Landon Donovan: America's most wanted
Oh to be Landon Donovan. The most wanted American in England since David Bieber (and for much, much nicer reasons, though I'll admit to not having heard of him until he popped up in a Wiki search), our little Landycakes has finally made his bones in Europe, and is now the subject of a transcontinental tug of war over his services.
Everton want him to stay, and why wouldn't they? Their return to form coincides nicely with his arrival, and despite a terrible miss against Tottenham which might have kept their unbeaten streak going, Donovan is the toast of Goodison Park.
The chants of "USA! USA!" echo across the Atlantic, and even Donovan's detractors in the States (and there are more than a few) can't help but be heartened to hear them. Donovan's "unfulfilled" potential is slightly more filled, and most of us would love to see the good times continue. More chances for Phil Neville to join in the chanting, please.
But that, of course, is completely up to MLS and the LA Galaxy. And unlike last year's drama over David Beckham's stay at Milan, Donovan doesn't have quite the pull or the cash in hand to make it happen that Goldenballs did.
This all points to only one eventuality, and it will serve to make just the Galaxy fans among us happy; Donovan will be headed back to sunny California on the 15th.
"No, I'm not the guy from Neighbours..."
On one hand, it really is too bad. Donovan's growth as a player has never been more evident than it is with Everton, and after too many years of "underachieving" (I'll come back to this in a moment), his time with the Toffees has finally given him a chance to live up to the "best American player" label.
Talent has never been an issue with Donovan, he just struggled to settle in Germany and took the easy route of returning home to MLS...twice. I have trouble hating him for it, as so many seem to.
Donovan's personal decisions are just that and unless one ascribes to the theory that his playing at home stunted his growth and prevented him from becoming the talisman the US National Team, then the criticism is distasteful and unjustified.
Why do Americans, or any group of fans for that matter, project upon footballers their own frustrations?
Aside from heat he received for failing to live up his usual standards in a USA shirt on occasion (see: World Cup, 2006), most of Donovan's detractors pointed squarely to his failures in Germany as evidence of his soft mental makeup, and then castigated him for not being ready to excel there.
Even before he joined Everton in January, before he had a chance to take the field for David Moyes, and before he could prove himself worthy of the Premier League, it was simply assumed that he would fail. Whipping boy and standard bearer, all rolled into one.
That's the problem, of course. It's because he's the standard bearer in the eyes of Americans that he was the subject of so much criticism.
"Go to Europe and shine, dammit, you're making us look bad!"
Off so soon?
So all credit to Landon Donovan, who has not only boosted his reputation on both sides of the pond, but has done it his way. Of course it helped that he had an American teammate at Goodison and that the length of the loan meant any failure would be mitigated.
If he played poorly at Everton, or rarely got off the bench during a brief 10-week stint, what could it hurt? People already believed him incapable of playing above Major League Soccer's significantly lower level anyway.
Now that he's a smash hit, he wants to stay as long as he can. If the MLS players go on strike, he might just get his wish.
It might be that this taste of top-level success will have Donovan headed to richer shores come the summer. Chelsea are rumoured to be interested in him, and even if that's not true, there should be someone willing to pay for his services come July.
Was this Everton loan a complicated ploy to audition himself for the leading lights of Europe in a bid to get out of the backwater of MLS? Possible, but doubtful.
Donovan not only signed a brand new contract with LA/MLS just before heading abroad, he's never shown us anything that would indicate he thinks beyond the moment.
Getting to Everton was a way to challenge himself, at a time when he certainly appears to be at the height of his powers; but it wasn't ever really the means to an end.
No matter what happens now, and no matter how much American fans hope he either stays in England now or returns at a later date, Donovan has satisfied himself that he can cut it. In the end, it's his career, and we're all just along for the ride. Who were we to tell him he wasn't doing enough before, anyway?
It sure will be nice not to have to explain why America's greatest footballer could never cut in Europe, though.