Clint Dempsey is the model American player in Europe right now. Having gone through three managers at Fulham after rejecting any and all overtures to stay in MLS, Deuce is the inverse of Landon Donovan. Now Donovan appears ready to assert himself in a loan spell at Everton.
Rejecting his comfort zone for a challenge that would raise his quality and relevance as a player, Dempsey has become the signature American player for fans of the European game. His quality is so evident, that he was recently named to La Gazzetta Della Sports’ Premier League Best XI for 2009. This honor given by one of Europe’s leading football authorities, speaks loudly as to the reputation Dempsey has developed abroad.
Landon Donovan, on the other hand is seen as soft and a bit of a joke by leading European football pundits. For all his accomplishments on the international level, he has gone missing in several big US matches and in his previous stints in European club football. So laughable have Donovan’s performances been, that anytime his name comes up on the Guardian Football Weekly podcast, it becomes running joke.
A theory has been floated by people who don’t watch the Bundesliga that Donovan was somehow successful there. As someone who watched every League match Donovan played for Bayern, I came to the conclusion that he was over his head in a league that is not as strong as the one Dempsey features in.
FC Bayern Sporting Director, Ule Hoeness is a good authority on what makes a quality player observed Donovan’s work ethic in training and off the ball movements were not up to a Bundesliga standard. He claimed Donovan could not even make Bayern’s amateur squad based on his training and match performances.
Bayern’s spacing and tactics were often times negated by Donovan’s presence on the pitch. Many times Donovan floated inside causing Bayern players to bunch up, or pushed too far forward, and did not track back quickly enough. Additionally, his off the ball runs into space were poorly timed and often led to Bayern coughing the ball up in midfield. Donovan himself gave the ball away all too often.
Donovan’s performances in 2005 for Bayer Leverkusen were even more embarrassing, and occurred while fellow American youngster DaMarcus Beasley was impressing for Guus Hiddink’s PSV side. At Leverkusen, Donovan often got lost far up the pitch and ended up being a detriment to the clubs ability to actually maintain possession and play attacking football.
Contrast this with Dempsey’s work off the ball at Fulham. Dempsey times his runs to perfection and pushes inside and up when necessary. His work on the ball is remarkable also, as his technical skill has become among the best in the English game. So strong is the belief his team has in his quality, that he now takes the penalties for Fulham. This is remarkable considering originally Roy Hodgson had no use for the American midfielder.
Landon Donovan rarely ventures out of his comfort zone. He’s been marketed as the poster child for US Soccer at home, while another player has eclipsed him by a large margin abroad. Donovan has become an MLS superstar, while Dempsey and several other current and former national team players have had the confidence in their quality and skill level to stake their claim abroad.
My sincere hope is that as Donovan begins this short ten week loan spell on Merseyside, he takes the lessons of Clint Dempsey, Claudio Reyna, DaMarcus Beasley and others and really applies himself. In his previous European stints, Donovan has shown little character or quality, and has buckled under the slightest adversity.
His national team form is one thing, but he isn’t a Premiership or Bundesliga level player unless he proves otherwise in the next ten weeks. That may sound harsh but is the reality of the situation as I see it. Landon Donovan must prove he is on Clint Dempsey’s level both mentally and physically in his time at Everton.