Over the past week or so, the news surfaced that Clint Dempsey is to return to Fulham on a short term loan for the remainder of the Major League Soccer off-season. Amongst the Fulham fanbase, debate has inevitably circled back to the manner in which the American left Craven Cottage when he moved to Tottenham 18 months ago.
Demspey’s deadline day departure in 2012 was a somewhat traumatic event (as far as transfers go) that is now entrenched in the collective memory of Fulham supporters. Such are the positive memories attached to Clint’s play for Fulham over the five years he was here, that the way his exit is viewed negatively, and how that exit then affects our memory and perception of the Texan is entirely fascinating.
Do we let the animosity of his departure from SW6 cloud the memory of our preexisting fondness for the man who is Fulham’s record Premier League goalscorer, not to mention scorer of that goal against Juventus?
It is a tough question, and one where the answer will be different for each of us.
Turning back the clock 18 months, Clint’s departure from Fulham did not come as a shock. The writing was on the wall from as soon as the summer window opened in July 2012 that Fulham should be looking to accept the inevitable and get the best price for their star man. Unfortunately for all involved, what transpired was Dempsey’s exit becoming a prolonged saga, which dragged his name through the mud and out the other side to an unfulfilling stint at Tottenham.
At a club like Fulham, there is a natural level of expectation that your biggest stars will eventually leave for pastures new. In recent years the likes of Edwin Van Der Sar, Louis Saha, Steed Malbranque, Chris Smalling and Mousa Dembele have all left for Manchester United or Tottenham Hotspur. There is little to no ill-will towards any of these players. They played their socks off for Fulham and moved on to bigger clubs with humility.
What happened with Dempsey, and with others, such as Jimmy Bullard, was that the move was not transacted behind the privacy of closed doors. Dempsey’s move was played out in the media on both sides of the Atlantic, with Dempsey seemingly having his head turned by persistent talk of a move, especially amongst the press in his homeland who had what appeared an insatiable appetite to see Dempsey play at a club of more renown than Fulham.
Such consistently good performances for Fulham were clearly seen as an indication by some (be they Dempsey’s advisors, sports writers back in his homeland or even the man himself) that he could do bigger and better things. If his head wasn’t turned by media talk or his own self-awareness of his ever-improving performances, the public overtures from Liverpool will have done the trick.
However, we are all human, and we must remember that this goes for international stars like Clint as well as you and me. Like Roy Hodgson a summer previous, to have Liverpool, undeniably one of the World’s biggest clubs, come calling is some ego boost and a hard proposition to turn down. A club in transition themselves at that time, a move to Liverpool may actually have worked for Dempsey, but it never came to fruition for one reason or another despite a story appearing on NESN.com, the website of the Liverpool owners Boston based television station.
Once he put himself out there, expressing a desire to move to Anfield (as was reported at the time, Dempsey was said to pull out of a preseason training camp in Switzerland in an attempt to force the move), there was unlikely to be any backing down from the player himself. With Liverpool unwilling to meet Fulham’s asking price it would then have taken an extraordinary act of humility to come back, tail between the legs and give 100% for a club that you had mentally moved on from.
Unfortunately for Clint, concurrently Mousa Dembele did just that. Linked with Manchester United and Real Madrid, Dembele gave his all until the day he left, with a man of the match display against Manchester United in his final appearance. Albeit he left a year too soon and to the wrong club, but that is a different matter for a different day.
Call it what you will, but whether it was a deliberate strike and refusal to play for fear of jeopardising a transfer, or simply not being mentally prepared enough for the manager to select him, we never saw Dempsey in a Fulham shirt again.
The prospect of fame and riches (Spurs reportedly tripled his wages) will do strange things to a man. Personal ambition is also not a crime. After five years of service Clint was entitled to dream big. Personally I would blame the media coverage back in the US for much of the debacle. Fulham, whilst getting coverage internationally because of players like Dempsey, were never a big enough entity to satiate the appetite of the US media for their biggest soccer star and national team captain. Gone were the McBride led Fulhamerica days when US audiences were just glad to have a player in the Premierleague. Liverpool, a US owned world famous club would have satisfied this demand. Eventually backed into a corner, a move to Tottenham was all that was left after Aston Villa were the only other club to publicly come in for Dempsey at the last minute.
Now at the Seattle Sounders, Dempsey admitted defeat in pursuit of success at Spurs and took on a far nobler, if well-paid challenge. To return back to his homeland as the face of a sport is a challenge that signals the magnitude of Dempsey’s star in America. To do so not at one of the glamour sides in New York or Los Angeles like those stars before him, but at well supported Seattle also shows that Dempsey is not a celebrity footballer, but one who simply wants to play and achieve things.
Whilst the circumstances of his departure were undeniably acrimonious, it is my personal hope that Clint is welcomed back into the Fulham Family with open arms. His humble and frank welcome back interview published on the Fulham website on Christmas Eve was indicative of the type of genuine and humble Clint that we got to know and love over his time here first time around. His personal slap on the wrist style admission of the grass not being greener and a reference to Fulham as home show that Clint as a not just a player, but a person, is someone we can be proud to have home.
It may only be a short two month spell for Dempsey back at Craven Cottage and Derek Boateng may have current claim to his famous ‘23’ shirt (a shame considering how rarely he gets to wear it), but Clint’s time here could prove vital to our season. It is a great move by the club getting the deal sealed prior to January 1st. A week’s training, fitness and tactical integration into the new Meulensteen and Curbishley set up will stand Dempsey and the rest of the squad in good stead, even if the player can’t be registered in time for the New Years Day’s fixture at home to West Ham.
There are seven league fixtures and at least one cup tie for Dempsey to potentially partake in over the course of January and February. With Chelsea at home scheduled for the 1st March, Fulham will hopefully be able to get permission to extend the loan by one day as well.
After the anomaly at Hull, Dempsey’s arrival could provide a timely boost to the confidence and goal scoring capabilities of Rene’s men. The immediate nature of his joining also provides the club with a bit of a time buffer regarding other January signings not needing to be rushed through. That said, Demspey returns to America’s Pacific Northwest in March so signings beyond him are required if Fulham’s future is to be secured.
For now though, welcome home Clint. Its great to have you back.