The first interesting January signing has been confirmed after Everton reached an agreement to bring Los Angeles Galaxy and United States forward Landon Donovan back to Goodison Park on a short-term loan.
The 29-year-old will rejoin the Toffees for January and February.
Everton boss David Moyes said:
I am delighted that we have managed to get Landon back. He will give us some good experience over January and February. He did well for us when he was over two years ago and hopefully will return with those same qualities.
Donovan will be eligible to play in Everton’s Premier League game against Bolton on 4 January, with the loan lasting until after the Merseyside derby at Anfield on 25 February.
Landon Donovan is his country’s pre-eminent soccer player. A 29-year-old forward who has been a fixture in the United States national team lineup since the 2002 World Cup, Donovan is the team’s international scoring leader and the highest-paid American player in Major League Soccer. He has been voted the national team’s top performer five times. But Donovan’s most noteworthy accomplishment might be that he has achieved enough recognition as an American player for a wide swath of sports fans in the United States to have formed an opinion on him.
The most celebrated active player in American soccer, he is also the most scorned.
“He’s become a human dartboard over the last couple of years,” said Eric Wynalda, whose United States scoring record Donovan eclipsed. “He’s the Kobe Bryant of American soccer. People love him or they hate him.”
Donovan said that intense criticism, common in baseball and football, was “difficult, at first, but I’ve gotten pretty Zen about it.”
His detractors seem to focus on perceptions that Donovan avoids contact on the field and will not commit his considerable talent to European club play following a disappointing spell in Germany. That discussions about him on Internet message boards can be so heated “probably shows the growth of the game in this country,” said Scott French, the managing editor of The Soccer Magazine.
“Landycakes” is the derisive nickname critics have hung on Donovan. “What those people are trying to convey is that he is soft,” said Cobi Jones, a former teammate of Donovan’s with the national team and the Los Angeles Galaxy. Neither Jones nor his Galaxy teammate Eddie Lewis shares that assessment. “He’s probably the most criticized player, but it’s only because more people are paying attention,” Lewis said.
Envy is also at play, said Ridge Mahoney, a senior editor at Soccer America magazine.
“He’s a great player, a good-looking kid, married to an actress, living on the beach,” Mahoney said. “He’s living a sort of dream life.”
Aficionados fault Donovan for his reluctance to mix things up in Europe. Several of his national team peers, including DaMarcus Beasley, Clint Dempsey and Oguchi Onyewu, have made careers on the other side of the Atlantic. Donovan, however, eagerly came home to M.L.S. after unproductive stints with Bayer Leverkusen of the Bundesliga in 2001 and 2005.
He went on loan to Bayern Munich over the winter and expressed a preference for staying in Germany, but the Galaxy held him to the terms of his five-year contract, which pays him $900,000 a season. That is more than twice as much as the second-highest-paid American, Taylor Twellman of the New England Revolution. He followed that up with another short stint in Europe with Everton where he played 10 times and scoring twice. Everton wanted to keep Donovan for the rest of the season and sign him permanently, but Everton’s precarious finances and the Galaxy wanting a sizeable fee prevented that from happening.
Donovan’s failures to commit to Europe, particularly in 2005, triggered the name-calling.
“Some of the people who like to call him Landycakes and tease his manhood believe he hasn’t really taken the responsibility of the position he is in,” Wynalda said. “If he is the best we’ve got, you would hope he would try to be the best he can, in Europe, and not take the easy way out in M.L.S. We have tended to put him on a pedestal and say, ‘Look how great of a player we have in this country,’ and then Landon shies away from proving it.”
Internet chatter often dwells on Donovan’s performances in M.L.S. games. “They tend to focus on certain negatives in his game,” French said. “Taking time off during games, not always being focused, complaining to refs, the ritual he has before penalty kicks.”
French suggested that the nickname Landycakes could be traced to Donovan’s years in San Jose, where he played from 2001 to 2004. He helped the Earthquakes win the M.L.S. title in 2001 and 2003 before Leverkusen recalled him. When Donovan maneuvered out of Germany in March 2005, he returned to his native Southern California; married the actress Bianca Kajlich; and joined the Galaxy, San Jose’s archrival.
Criticism of Donovan escalated after the 2006 World Cup in Germany. Bruce Arena, the then United States coach, structured his attack around the 5-foot-8, 150-pound Donovan, who seemed swallowed up by the defenders who shadowed him and roughed him up. The Americans were eliminated after three games, and Donovan was apportioned much of the on-field blame. Donovan said: “That’s when I got a lot of ‘Great job in Germany, jerk!’ and ‘We wasted money on going to see you!’ In the eyes of fans, that was valid.”
He says he shrugs off crude remarks about his family and his hairline but appreciates “creative” criticism. When told about a T-shirt that advertises boxes of Landycakes with a message in the corner that reads, “Not available in Europe,” Donovan smiled and said: “That’s good. That’s fun.”
“He’s electric,” Wynalda said. “He has that ‘it’ that people want to see. The fact that people love him or hate him is part of the attraction of M.L.S., and they know it.”
Most of Donovan’s American critics set aside their quarrels with him when he puts on the national team uniform, as Mahoney said, “Those fans love him when he scores for the U.S.”