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.