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Donovan deserves Goodison return

Everton's No. 9 shirt has an indelible association with goalscorers. From Dixie Dean, the sole man to score 60 in a league season, through to more recent strikers such as Bob Latchford, Graeme Sharp, Duncan Ferguson and, latterly, Louis Saha, a variety of finishers have worn it. For the last two months, it has belonged to the United States' record scorer, but Landon Donovan's stint in England isn't notable for his solitary goal.

Indeed, Sunday's glaring miss, from two yards against Tottenham, is more memorable than his strike against Sunderland. With the World Cup approaching, an English perspective may be to suggest that the (entirely legitimate) challenge that resulted in Ashley Cole breaking his ankle is his most significant contribution.

Both Evertonians and Americans are entitled to disagree. The Merseysiders have won six of the Californian's 11 games; Donovan himself will depart on March 15 with his reputation greatly enhanced. Indeed, it has been a year to enhance his standing on this side of the Atlantic Ocean.

Despite his exploits in the 2002 World Cup, Donovan's achievements met with a certain amount of scepticism in Europe. He had a negligible impact in spells with Bayer Leverkusen and Bayern Munich while a proliferation of goals against the CONCACAF countries counted for little in the eyes of the doubters.

The Confederations Cup led some to reappraise their opinions. Scoring against Italy and Brazil provided indications Donovan was not a flat-track bully, so have his Premier League performances. His arrival coincided with a particularly demanding part of Everton's season: Arsenal, Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester United have been among their domestic opposition, while Sporting Lisbon were drawn against them in the Europa League.

He had a stellar start. Everton's game at the Emirates Stadium was among the few to survive England's deep freeze. Donovan exposed the frailties of Armand Traore, the Arsenal left-back, even if the 2-2 draw is better remembered for Steven Pienaar's gloriously cheeky goal. The following week, Manchester City were overwhelmed. At their best, Everton ally quality with a tempo that can disconcert those unfamiliar to the English game. Donovan coped well.

If that ranked as Everton's finest performance of the season then, it has since been surpassed. Everton's first victory against Chelsea since 2000 contained a brace from Louis Saha, the first following Donovan's cross. The 3-1 win against Manchester United had a similar rarity value - just a second triumph in 32 attempts - and raised the bar again. Donovan had a part in the second goal, scored by Dan Gosling, though his deployment on the left flank may have been more significant. Given the lack of pace of United's veteran right-back, Gary Neville, and Donovan's turn of speed, the switch made sense.

That apart, David Moyes has preferred to use the 28-year-old on the right of midfield. He referred to Donovan's versatility when recruiting him on loan but, though some of his football for Los Angeles Galaxy and the United States has come in a central role, he has been confined to the flank in England. Tim Cahill and Pienaar have been the favoured men to play in the hole behind the sole striker in Moyes' 4-4-1-1 formation.

Options abound for the Everton manager, whose squad contains a variety of very different, and often adaptable, attacking midfielders. It is a sign, however, that while Donovan has acclimatised remarkably well and is arguably the USA's outstanding footballer, a Premier League side has not been built around him just yet. However, he has proved himself an important team player.

Credit has been accrued. On the debit side, there was that miss against Tottenham and an ineffective display in Lisbon, though the majority of his team-mates were no better, as Everton exited the Europa League.

Sunday should be Donovan's final game at Goodison Park, when Everton host Hull, before his 10 weeks on Merseyside conclude with next Saturday's trip to Birmingham. The verdicts should be overwhelmingly positive; Donovan displaced the £10 million Russian Diniyar Bilyaletdinov from the side and his arrival coincided with Everton's best form of the campaign.

Goodbye, however, may not necessarily mean farewell. Whether a Beckham-esque annual loan is feasible, or in Galaxy's interest, is one for consideration. But it is instructive that before signing the left-footed, left-sided Bilyaletdinov, Moyes was looking for a right-sided midfielder. It is a description that applies better to the American than the Russian.

And as a manager who has recruited Tim Howard and Brian McBride in the past and who regularly opts to spend pre-season in the United States, the Scot, more than most of his contemporaries, enjoys a special relationship with the American game. His budget is limited - in both 2008 and 2009 he broke even in the transfer market - but a bid to acquire Donovan on a permanent contract is possible. On the evidence of the past 11 games, he could do a lot worse.


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