Clint Dempsey moves to Seattle

It must be strange being a footballer. For most of us our careers, such as they are, stretch out into the great temporal unknown. (Mine does anyway – I know lots of people are in a hurry to get to ‘the top’, but if I ever reach ‘the top’ it will have been because someone drove me there against my will.)

But as a footballer you’re basically tied down to the knowledge that beyond, say, 33, you’ll be lucky to get the jobs you want. If you spend a year in the reserves you lose one of these crucial years, and you also lose time to build a reputation that then might get you a better job… before time runs out. Every season counts. It’s partly why injuries, which seem so ideal to those of us who’d love a few weeks out of circulation, are so distressing to footballers.

For Clint Dempsey that career clock started ticking quickly. He wasn’t in the top leagues until relatively late, and then he found that he couldn’t get the regular games he felt his ability deserved. Whether his talent was held back by Roy Hodgson or shaped by him is quite hard to untangle, but in any case, Dempsey under Mark Hughes and Martin Jol had become a fabulous player.

Too late, though. Had he been 25 he might have had the pick of clubs, but as things stood, in the eyes of a big club he was always a second hand lexus rather than the new ferrari his goals tally suggested.

Dempsey still believed in himself though, which is why he left Fulham, where a second hand Lexus was the best car in the garage (the metaphors are quite confused here, aren’t they? What with Fulham being a very wealthy area, too), to Spurs, where expensive (overpriced) cars were the norm.

He gave up being a big fish in a smallish pond to being a small fish in a big pond (lexus? fish? what next?).

We have talked before about the folly of ambition but you can’t fault Dempsey for trying. You can fault Jurgen Klinsmann for belittling Fulham and Dempsey’s achievements there, and you can fault football in general for transforming itself into a ‘me first, show me the money’ industry where individualism is all there is, but Dempsey, with that ticking career clock, had to at least try to move on.

The sad thing is that it all happened so wrongly. Spurs must have appealed on the basis that they were “somewhere else” but in retrospect it was a terrible choice for Dempsey, who could have been useful to a number of other half-reasonable teams, particularly had he looked abroad.

Mais non: he went to Spurs, a vehicle for the sprawling talents of the simian Gareth Bale, a team that had a number of good players who might also want Dempsey’s role, and which wasn’t in the Champions’ League either. He had an up and down season, a predictable one probably: he got some goals, but didn’t really convince his new team’s fans. He certainly didn’t have to move on after that, but a switch to somewhere like Everton, as mooted, would have made sense.

Then we find out he’s gone to Seattle. This makes a lot of sense as well:

1. the atmosphere he’ll play in front of will be great. I know American sports teams try to build in English style “passion” to their marketing, what with their songs and named groups and whatnot, but in truth English football is pretty passion-less. This is partly to do with all-seater stadia, and partly a demographics issue, but you can go entire seasons watching top level English football without experiencing a saucepan atmosphere, let alone a cauldron one. I went to Anfield a few years back, full of excitement: it was silent. True, it was ‘only’ Fulham, and perhaps the fans weren’t so thrilled to see us, but still. (Roy Hodgson, of course, noted the same thing while managing the club, which only made them hate him more). In any case, Seattle draws fans by the bucketload, and games there should be good fun for that reason.

2. he’ll be the star man. I think he’ll enjoy being “the man”.

3. he’ll be paid to be a star man. This matters, of course.

4. it’s not really a backwards step when you consider everything. I mean, he has a young family, which presumably he’d want to take home before long, so really what do you do? Mess around in England for four more seasons trying to recapture a glory that may never be re-caught? Move your family to Germany for a bit? Dunno, but moving to Seattle would be a decent option in that list I’d say.

5. why not? America seems to be a fabulous place to live if you have money. I’m stunned that more footballers don’t do this.

6. when you get to a certain material comfort zone, I’m told that life becomes less about securing more money than about leaving a legacy. Look at Tony Blair! He left us with the milennium dome and the Olympics! Where would we be without those! In any case, Dempsey playing in MLS probably does matter, on all kinds of levels. He’s making a difference to the game in the US. That’s important. Good on him.

8 thoughts on “Clint Dempsey moves to Seattle

  1. Nice to hear from you again Rich. Thoughtful as ever.
    Here’s a contrary view; he never wanted to go to Spurs; for some odd reason he wanted Liverpool; he claimed it was because he wanted Champions league football, yet he would never have got that at Liverpool; he messed us around, spurning the chance to become a Fulham legend (for what it’s worth), and upsetting a presumably stable family life in London; at the last minute he was offered a lifeline by Spurs and took it only to save face; he was only a moderate success at Spurs, for all the reasons you outlined.

    So why the move to MLS – dummy spit? money? loan deal to European club in the off-season already lined up? selfless move to give a boost to U.S. football?

    Or maybe, Clint is human, and footballers not being the brightest, he hasn’t really thought it through, just like he didn’t think through his move to Spurs.

    I’m sure his many fans will think differently.

  2. Makes as much sense as anything, Mike. I personally tend to go where the wind blows me, careerwise; perhaps Clint’s just done the same. Real shame he left us though, I loved watching him, I loved “Fulham goalscorer, number 23, CLIIIINT DEMPSEY!”

  3. Rich, it is SO good to have your always well-thought insights again. You’ve really nailed this one, better than many of us who still have a strong resentment toward Dempsey. It gives me a little tinge of bitterness for Klinsi, as well. I mean, hell, he’s a Spurs’ legend, one would think he would understand, right? And with us on a ten or eleven game win streak or is it no losses, we need a strong Klinsi and Clint for the hex. in a couple weeks.

    Thank you for bringing a bit of common sense and objectivity where it’s been sorely needed (at least in my case.)

  4. Is he “the man” in Seattle? For marketing purposes certainly, but on the field Obafemi Martins is both younger and more accomplished; it utterly astonishes me that he’s playing in MLS at this stage in his career, though I suppose the factors that Rich listed are as applicable to him as they are to Dempsey.

  5. CD23 as I liked to call him was my all-time favourite Fulham player. He had a habit of scoring massive goals and I loved his attitude and commitment. He was a very influential player and we definitely miss him. I was not happy he left but it is what it is. I agree with your assessment that he made the wrong choice of club.

    Let’s hope he recovers in time for the match against TFC this Saturday to which I coincidentally happen to be going. He might come on as a sub.

    To your point about why more players don’t go to the MLS, the playing standard, while improved, is still not close to the top European leagues. Also only a couple of guys per team get to be on big dollars, I believe most of the rank and file are not paid very well by top flight European standards.

    Good to see you back, I was starved of insightful FFC related content.

  6. It did appear that he didn’t really have a choice of club – there was only one prepared to match the terms on offer. Unfortunately he choose the route of ‘engineering’ a move out of the club, and there does seem to be a real sense of the clubs themselves being fed up with this approach nowadays – look at the debacles this season with Rooney, Suarez etc. I suspect this is somewhat the fault of agents…..”just sign the big deal on offer, we’ll worry about getting you out later”

    It is not a bad move for Clint at all, for all the reasons you’ve outlined. However, I’m sure I’m like many fans of Clint…..there’s a nagging doubt about this move, perhaps somewhat ‘Euro-snobbishly’. He’s a great player, he’s a confident young man who believes in himself, he’s still at his peak although the finish line is beginning to appear at a distance on the horizon. But he’s leaving the premier league a little jaded and tarnished by a so-so season at WHL.

    Surely he could still have fulfilled his aim of Champions League football on the continent? Surely another premier league club would have been interested in his talents? Surely there was still the chance to be a big fish at a number of clubs? It does feel a little like it’s a retreat which is possibly unfair, but you only get one shot at it as a professional footballer and I would’ve thought he’d have wanted to fulfill those ambitions with another couple of years ‘doing Europe’. It will be interesting to see if he does resurface for a European loan deal in the summer.

    Good Luck Clint.

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