I wrote this article for this month’s Dugout Magazine, for whom I am the dedicated Fulham writer, published about 3 weeks ago, which you can read in it’s entirety here (and I recommend it): http://www.thedugoutmagazine.com/. I thought it’d be nice to throw this up on here to raise awareness for it – and hopefully you will find it a good read also. Perhaps you have some criticisms and don’t think I reflect Fulham fairly, which I will welcome.
It’s a magazine based for all football fans, which is why although this subject has been fairly exhausted from a Fulham perspective I hoped to offer some further insight for other people. Anyway, I just submitted my article for next months edition which you will be able to read both online and in a physical copy, with magazines to be distributed all around football grounds. Follow The Dugout @TheDugout_Mag on Twitter and watch this space for next month’s issue.
Fewer players in recent times at Fulham have been the subject of as much discussion as Dembele and Dempsey. Over a period of 5 and a half years we saw Dempsey’s gradual ascension to one of the most feared attacking midfielders in the league, whereas on the other hand we saw Dembele’s shift in position from a second forward to centre mid dramatically optimise his colossal talent.
There is perhaps more to say about Dempsey. After all, he delivered some of the most sensationally dramatic moments we have experienced as Fulham fans, including scoring the goal which kept us in the league (with his first Fulham goal), his exceptional goal-scoring feats last season and, above all, the chip which conjured the most beautiful and elegant of climaxes when we came back from a three goal deficit to conquer Italian giants Juventus. Few could have anticipated that the fairly low-key signing of just £1.5m – which still made him the most expensive American footballer at the time – back in early 2007 would become the first man to manipulate time, or at least put us under the illusion, with just a strike of the ball and the steep trajectory that followed. It is difficult to explain how the seconds were dragged out as we waited for the ball to descend, and the explosion of unadulterated joy that followed it. I doubt I’ll ever experience something like that again.
Behind all that were subtle improvements in Dempsey’s game which eventually saw him mature as the 20 goal-a-season midfielder he’s now viewed as today. Seeing his technical and tactical talent mature, in combination with the work rate, athleticism, determination and raw aggression which has been a constant in Dempsey’s game, was immensely satisfying, and so his transformation from an inconsistent live-wire into a consistently deadly provider of goals, both scoring and creating (he topped our assists chart, as well as our goal scoring one), was very satisfying to watch, even more so providing that he was a certified fans favourite.
Dembele is a different case. His two years with Fulham were no doubt relatively successful ones, as we consolidated our position as top ten regulars – oh how things have changed since Dempsey first joined – but there was little sentimental significance over that time. When he first joined it was evident that Dembele had no little talent, but it took a whole 18 months before a masterstroke by Jol lead to Dembele, almost overnight, blossom in to a fantastic player. After being moved further back on the pitch, he was no longer choked by the lack of space around the edge of the box, and his erratic passing was no longer much of an issue.
Dembele has faults, and I think I can argue quite convincingly that he was better off staying at Fulham for one more year so that he could continue honing that talent, but there is no doubting his gifts. Blessed with strength, pace and agility rarely seen in one player, Dembele’s manipulation of the ball was such that he could glide past any opponent – and that is no exaggeration – with consumate ease. His skill was jaw dropping, and I can compare only with Messi the way Dembele can beat a man with such nonchalance and subtlety. Moreover, he complimented this talent with a fantastic work ethic, which, in tandem with his strength and quick feet, resulted in Dembele not only being the most successful dribbler in the league, but one of the best tacklers too (statistically speaking). I am sure that Dempsey learnt a thing or two from him, because there were certain similarities in the way the two could skip past a challenge.
It is quite funny, though, how the two players Fulham careers contrasted as much as their exits, and even quirkier they ended up at the same club. Dempsey and Dembele were both adored by Fulham – Dempsey more sentimentally and Dembele more superficially perhaps – and to some extent that remains in Dembele. The Belgian remained utterly professional over the summer despite approaches from the likes of Manchester United and Real Madrid, remaining private with any contemporary desires (barely a week after signing Dembele declared his intention to use Fulham as a stepping stone, which we actually appreciated; at least he didn’t attempt to mislead us, and we could enjoy his talent without any expectation) before a move to Tottenham Hotspur finally manifested, and despite leaving inconveniently close to the end of the window Dembele leaves with the blessing of most of the Fulham faithful.
Dempsey on the other hand has entirely split the support into two camps: those which retain a grudging respect for him and those which have lost it. The reasons have been made clear via an ugly public feud in which manager Marin Jol declared Dempsey not fit to play for the club and chairman Al Fayed took his, and Liverpool’s, behaviour very personally which resulted in a bitter transfer saga not to be resolved until Tottenham ‘rescued’ the American on deadline day. Personally, I am in the more popular, former camp; Clint scored too many goals, worked too hard for the shirt and provided so many moments that, while I’m so disappointed in his behaviour, I cannot be bitter about his exit.
We received fees totalling about £21m for the pair of them from Tottenham, but their talents were worth much more to us and will be exceptionally hard to replace: how on earth are we going to supplant the 23 goals of Dempsey or compensate for absence of skill left by Dembele? And I think that Jol has solved the two dilemmas with one stroke. The talent of deadline-day signing Dimitar Berbatov is abundant – although he appears to play with such a carefree, creative manner that it is hard to interpret what he does – and, just perhaps, the chapters in our history inspired by it will supersede the fairytales that Dembele and Dempsey created. I, for one, am excited to see where this story takes us.