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Donovan's Everton gamble paying off
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Donovan’s big gamble wasn’t going to Everton on loan in order to take a fourth run at European soccer.
It wasn’t agreeing to a short-term loan move that would include matches against a murderer’s row of top English clubs.
It wasn’t even taking on a brutal schedule of matches just four months before the 2010 World Cup.
No, Donovan’s gamble was trading away the chance to leave MLS in two years on a free transfer in order to have the opportunity to test himself in the world’s toughest league now.
Donovan is passing that test with flying colors, with his masterful effort in Everton’s 2-1 win against Premier League leaders Chelsea on Wednesday as the latest proof that Donovan can more than just hang in England, he can thrive.
His disappointing stints at Bayer Leverkusen and Bayern Munich seemed like distant memories as he thrilled the Goodison Park crowd with a Man of the Match performance against a Chelsea defense that included England starters John Terry and Ashley Cole.
This had to be what Donovan believed he could do when he signed a new four-year contract with MLS with two years remaining on his old deal.
Sure, the reported $9 million he’s receiving in the deal made it worth his while financially., and It provided security if things didn’t go well in England (or South Africa this summer), but without the new contract there would have been no loan deal to Everton.
No excellent performances against the likes of Manchester City, Arsenal and Chelsea.
No impressive body of work for potential European suitors to point to when considering a multi-million bid for Donovan this summer.
Yes, a good World Cup performance this summer could have boosted his stock, but it wouldn’t have eased the lingering doubts cast by three failed attempts to secure a place in the German Bundesliga.
As impressive as he has been, Donovan’s work is not done yet.
He is little more than halfway through his loan stint with Everton and crucial matches remain. There are the two legs of a Europa League series vs. Sporting Lisbon wrapped around a meeting against mighty Manchester United.
He has already helped Everton secure 13 points in six league matches, but if he can close out his loan playing at the same high level, the Toffees will have every reason to start putting together a bid to bring him back this summer, if not keep him for the rest of the season.
Most American fans (aside from L.A. Galaxy fans, and even some of them) are praying Donovan does stay in England rather than return to MLS as planned. Why?
It’s simple. He has nothing left to prove, is playing at his peak and needs to be challenged in a better league.
Yes, you can argue that having him in MLS helps the league (and certainly Los Angeles), but selling him and having him continue to play well against the world’s best would bring prestige to the league that helped him grow into the player he is.
It wouldn’t be just about prestige, there would have to also be a sizeable transfer fee (say in the $10-$15 million range) to make a move happen.
Will Donovan keep it up?
There is little reason to believe he won’t. Donovan started his loan strongly and has arguably been Everton’s best player in its last two matches, against arch-rival Liverpool and first-place Chelsea.
In Wednesday’s victory, it was clear that his teammates were growing more confident and trusting in him. That trust should help him avoid some of the less impressive outings he has had for Everton, such as the Birmingham FA Cup loss and the second half of the Liverpool loss (though in both cases, his teammates were just as ineffective as he was).
Continued success may not be enough to keep him in England though.
Everton is unlikely to challenge for a Europa League place thanks to a poor start to the season, and the Toffees have moved well clear of relegation danger, means keeping Donovan for the remaining nine league matches he would miss may not be worth the sizeable investment it would take to keep him now (assuming MLS and the Galaxy would be interested in extending the loan).
The more likely scenario for Donovan, assuming he continues to play well, would be to carry over his form into the MLS season. and then to the World Cup, before making a summer transfer move back to Europe.
That would allow a club like Everton to line up a proper summer bid, and would even allow Donovan to play out a sort of farewell tour of MLS in the weeks after the World Cup and before the summer transfer window.
That is the scenario that can and should play out because Donovan needs to be playing in Europe against top competition, and because he has already shown during his time with Everton that he is capable of being an impact player in a top league.
Donovan must have believed that when he signed a new contract in order to make his loan deal happen, and now the rest of the soccer world is seeing why Donovan’s gamble may not have been a gamble at all.
Ives Galarcep is FoxSoccer.com's newest senior writer who will be covering U.S. Soccer and MLS.