By Mark Bennett
"I owe Bayer 04 Leverkusen and it is time that I fulfilled my part of the deal," said United States attacking midfield player Landon Donovan as he announced his imminent return to the BayArena this January. "I feel that I am ready for the Bundesliga now."
When Leverkusen completed the signing of Donovan back in 1999, experts believed the club had secured the services of one of the brightest talents in the game. However, his career in the Bundesliga did not go to plan. In his first season with Leverkusen he found himself playing for the reserves and failed to make an appearance in the German top division.
That summer, he spoke to club officials, insisting that he needed to train with the first team to have any chance of developing as a player. That idea did not work out and during the winter break of the 2000/01 season, plagued by homesickness, the Californian returned home to play on loan with his local club, San José Earthquakes. He was to remain there for the next four years.
Having seen his dreams of European football shattered, Donovan could have lost all faith in his abilities, but instead he rediscovered his confidence and his form and soon became Major League Soccer's hottest property. Twice his country's footballer of the year, he underlined his prowess by being given the captaincy of the US national team at the age of just 22.
With all of that experience behind him, Donovan knew that the time was right to return to Germany as the winter transfer window opened, and coach Klaus Augenthaler is glad to have him. "Donovan is a very talented player and he could have a good career here," he said. "This time he wants to be a success."
Being a success at Leverkusen will take serious effort for the 22-year-old. With forwards Dimitar Berbatov, Andriy Voronin and França all in great form as Leverkusen jetted off for Gran Canaria for their mid-winter training camp, his best chance of a first-team place would look to be in midfield.
That will mean competing with Robson Ponte - something that Augenthaler hopes the young American can do. "Landon can get into the penalty area and score goals, but he can also deliver the decisive pass," insisted Augenthaler. "We will play him where it is best for him and the team."
Donovan is eager to face the challenge of battling for a place in the Bundesliga and potentially in the UEFA Champions League. "I have seen the team play on a few occasions and they really like to have fun on the field," said Donovan. "
I can't wait to play with so many talented players."
Player to fear
If Donovan can match his feats on the other side of the Atlantic with Leverkusen then he could yet be a BayArena hero second time around.
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