I don’t care if there’s no ‘end product’. I’ve honestly never seen a footballer who’s as fun to watch as Mousa Dembele.
We sit in what I used to think of as “Paintil Corner”, the area of the Riverside where John Paintsil was most active when defending the Hammersmith End. The thing with being that close to the action is that you lose a lot of perspective, but you do grow to appreciate the speed and nimbleness of top level football. Everything is bang-bang-bang, and the gifted players alone are able to come up with constructive solutions to messy problems.
Danny Murphy can do that thing where the ball rolls across his body. Bryan Ruiz has Chris Waddle’s ability to glide beyond a hypnotised defender on the back of no obvious deception. Dembele is extraoardinary. He reminds me of Barry Sanders or one of those great American Football running backs, his balance and acceleration being such that he’s working to different rules to everyone else. And up close you really get to see how impressive this is. He’s quick, but he’s strong and decisive as well. It’s brilliant to see him receive the ball, shift it in that da-de-da-de-gone! way of his: The Hammersmith Quickstep, gone in half a second.
He couldn’t be more different to Clint Dempsey, not least in their attitudes to goals. Dempsey’s best when he’s arriving and hitting the ball first time; Dembele almost sees it as his duty to take a few touches (and earlier in the year this was frustrating people). Outside of tackling (which we know he’s good at) I honestly can’t remember him doing anything ‘out of control’, at least not in the getting your shorts dirty sense. So while Dempsey will crash the area on the off chance, Dembele lurks, sits back, waiting to do things on his own terms. Dempsey thrives because he’s better able to interpret chaos than others; Dembele’s is a more orderly form of genius. It’s part of why they’ve become such terrific team-mates.
Fulham have cobbled together an attacking unit that can beat you in a number of ways. It’s a work in progress and still needs pace somewhere (can we have Valencia, Sir Alex?) but the parts in this machine are about as good as we can hope for. Losing Dembele and Dempsey in one summer would be a huge shame. I don’t doubt that we could replace them to the extent that we could finish top 10 again, but these two are unusual, and were the league not so very competitive, could easily lead Fulham to something strange.
It won’t happen, but I hope both go to clubs where they’ll play regularly and have a chance to thrive. Dempsey feels perhaps a year late on this; Dembele perhaps a year early, but both will command big money. We’re not going to say no, I don’t imagine.