Saturday morning Landon Donovan will arrive in Goodison Park to begin his loan spell with Everton. As he settles into his seat and watches his new team take on Carlisle United in the FA Cup, he will be working on his checklist of what he wants to accomplish over the next 75 days. This loan spell at Everton, along with his performance in South Africa this summer, will be critical in determining the future direction of Donovan’s career, and he knows there are a number of boxes he needs to check in order to make this loan a success.
Get some serious minutes on the pitch. It was going to be interesting to see whether Everton Coach David Moyes was going to play him up front like Donovan does for the Galaxy or out wide like he is positioned for the US National team. However, that decision seems to have made itself. With Yakubu leaving for the African Cup of Nations, Louis Saha injured and Jo deciding to take an unauthorized Christmas trip home to Brazil, Everton has a gaping hole in their striker corps. Donovan will have every chance to get a ton of quality minutes in important games, starting with Everton’s trip to London to play Arsenal a week from today. The only thing standing between Donovan and a slot in the starting lineup is the quality of his play.
Use that first week of training to integrate with his new team as quickly as possible. Donovan is at his best when he is using his speed to run at players and unbalance defenses. Everton plays a very deliberate style that relies on crossing, link-up play and solid aerial work for its goals. Donovan will have to figure out how to incorporate his skills with the Everton scheme. Donovan is as good a passer as he is a scorer, and to fit in well at Everton he will need to create goals as well as score them.
Put the ball in the net. Fair or not, Donovan’s success will be defined by whether he scores. Last year during his spell as Bayern Munich, Donovan actually played well. He possessed the ball with skill and was the perfect late game sub to bring a lot of energy onto the pitch as the game was slowing down. Had he not been associated with the soon-to-be-sacked Jurgen Klinsmann, Bayern would have expressed a lot more enthusiasm about his time with the club. However, most judged his loan a failure because he did not get on the tally sheet in league play. Donovan hit the post once and forced several good saves, but strikers need to score and he did not. With games against Arsenal, Man City, Chelsea and Liverpool , Donovan will have opportunities to score important goals, and he needs to take some of those chances.
Prove that he is not soft. Ever since he crashed out during his time at Bayer Leverkusen, Donovan has had a reputation as being too soft. Reputations are hard to shake, and despite the fact that he has been enormously successful both for the Galaxy and the USMNT, has played through just about every injury he has ever gotten and reclaimed the Galaxy this season as his team and helped mold it into a winner, many do not consider Donovan hard enough for soccer at the highest levels. When commentators say that Donovan will not be able to handle Merseyside in winter, they are really questioning his manhood. Donovan has a chance to put this nonsense behind him and prove that he has the heart to match his feet.
Don’t say anything stupid to the press. Donovan has always had a bias towards brutal honesty when talking to the press. When he screws up, he will tell the press his detailed thought process that led up to his mistake. When he feels aggrieved, he sometimes struggles to keep that to himself. That is not a problem in the US sport market which likes its athletes to be revealing and where people barely pay attention to soccer anyway. The English soccer press and fan culture are completely different, and every word can be taken out of context and printed in blaring headlines. Whether it is when talking about his teammates or his future World Cup opponents, Donovan need to be as non-controversial as possible. The British press looks for easy targets, and Donovan needs to make sure he does not give them any.
Don’t get injured. One of the remarkable aspects of Donovan’s career is how injury-free he has been. Over the past decade, Donovan has played in over 350 games for club and country and has never had a serious injury during that period. Part of this is good luck, but a large part of his success has been his commitment to fitness. He needs to keep that streak going in England. Nothing would be more disappointing and discouraging to Donovan than to see his short time in Everton cut shorter by picking up a knock of some sort.
That is a daunting agenda, but 2010 is the most important year in Donovan’s career. For the Everton loan to be a success, Donovan needs to hit all of his marks.