Donovan will have but a few weeks to find his feet at Merseyside before he’s fighting to be more than a fringe, bench player when guys begin returning from injury and the African Nations Cup. According to some, it doesn’t matter because he has everything to gain and nothing to lose, but let’s be real. This is his fourth try in Europe. He is well beyond fool me once, fool me twice. He’s a footballer in his prime whose chance for a significant career outside the United States and true respect within it hinges on how he performs in 2010. He can’t just show up and play in Everton. He needs to show out. That’s a lot of pressure and adversity for a man with little experience with either one.
"What about Confederations Cup? What about his play in MLS? He rose to the occasion like never before!"
Donovan lead a team of underdogs in an improbable run to the Confederations Cup final and that should be applauded, but when was the team under any pressure to perform? And MLS, for all its improvements, remains a junior varsity league that he should dominate year in and out. That doesn’t require much grit. But pressure and adversity will be there in spades when Donovan tries to make an impact on a squad that is not only perilously close to relegation but also must continue its push in the Europa League knockout stages against a Champions League castoff. And unlike the Confed Cup and the MLS season, this time, the entire world will be watching. The British tabloids will give them no choice.
The last time Donovan went up against a legitimate challenge of any magnitude on the European club level, he took his ball and went home. In a way, it was the right decision, as he’s been able to stay in form. But what has his time in MLS done for his mental toughness? When has it really tested his tenacity? I wish Landycakes all the luck in the world on this one but I think history is about to repeat itself – not because he’s lacking in skill but because he hasn’t the spine.