After hearing Landon Donovan's thoughts on Los Angeles Galaxy, Jurgen Klinsmann and the growth of Major League Soccer in the first part of the interview, our attention turns to his spells abroad, most notably his two recent loans to Everton.
The forward also singles out the Everton fans and Clint Dempsey, his USA team-mate for special praise for his remarkable 2011/12 season for Fulham.
FIFA.com: You’ve obviously had experience playing in Germany and England on loan. Which is the most memorable of all your spells abroad?
Landon Donovan: Well, as ‘quote’ bad or disappointing the Bayern Munich spell was, it was still a very good learning opportunity for me and it was still exciting being as it was the first time I had the opportunity to do that. That being said, the first stint at Everton was pretty special just because I didn’t know what to expect. And, going there and being welcomed that way is really remarkable, not only as an athlete but as a human being – it’s a pretty special feeling. I think this time was more challenging in certain ways. I think there was more expectation. I think the team had lost Steven Pienaar and Mikel Arteta, who were their two most creative players, a little bit of quality was missing. But, it was a little more rewarding because to be a part of a team that pulled off some special results after they had gone through a stretch where things weren’t going too well was really fun to be a part of.
How have your experiences at Everton made you a better footballer?
Well what’s it done for my confidence is it’s reiterated to me that I can play not one game, not two games, not three games at that level, not a World Cup tournament at that level, but that I can consistently play at that level over eight, ten, 12 games. And, being there I have so much respect now for guys that play 30, 35, 40 games in a season and are consistently good because it’s so demanding physically and mentally. It’s really draining and it’s very demanding. Guys that are able to do that have all my respect.
Would you like to come back to Everton?
I would absolutely like to come back. There’s no question about that. And I know I will be back at some point. Now, whether I’m back as a player or just as a fan, who knows? Right now, my focus is obviously is on this season and qualifying for the World Cup. It’s a big, really important year, and then we’ll see what happens. I’ve always said the same thing: I’ll see how my body feels, I’ll see how I feel mentally, I’ll see where the Galaxy are at and what they’re OK or not OK with and then we’ll make a decision. Obviously a big part of it too is whether David Moyes wants me. There is a lot of factors that go into it. I don’t see it as a foregone conclusion that 1: I’ll be physically OK to go, 2: the Galaxy would let me go, and 3: that Everton would want me. You have to make sure all of those aligned and if it all works out, then it works out and if not, then it doesn’t.
While on loan at Everton you were saying how you missed the weather in LA. What do you miss about Merseyside?
I miss the people. I miss the people a lot. I miss driving to Goodison Park. I miss just the positive energy of the fans walking into the stadium and how much they care about that club and the team. And I miss the players a lot. The players are really what made it easiest for me when I first went. I’ll be forever indebted because with a lot of teams’ guys there would be jealousy, they wouldn’t be welcoming, and they would do everything they can to not allow you to get on the field in that couple of months. And, it was the opposite when I first got there (Everton) and I will always remember that.
We’ve got the Olympics coming up. There are going to be a lot of players coming over, playing in the stadiums in England. What do you find the most special thing about playing in England?
I’m very impressed with the knowledge of the fans. You know, I’m sure there’s a decent amount of people in the stands who never played at a very high level, but they’ve grown up with the game – it’s in their blood. There are still groups of fans in our country that are there for the entertainment, but they don’t really understand the nuances of the game. But if we play at Goodison, if there’s a subtle play that someone makes that’s not a goalscoring opportunity, or a great save, or just a couple good passes to get out of pressure, everyone realises what was involved to make that happen. And there’s applause or there’s a buzz in the stands which transmits to the players. They’re educated – and you realise that people understand what’s going on. That’s really impressive, and for an athlete that’s pretty cool. It’s cool to watch from afar, but it’s very cool to feel when you’re in it and to know that you’re playing in front of people who understand what they are watching. Conversely, you don’t get away with anything because people know it and they see it! It’s good and it keeps you accountable.
What did you make of Clint Dempsey’s season in the Premier League this time around?
To be honest, it’s almost hard to believe watching it because what’s happened is he has became a player that anybody around the world, any nationality, would say ‘wow, what an incredible year’. And for us as Americans that doesn’t happen. You know, we don’t have guys in the Premier League that pull off seasons like that. So, if he was just Robin van Persie, or Wayne Rooney, or Gareth Bale, or anyone else you’d be in awe of him and you’d say ‘what an amazing year’. And now he’s a guy that we’ve all had the pleasure of playing with, training with, being around and you see him do it and really it’s almost surreal. There’s no doubt this is the best season any American has ever put together in football.
Do you think it makes it more impressive that it is at a club like Fulham?
Well, I think it’s more impressive because he’s playing at a team where he’s become the man, the go-to guy and that’s very difficult. When teams are playing against Fulham every week, the first thing I’m sure that comes out of the manager’s mouth is ‘we’ve got to make sure Clint Dempsey is shut down’, and he’s still doing it with that attention. It’s not like he’s playing alongside Van Persie, Arteta, [Tomas] Rosicky and [Theo] Walcott, and then he’s just finding his way and some goals. He’s been their go-to guy, and he’s often times the one making the difference in their games. I’m thoroughly impressed with him and it’s been really fun to watch.
Comparing Dempsey with yourself, obviously he’s made his career in Europe, why have you decided to remain in the USA?
I’ve always, I guess, been a little different in that way. I know conventional wisdom has always been to go to Europe and I did that early on, and I tried it, but I realised pretty quickly if I wasn’t playing, nothing else mattered – I wasn’t going to be happy. Early on, it was a little bit of a cop-out because I wasn’t ready or prepared or hadn’t been taught how to just fight through it and deal with it. So a little part of me regrets that I didn’t stick it out and didn’t try to do that early on, but then now being back and being a part of the Premier League, I really enjoy it. Fortunately, in the past few years I’ve had the opportunity to sort of scratch the itch of playing in Europe and have the opportunity to do things I’ve always wanted to do, while still helping MLS grow and being a part of this league which I thoroughly enjoy doing.