Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Importance of Feeling Welcomed

Not to make this a Landon Donovan blog, but his loan to Everton has been a large story for US soccer fans. This weekend he played what might be his last game in front of the Everton faithful at Goodison park, with his last potential match being at Birmingham. Donovan come on as a substitute and scored a nice goal and had an assist. He should have had two assists but a beautiful ball for Yakubu was wasted by the striker.

Anyway you can view the match highlights here.

While much of the talk recently has concerned the possibility of extending his loan deal, -- a "one in a million" possibility according to LA Galaxy coach Bruce Arena -- I'm particularly interested in one aspect of the Everton loan that greatly helped Donovan be successful.

In the book Soccernomics, which I reviewed here, one of the major topics was how some teams are more successful than others in the transfer market. One of the key components is not determining best value and recognizing players with high upside, but rather simply helping the new player feel welcomed and become acclimated to his new environs.

Some teams do nothing and it's often the case that new players for these teams struggle. You hear it all the time, they must learn a new language, culture, get to know a new city and so forth. Without having the book in front of me, I think it was Didier Drogba who claimed this as a problem at Chelsea.

Other teams, however, put forth the extra effort to help their players acclimatize. For instance, they hire assistants who help the new player with whatever he needs, whether it's finding a new home, schools, groceries, or just going to the movies.

It makes obvious sense that the less you are worried or stressed about things outside your job, the more likely you are to be successful at applying yourself on the job. If you're unhappy, you don't perform well.

Well, Donovan was clearly unhappy in his past stints with Bayer Leverkusen and with Bayern Munich. This article on Fox Soccer notes that Donovan was essentially left to sink or swim on his own in Germany. And as we have long known, Donovan needs to feel wanted and comfortable with his surroundings. It's why he's always remained in Southern California. David Moyes recognized that Donovan needs to be comfortable where he is and needs to know his situation.

The family-like atmosphere provided by both the Everton team and the fans was the first and probably most important step to ensuring Donovan's loan would be successful. Granted not every team will have the perfect, ready-made helping hand in US national team teammate Tim Howard, but it also shows why Everton is a such a good location for Donovan if and when he returns to the EPL. A team like Chelsea may not provide the same nuturing environment. I'm not saying he shouldn't consider Chelsea if they are in fact interested, but it's something to consider.

This example also shows how well David Moyes understands his players, and why he's been such a successful manager. He's not managing on a level playing field against Sir Alex Ferguson, and he lacks the hardware (other than three League Managers Association Manager of the Year awards), but he's widely respected for a reason.

(Interesting side note about EPL managers: of the top 10 teams in the EPL table, only two are managed by an Englishman - Harry Redknapp of Tottenham and Roy Hodgson of Fulham. The remaining eight include three Scotsmen, two Italians, and one Irishman, Spaniard, and Frenchman. And for so long the FA wanted to keep the England managerial position in the hands of an Englishman...)

Donovan's last match for Everton will be shown live on Fox Soccer Channel on Saturday, and I can only hope that he'll be back in England before too long, though his reception may be a little less warm depending on his summer exploits.

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