Prisms

This post has taken me four days to write. And I’m still not certain it’s good enough.

How does an American write about Clint Dempsey? Especially one that is a soccer fan, and a Fulham fan at that? How do I write about a player that has meant so much to this club and to this fan, when it all ended so messily and murky?

I can attempt it, but only through the selfish prism of an American fan of Fulham Football Club.

If Brian McBride was the player that made Americans aware of Fulham, Dempsey was the player that made the club everyone’s second favorite team. Impartial, casual footy fans statside (the type that follow the domestic leagues loosely, but watch every Euro/World Cup match) would often ask me, “How’d Dempsey do?” without caring for the result or whatever else was going on. He was one of the few athletes that caught everyone’s attention.

So when he jettisons our club for Tottenham, a club that many footy fans in America choose to follow because they wish to be “unique” more than anything (Bill Simmons is a fan after all: Manchester United used to, but now City get all the glory hunters; Liverpool draw the fans that care about ‘history’; Arsenal draw the ones that care about the means not the end; Chelsea still mostly get the assholes), it stings. Probably more so than Dembélé leaving.

Perhaps it’s a bit of jealousy that my friends will now “care” about Spurs like they used to “follow” Fulham, perhaps it’s my disdain toward Spurs (and this is all without Harry Redknapp as their manager); but this move didn’t have to end like this.

Especially for someone that time and again forced his way into the starting XI through hard work, determination, and that cliche “never say die” attitude that Americans pride themselves on. This just felt so heavy-handed. It hasn’t undone everything he’s accomplished here, but there is now a stain.

We all have our thoughts and suspicions on just how everyone got here but writer Ty Duffy has the best answer I’ve heard yet:

Why this move? Why did it take so long? Well, it went much as we predicted heading into the summer. Dempsey was in the Donovan/MLS trap. He had no leverage. At 29 with a year left on his contract, he was worth more to Fulham than Fulham could command on the open market. He would have to force a move and the buyer would have to overpay for him. Tottenham would. Liverpool would not.

Dempsey held out and only got rewarded at the last minute for his behavior (if only that worked for the rest of us.) He is currently getting paid 2.5 times as much as he made at Fulham. Whereas before I had valued Dempsey at an easy 10m, I possibly viewed that as a Fulham fan. He was worth 10m to me. To others? For Liverpool it was 3m, or whatever derisory amount. Spurs spent 6m.

Months of drama ended in only 30 minutes or so. Late on Friday, we lost the leading scorer in our Premier League history, a feat that probably won’t be matched anytime soon, to a club a few miles away.

Clint last played for Fulham on May 6; scoring a wonderful free kick goal in the penultimate match of the season against Sunderland. It would be his 23rd in all competitions, and be a new record. He would never wear our laundry again. Since then, we’ve lost Andy Johnson to QPR, Danny Murphy and Dickson Etuhu to Blackburn, and Moussa Dembélé to Spurs as well.

Sure, we brought in Berbatov. But this move reminds me of when a baseball team trades away a promising pitcher and a stalwart shortstop…and signs an aging but star slugger that’ll bat DH. It’ll excite the fan base. It’ll get words typed from the press. Several friends (one’s that are actually “real” fans) even sent me congratulatory texts.

But for the first time since January 27, 2004, there isn’t an American in Fulham’s first team. For the first time since January 11, 2007, Clint Dempsey isn’t with the club. And this is going to take some getting used to.

Dempsey once famously said “once you can’t do it for the game anymore, the game don’t care.”

Too bad us fans still will.


Timmy Gelles is a writer for Craven Cottage Newsround. A Fulham fan since 2006, the upcoming international break will do little to placate him. E-mail him or follow him on twitter.

24 thoughts on “Prisms

  1. He looked after number one and decided that was all that mattered. Most of us would likely have done the same but it’s no way to win or keep friends.

  2. I know it has ended a little messily but I really don’t hold it against him at all. I think for better or worse it is the way of the world. Players hold a great deal of power and considering that we’d done pretty well to hold on to Clint as long as we did.

    He could have left after the Europa League campaign but didn’t. He could have left after the Hughes debacle but didn’t. I think if someone big had shown enough interest he would have jumped but that didn’t happen and he found himself still at Fulham, getting more praise for another excellent season under Jol but still no nearer that elusive “Champions League” move.

    I think he realised his stock was as high as it was ever going to get and if he didn’t get a move this season it was never going to happen, hence the “strike” and complete determination to move “somewhere” else.

    I’m as sentimental as anyone about the loss of players I like (and Clint is right up there with my all time favourites) but we really can’t complain about what he achieved whilst he was with us (probably the best 5 seasons we’ve ever had … so far) and I accept this was his time to move on.

    Love Clint and wish him well, love Fulham more and looking to the future. COYW!

  3. I dont really know how to react to Dempsey going.

    At the moment I feel as though I can’t really look him in the eye (as silly as that sounds) and it is all a bit awkward. I mean, I want to still like him, but he now plays for another team and spent the summer trying to screw Fulham over for personal gain.

    I will get over it eventually, but I dont think I will be able to enjoy watching him score for another team nor be happy about any success he had. The proud feeling of watching him score for Fulham and get to near the top of the top scorers chart last season wont return until either he leaves the Prem or retires.

  4. I think Chopper’s third paragraph is the proper perspective to look at the unique circumstances facing Dempsey this summer. It’s not like he hasn’t continuously told the press that he wants to move to a team that would play in the CL (or at least with a chance with the extra benefit of keeping his family in the UK). We shouldn’t be surprised that it happened the way it did. Dempsey has said some nice things about FFC and the fans since the transfer so I don’t think that Dempsey comported himself all that poorly considering that as a 29 year old coming off last season this was probably his only shot. If he had stuck around, he probably would have had a good season but one that regressed towards his mean. He probably would have been looking at a transfer to a lower level CL team from continental Europe in my estimation. OK so I’m totally rambling and being an utter apologist hear, but that’s how I am mentally processing the whole thing because I had the same emotional attachment to #23 as Tim did. Probably what makes it a little easier on me is that I actually like Tottenham, and I know Tim does not. Anyway, onward and upward!

    Also, I think comparing Berbatov to an aging DH is unfair. His game is not built on speed but on awareness, positioning, and skill–things that don’t regress as quickly with age. I think that at his age, he brings a lot more to Fulham than an aging DH.

    And in closing, I think it is obvious what FFC needs to do now from a purely selfish American standpoint–they need to sign a new (and good) American player. Too bad the US doesn’t have any decent center midfielders. If only we could timewarp and get Claudio Reyna from 8 years ago in here. Anyway, I vote for Agudelo as a winter transfer. Ramble ended.

    1. And, if we want to continue with the baseball analogy, Murphy was an aging DH when we signed him, and that turned out pretty well.

  5. Oh yeah, also, nice article, Tim. Sort of an emotional, difficult topic to deal with and put into words from an American’s viewpoint.

  6. Obviously it doesn’t help to dwell on the past, but I can’t help but imagine what this club would look like with Dempsey, Dembele and Berbatov all playing together. The only thing we were really lacking towards the end of last season was a class striker.

    Oh well.

  7. You don’t have to worry. Berbatov is nothing like “an aging but star slugger that’ll bat DH.” He’s 31 years old, plays a deep-lying game that does not rely on pace whatsoever. The best comparison I can come up with is to Teddy Sheringham. What was Sheringham doing at 31? He moved to Man U to replace Eric Cantona. He had seven top-quality Premiership seasons ahead of him.

    As for Dempsey, frankly I’m disappointed he went to Spurs. He should have gone to Liverpool and got everything he deserved: playing for a bad team, finishing his career under a cloud. There may be two sides to every story, but, as I’ve said elsewhere, that doesn’t mean that one side isn’t the correct one. The contrast with the professional way in which Dembele comported himself this summer is marked. Dempsey acted appallingly, told the world all he wanted was to move to a Champions League club, and then whored himself out to Liverpool, and made himself “unavailable for selection”, greatly diminishing his transfer value to Fulham. Dembele knuckled down, maximized his value to us by continuing to play his best, and left with the well wishes of all (even though we’re disappointed).

    Some might say, well “look what he’s done for Fulham.” But what exactly had he done for Fulham that is that greater than what we had done for him? Nothing. Dempsey is no better than Bullard and, given his vastly better-rewarded career than Bullard had at the same stage, deserves no better in his career going forward than Bullard has had to-date.

    1. What I meant about Berbatov wasn’t the exact translation of skill sets, but more the buzz it will create amongst the fans and media; without really addressing the subtractions that were made. I’m realllllly happy he’s here; but there’s a glaring hole in the center of midfield that I would’ve liked addressed first.

        1. We’re moving forward with only two recognized CMs: one has never stayed healthy for more than a few months at a time the 18 or so months at the club (played four matches after last November); the other has such a long injury history that he floated through two full transfer windows before we picked him up.

          They’re good players, but there’s no depth at that position. Would like it if we picked up Somen Tchoyi as a stopgap.

        2. 100% in agreement with you here. I just don’t see it. We now have so many players with the skill set to play in midfield, on the wing or in attack that we are not short of players for the first team (for the squad maybe, but that’s not what’s being discussed). We have never had a squad full of so many technically gifted players, comfortable on the ball and good with a pass. They just need to be organized and well-drilled in their defensive work and we will be better than fine.

  8. A nice piece Timmy, and it certainly captures some of my own thoughts. I want to think that with time I’ll remember Dempsey as fondly as I liked him when he played for us. I think that’s possible. The exit was messy and that clouds things right now but perhaps, just maybe, there were extenuating reasons we’re unaware of. Dembele has more of an upside as a player, and could easily play his best ball for a team other than us, and that’s what makes his exit sting, but Dempsey’s identity as a player was wrapped up in Fulham, and he likely gave us his best years. He was around long enough for that happen, and for me that’s what makes his exit tougher to take. He wasn’t a star when he joined but he was when he left.

  9. Players used meeting my description: Duff, Kaca, Rodallega, Kasami

    Players not used: Diarra, Berbatov, Petric, Ruiz, Dejagah, Frei, Richardson, Davies.

    1. Sorry that was a reply to c anderson above. Note the squad listing just announced that indicates because of the order that they were listed that we have four central midfielders in Jol’s mind — Diarra, Sidwell, Baird, Davies — two right wingers — Duff, Dejagah — two left wingers — Ruiz, Richardson — and three strikers — Berbatov, Petric, Rodallega. Given the abilities of Berbatov and Petric to play behind the front man, and the young players we have further in reserve, I would say that the squad looks pretty nicely structured and balanced. Would it be nice to have an upgrade over Sidwell, Baird and Davies as Diarra’s partner? Yes. Is there a glaring hole without one? No.

      1 Schwarzer, Mark
      2 Somogyi, Csaba
      3 Stockdale, David Adam
      4 Etheridge, Neil
      5 Riether, Sascha
      6 Kelly, Stephen Michael
      7 Hughes, Aaron William
      8 Hangeland, Brede Paulsen
      9 Senderos, Philippe
      10 Riise, John Arne
      11 Duff, Damien Anthony
      12 Dejagah, Ashkan
      13 Davies, Simon
      14 Baird, Christopher
      15 Sidwell, Steven James
      16 Diarra, Mahamadou
      17 Ruiz Gonzalez, Bryan Jafet
      18 Richardson, Kieran Edward
      19 Petric, Mladen
      20 Rodallega Martinez, Hugo
      21 Berbatov, Dimitar

  10. I guess it also depends how much you believe in Jol’s words after the game on Saturday – he seemed genuinely surprised that someone had stumped up for Dembele in the final days of the transfer window, when there hadn’t been a previous murmur from interested clubs. I think he felt he’d have another 6 months with him in the centre of the team. Certainly, the midfield performance on Saturday looked suspiciously like it was cobbled together post Dembele-transfer, rather than orchestrated and concentrating on rehearsed defending against the rather obvious Allardyce tactic of supporting runners off the knock downs. He also suggested that he would have liked to have found a replacement to bolster the midfield, so I’m inclined to believe him that he felt a little caught out perhaps.

    Berbatov was excellent in his 45 minutes, and I think he’ll be an absolute treat to watch at the Cottage.

    As for Dempsey, yes it wasn’t an ideal ending but I’m not letting that tarnish memories of a wonderful player who never gave less than his all for the team, and who’s star grew brighter ever year. It was obvious at the end of the season that he wanted a new challenge at probably the pivotal moment in his career, and he was clearly tapped up by Liverpool/Rodgers. That they failed to complete the deal must be embarassing to Dempsey, but his insistance on a transfer does mean the club pockets more money as they don’t have to pay him a severance fee, so has it really been all that disruptive? I don’t think so, and I think Jol was planning all along for his departure so it is unlikely to affect our performances too much, provided the other midfielders can spread his goal return amongst them.

    A big game against West Brom, but hopefully a confident performance and win can put the topsy turvey last week of the transfer window behind us and settle everything down again. COYWs.

  11. I love wearing my Dempsey shirt around Texas. When a soccer fan sees me in that shirt, I always get the “how did I know it would be Dempsey” nod and smile.

    I don’t like that he wouldn’t play for the team this year. I hate that that sort of behavior is excused. That said, I’ll still enjoy watching him on the spurs, until they play Fulham.

    Great article Timmy.

    1. Thanks Adam, means a lot coming from you!

      And I agree about this sort of behavior. It’s pretty unique to footy, isn’t it? Could be wrong, but very few examples of players in the big four leagues here going on strike come to mind. Sure, players hold out for better deals all the time. But they stick with the team; they don’t have “trade me now” mentality. And then get rewarded.

      1. NFL players holdout before they come under contract quite a bit. They also “holdout” during training camp as a tactic to get a new contract. I think Chris Johnson did it last year after being the NFL’s leading rusher in 2010.

        1. True, but the goal is almost always to resign with the team; they just want more money than what they got the year(s) prior.

          Dempsey’s, much like Berbatov’s and Cole’s years ago and countless other players, is basically one of an overt “F you, I’m never playing for this team again, so please sell me now.” And they always do.

    2. According to Deuce in recent interviews before the Jamaica match, he didn’t refuse to play for the team. And as I recall, Jol changed his tune and said that he left out Dempsey because he wasn’t mentally fit to play. Hard to know the truth, to be honest, but I think there was a lot of misrepresentation of the situation (intentional or not, I don’t know).

      Be that as it may, I’ll sure miss Clint. He gave his all for the squad and worked hard to get back into the starting lineup on more than one occasion. Holding on to a player of his caliber for 5 1/2 years is pretty amazing, given our relative situation in the league (i.e.- we are one of those clubs where once a player gets good, he gets plucked by the bigger teams).

      As for CM, I agree we are a bit thin. This would never happen, but I’d love to see Michael Bradley for us. I think he’d be a great fit in the middle.

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