March 7th marks anniversary of what proved to be Landon Donovan’s last goal for Everton when he came off the bench to score the fourth goal in a 5-1 victory at home to Hull City in what was the Blues 5,000th competitive game in 2010. Although over a decade has passed since then and the USA international’s two loan spells at Goodison Park were fleeting, Donovan, who describes himself as “An Evertonian for life” remains a hugely-popular player among the club’s supporter base.
Landon Donovan said “Look, I’ve played in hundreds of stadiums throughout world and there’s nowhere like Goodison – not even close. It’s hard to explain unless you’ve been there. People might read something about it or see it on TV but it’s not the same. There’s something magical about it, especially under the lights at Goodison. I could feel the history from when I first walked into the stadium but it’s the supporters themselves who make it special. I’d never experienced anything like that in my life.”
Donovan’s compatriot Dan Meis has designed a beautiful new stadium for Everton by the banks of the Mersey with work finally expected to begin later this year. The Colorado-born architect and his team were briefed with trying to replicate Goodison’s intimate feel in a modern setting but Donovan concedes that will be a tough ask at Bramley-Moore Dock.
Landon Donovan said “It’s a challenge because a big part of the club and the history of the club is Goodison and no matter what you do, nothing is going to be Goodison, it’s just not. I admire that every attempt is being made to make it like Goodison but there’s never going to be a place like that again.”
Donovan had been with his parent club Los Angeles Galaxy for five years when he embarked on the first of his loan spells at Everton in 2010 with the intention of keeping sharp ahead of the kick-off of the Major League Soccer season in spring. Although he knew his time with the Blues was only ever going to be a temporary stay, he felt a rare bond from the start.
Landon Donovan said “It’s rare for a footballer to show up and be so welcomed and respected. I hadn’t experienced that in my life. I’d been at the Galaxy for a long time so there was a lot of mutual respect there with the fans. But from the first day I showed up at Everton – I travelled on January 1st and arrived on January 2nd – I arrived for half-time for an FA Cup match (a 3-1 home win over Carlisle United), I was walking through the stadium just to get up to my seat and everybody was so welcoming. Everybody at the club was just fantastic to be around and to work with plus the fans were terrific. I’m the type of person when I see all that kind of welcome, that acceptance and that loyalty, I’m going to reciprocate. I have a mentality that I play with anyway but that made me want to do anything for the club.”
Asked if there was any part of him that wished he could have stayed longer, Donovan added: “Sure. I’m a very loyal person and was committed to the Galaxy. The only way they were going to let me go was if I gave them my word that I was coming back.
Landon Donovan said “David Moyes and I had a very good, long chat at the end of my spell there. He told me: ‘I know that you’re committed to going back but I feel that I need to at least let you know that I’d love to have you if you want to stay’ and I really did appreciate that. Of course I felt the same way but I needed to stick to my commitment with the Galaxy. I loved my three months there, of course I was there on two separate occasions, and my spells playing for Everton are one of the best memories of my life. It’s difficult going from sunny southern California to Merseyside in January so that part was certainly a challenge but I actually liked that contrast. I lived in Manchester at the Hilton Hotel on Deansgate, found some great restaurants to go to and met some people there who I was able to hang around with plus my family was over a few times. My favourite moments of course were on the training ground at Finch Farm and at Goodison.”
Although Donovan was used to being, as the Los Angeles Times’ Kevin Baxter describes “The Big Dog” in MLS, he was happy with the way he was welcomed into an established dressing room at Everton.
Landon Donovan said: “Tim Howard was great the whole time. From the recruitment process until the day I got there he made my transition so easy. But to be honest, the culture that David Moyes and the senior players had set there was really easy to come into. You had no choice but to fall in line and be part of what everyone else was doing because if you didn’t then you wouldn’t be accepted. Tim Cahill also great as was Phil Neville, Phil Jagielka, Leighton Baines, Leon Osman, Tony Hibbert – they were just a bunch of good, solid human beings to be around. They made you feel welcome but they were also demanding. Everyone held everyone else accountable and that’s what made those teams so great.”
Donovan of course keeps a close eye on the fortunes of Everton’s current side and believes that under Carlo Ancelotti they’ve finally got a manager who can realise owner Farhad Moshiri’s ambitions as they look to benefit from being able to flex their financial muscles.
Landon Donovan said: “It’s been enjoyable to watch although at times the process of that transition has been tricky. Part of the magic of those Everton teams that I played in was that they weren’t necessarily the biggest name, highest-paid players but they were a great unit and David Moyes got the best out of them all. When you’re transitioning into spending a lot of money on really high quality players it’s also a challenge because you wonder how they’re going to fit together as a team. It seems that for most of the matches this season you’ve seen an Everton team that really has the quality to compete to get into the top four so that’s been encouraging to see.”
Landon Donovan has born in sunny southern California and still lives there but there’ll always be a special place in his heart for a corner of Walton that he first cast his eyes upon on a cold grey winter’s day. The vast Rose Bowl in Pasadena that attracted a crowd of 94,194 for the 1994 World Cup final loomed large during his formative years and in a glittering career at the top of the football world, he got to play there himself. With Bayern Munich he of course played at the iconic Allianz Arena while after making his Everton debut at the Emirates, he also turned out at the likes of Anfield, White Hart Lane and Villa Park. However, none of these other grounds possess the same feeling for Donovan as Goodison Park.
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