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Donovan must keep earning EPL respect

Martin Rogers
Yahoo Sports

Follow Martin Rogers on Twitter at @mrogersyahoo

Those well versed in the intelligence world will tell you that the ideal spy is someone whose presence is so unobtrusive that you barely notice he's in the room and forget about him immediately afterward.

Judging by that description, Landon Donovan doesn't exactly fit the bill.

The British tabloids were swift to brand Donovan as the United States' World Cup spy last week, after he arrived for a loan spell with Everton promising to gather information on the English team ahead of the U.S.-England showdown in South Africa. But anyone who was expecting Donovan's 10-week stint in the English Premier League to be primarily about reconnaissance was given a rude awakening Saturday.

The USA's best-known and most accomplished player made an impressive start to his time in the EPL, playing 68 effective minutes and setting up the opening goal as Everton held Arsenal to a 2-2 draw at the Emirates Stadium.

Donovan attracts criticism like no other American player and his mental fortitude has often been called into question after previous attempts at cracking Europe, with German sides Bayer Leverkusen and Bayern Munich, failed to bear fruit. While it will take more than one game to show he is an effective force in the EPL, the early signs are good.

Certainly, if the U.S. wants a shot at making major progress at the World Cup, it must hope that a fit and in-form Donovan returns from England in the middle of March. To achieve that, Donovan finally appears to have adopted the right mentality, the kind of bloody-minded approach that is required in the tough and tenacious English league.

Excuses don't wash in the Premiership. It doesn't matter that the freezing weather might not agree with the Californian's idea of an ideal climate. Or that Donovan has had little training or preparation. Or that Everton has been languishing near the foot of the EPL table and is stuck with a debilitating injury list.

If Donovan wants to gain respect, he has to earn it on the back of his performances, irrespective of any mitigating circumstances. The next 10 weeks will show if Donovan is ready for that kind of challenge.

Weekend Best XI

1. Get him an Advil

As if Liverpool didn't already have enough problems, now the board has to worry about a storm of controversy brewing as a result of an offensive email allegedly sent by Tom Hicks Jr., son of co-owner Tom Hicks. There have been calls for Hicks Jr. to resign from the club's board after claims he insulted a fan who emailed him to complain about the lack of transfer funds made available to coach Rafa Benitez.

2. Get him a beer

Oregon State's Danny Mwanga is set to become the top pick in Thursday's MLS SuperDraft after agreeing to terms with first-year franchise Philadelphia Union. The Congo-born striker has been a standout in college and has the game to make a serious impact in MLS.

3. Get him some earplugs

Referee Mark Clattenburg was on the receiving end of Sir Alex Ferguson's latest rant after sending off Darren Fletcher in Manchester United's 1-1 draw at Birmingham City. To Clattenburg's credit, the official stepped forward after the game to explain his decision, and he deserved better than the apparent questioning of his integrity from Ferguson.

4. Keep an eye on …

The African Cup of Nations. An incredible opening game saw Mali fight back from 4-0 down with 11 minutes left to snatch a 4-4 draw with host nation Angola. With thrills and spills and some outstanding play, this is a tournament well worth watching.

5. Catch a flight to …

Bordeaux. Laurent Blanc's home side is currently one of Europe's most in-form teams and can effectively wrap up the Ligue 1 title by beating Marseille next Sunday. Don't forget to sample some of this picturesque region's famous wine.

6. Useless and completely made-up statistic of the week

45 – The number of minutes Jose Mourinho spent shopping in Milan on Sunday to replace the pair of trousers that were ruined when he went skidding along the turf following Inter's dramatic 4-3 comeback victory against Siena.

7. Sad goodbye

Soccer met tragedy last week when three members of the Togo delegation at the African Cup of Nations lost their lives after the team bus was targeted by Angolan separatists. The decision to host the tournament in a region suffering from severe civil unrest issues was a folly that has had the most terrible of consequences.

8. Get ready to say hello to …

Two new coaches in Major League Soccer. Hans Backe has taken charge of the New York Red Bulls, while Carlos de los Cobos has landed the top job with the Chicago Fire.

9. Get ready to say goodbye to …

Luciano Emilio. D.C. United's Brazilian star is on his way out after three seasons in the nation's capital and will join Rio Branco de Americana, a second-tier club in his homeland. Emilio was spectacular in his opening campaign in 2007 with a league-best 20 goals and MLS MVP honors, but he struggled the past two years.

10. Get excited about …

Five months until the World Cup starts and Lionel Messi's spectacular form shows no sign of letting up. Messi was superb once again for Barcelona over the weekend, smashing a remarkable hat trick as the Catalan club routed Tenerife 5-0 to remain two points clear at the top of La Liga.

11. Why it's good to be a soccer player

Because you can drop your shorts in front of thousands people and get away with it.