Dempsey joins the elite?

One thing we don’t seem to do very much of in football is look at a player’s career arc. So when people talk about Robin van Persie scoring all these goals it’s hard to know whether it’s a monumental fluke or something he’s been building up to. I confess to having assumed the former, but in that I was probably wrong.

Below are year-on-year performances of three leading attacking midfielders and Robin van Persie since 2006. The thing here is that van Persie has probably indeed been building up to this season for a while, he just hasn’t been on the pitch enough. The final column in each group, the goals per 38 games figure, bears this out. All van Persie has done this year is improve a bit (or lose Fabregas, who presumably took some of the attacking burden) and stay on the pitch more.

The columns show the season, the appearances, the goals and the number of goals each player would have scored had he played 38 games.

 It’s interesting to see Clint Dempsey’s progress, too. Some of this is surely improvement – he’s definitely grown into his game – but some of it might also be Martin Jol’s tactical approach, which presumably requires less defensive work than Roy Hodgson’s.

Tim Cahill is the player I’ve often thought Dempsey resembles most, not particularly in his approach work but in his sense of space and anticipation. Cahill has scored goals at a rate broadly consistent with Dempsey’s recent rate for a long time, although curiously he seems to have lost his touch this season (injuries?).  It’s also worth revisiting the old truism about health being a skill: like van Persie, Cahill hasn’t managed to stay on the pitch an enormous amount, only once touching 33 games.

Frank Lampard’s list misses Chelsea’s absolute peak but shows how consistent he’s been. But it also shows how good Dempsey’s current form is: if Lampard is an automatic England player despite not being that good an all-round player (he’s not automatic now but he has been) and Dempsey’s 2011-12 season from a (effectively) similar role is better than much of what Lampard has authored in recent times, what does that tell us about Dempsey? That he’s worth £150,000 a week? That he could contribute to a Champions’ League team?  Very possibly.

The catch here is that Lampard’s done this all his career, whereas Dempsey has scaled superstar heights only once. He’s been good and underappreciated and perhaps held back by slightly restrictive team setups, but in these numbers I think we can clearly see both how good Dempsey has become, and how good he needs to be on an ongoing basis to be considered one of the league’s star players. This is, of course, to judge him by the highest possible standards – there simply aren’t many players who can produce at this level – but this is the point: how many players even get into this conversation?

My guess is that we haven’t got a cat’s hope in hell of keeping him.

5 thoughts on “Dempsey joins the elite?

  1. For me the big change, as you allude to, is that Dempsey has more freedom this season. I think Hughes last season was also much happier to let Clint do what he wanted and hence why we see his goals increase. In hindsight, the 7 goals a season he got under Hodgson was a very good number for a midfielder in an incredibly defensive team.

    One of the biggest differences I have noticed with Clint this season has been his passing. I might have missed it before, but it seems to have dramatically improved, and he has 7 assists this season already. This is interesting because he is not a conventional winger so the majority of his assists have come from more of a no.10 role, which would lead me to believe he has more of an all round game than he is regularly given credit for.

    Can we hold onto him? Who knows. At this point, I dont really fear his departure because Jol has shown the team can adapt to the loss of key players. Honestly, I would re-sign Dembele over Dempsey and take the money. If we replaced Dempsey with a pacy, touchline hugging winger, we migh get a bit more balance. Ruiz needs to step up, but I think he is the future.

  2. In pure Soccernomics terms it probably even makes sense to sell him, doesn’t it? We’re a selling club (no shame in that – virtually all clubs are) so it makes to sense to sell if he’s peak value (Olympique Lyonnais stylee) which he probably is:

    *He’s 29 – which is probably peak age these days for an outfield player.
    *He’s in the form of his life (peak goals).
    *He’s getting lots of media attention (e.g. PWA awards)

    And as AlexL says – Jol has proven that he’s more than capable of removing cogs of the team if necessary or desirable.

    I just hope that he joins a team that gives him Champions League football (I’m sure he will!) so that we can keep an eye on our favourite American!

    1. Actually, he probably would fit in at Paris rather well and I bet the club wouldn’t mind an increased interest in the club from American soccer fans. He’d certainly force Pastore and Menez to up their game.

      However, since he speaks Spanish he’d probably rather go to somewhere like Valencia wouldn’t he? (and when he plays in their black and white kit we could squint our eyes and pretend he was still playing for us!)

      1. I dont think Clint would go to Roma, but I think he would be a huge hit in Italy. The Italians love the heroic style player that Dempsey is and it would not surprise me if he became a cult hero over there.

        I still think that if he does go, it will be to an English team (Arsenal).

  3. Its quite simple for me. In addition to growing into his peak, Dempsey is finally being played as the support striker he is, rather than as a Lampard/Cahill midfielder who scores goals, which is not his best position.

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