They say never go back. Fortunately for Everton, Landon Donovan didn’t listen.
Flu-ridden, he missed his own send-off against Blackpool on Saturday – and what a rousing one it would surely have been. His popularity amongst Evertonians is off the scale, backed up by another string of top-level performances during his second stint on Merseyside. He is simply a superb player – a player who, especially at the age of twenty-nine, needs to be playing at a higher standard than the MLS.
Donovan’s return brought with it an improvement in Everton’s performances and results, something which is no coincidence. The boffins over at ESPN have calculated that, with Donovan in the side, Everton have averaged an extra 0.5 goals per game. Impressive – as is his tally of six assists in his nine appearances second time round.
But statistics can’t fully explain why Everton and Donovan are such a crystalline fit. Think back to Saturday 9th January 2010: Everton are denied victory away to Arsenal only by an injury-time Tomáš Rosický goal. Landon Donovan makes his Everton debut, taking barely ten minutes to adapt to a league which some never adapt to. It’s a world away from the Los Angeles sunshine – indeed, it was a game played in the midst of a blizzard – but Donovan slots in seamlessly on the right hand side of Everton’s midfield.
He says afterwards he is “proud to be a part of this team”. Immediately, it has clicked, and by the end of the first loan his bond with the supporters has grown so strong that he says he can’t envisage himself playing for any other English club. He has such an understanding with Evertonians that by the time he departs, he is an Evertonian. He gets what playing for this club is all about.
“Everton is the only club I’d come back to. There’s something magical about this club that captures you from the minute you step into Goodison and doesn’t let you go”
Saying the right things in interviews is all well and good but it needs to be backed up with talent. That’s no problem for Donovan – an exceptional player. He’s skilful, composed on the ball and possesses in abundance a commodity which Everton have not had for a while: pace. All qualities which, combined with an excellent ‘footballing brain’, spell danger for the opposition. He can fly past a full-back or play a clever pass round him. He can send in a perfect cross with either boot as he did for both Everton’s goals against Fulham or intelligently tee-up a teammate as he did Darron Gibson against Manchester City.
He brings fluidity and balance to the side, easing the unhealthy reliance on our left flank. He knows what to do and when to do it and is one of few Everton players who can provide a spark of guile, a so-called ‘killer’ pass in the final third. Think of the exquisitely measured through ball for Victor Anichebe to score at Aston Villa, or the reverse pass to set Denis Stracqualursi through against Chelsea.
He is a class act both on and off the pitch and, although it was a shame he missed his Goodison send off, I would be mightily surprised if he has played his last game for the club. As the great Alan Ball once said: “Once Everton has touched you, nothing will ever be the same”. Landon’s been touched alright. The question is, will he play out the two years remaining on his contract with LA Galaxy and return in his third decade – or will he return at the first available opportunity?
Either way, or even if he doesn’t come back at all, he’s been a joy to watch at Goodison Park. In a farewell message to Evertonians, Donovan said: “Thankyou for the memories I will never forget. Most of all, thank you for allowing me to be a part of your family”.
Landon, it’s been our pleasure.
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