Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Donovan a Permanent Toffee

As I noted earlier, Landon Donovan recently said he could see himself extending his stay with Everton. There are some interesting aspects to a few of his quotes, especially regarding Bayern Munich. But what I want to do is look at whether or not this would be a good idea.

When the loan deal was announced, I was pretty fired up. Arguably the greatest American soccer player ever was coming to my favorite club. This is what I had to say then, and I stand by that, especially considering how well he has performed in his first two games. I thought he would do well because he is smart and productive. He wouldn't set the league on fire, but he'd fit in well with the likes of Pienaar, Fellaini, Bilyaletdinov, and Osman.

The problem with Donovan on the international level, is that US fans expect him to be the focal point and for everything to run through him, but that's just not his game. He's much more suited as a complimentary player, playing on the flanks and attacking from the wings. The better the team, the more you appreciate his play; we saw this when Beckham came to LA, you saw it with the Confederation Cup team (never has so much skill been on a US squad), and you're seeing it with Everton; a team that has finished in the top 6 of arguably the best league in the world the past three years (Everton's table placement when Donovan joined them is not indicative of their talent level).

But I digress. Let me get back to the original question, would Donovan staying at Everton be good for him and the club? Let's look at it from Donovan's angle first. LD will be in his age 28 season for this upcoming World Cup and should be at his peak (athletically). So the 2014 WC will come when he is 32, at which point most athletes are on the down-side of their careers. I wish there was a place that compared soccer players the way baseball-reference does for baseball players, but how worse could he get from ages 28 to 32?

LD's never had any serious injuries and keeps himself in top shape. He will be on the wrong side of thirty, but the only aspect of his game that will digress over those years would be his pace, everything else has a chance to improve (and there is still room for improvement). Basically, the way I look at it is there's a good chance that by staying in Europe over the next four years, he will be a better player (performance wise) at age 32 than 28. Being in leagues (and possibly playing in European competitions) with more distinguished players, faster play, and more diversity will only help Donovan improve to the point where he is a better overall player in 2014. After '14 would be the time for him to come back to the States (or Mexico), and keep in form to play in the '18 WC as a 36 year old (at which point he will most likely be the super-sub Coby Jones type player).

As for Everton, it wouldn't hurt to have a guy of Donovan's capabilities on their roster over the next few years, but with youngsters like Jack Rodwell, Dan Gosling, Fellaini, and James Wallace on the roster and Mikel Arteta returning from injury, not to mention possible additions through the transfer window, it's not a given that Donovan will always have a spot in the starting 11.

I guess what I'm saying is that I think LD should stay in Europe even after this summer's World Cup, because it will benefit him and the US national team, but if loses his spot at Everton, or outgrows the club, he should move on. This is definitely the honeymoon period (when LD took corners this past Saturday, Everton fans showered him with chants of U-S-A), so there was bound to be this type of talk, but it's important to keep a long-term perspective on the situation. I would love to see LD and Everton grow together and he become a staple on the right flanks at Goodison, but it's just not that likely to happen.

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