Aug 31, 2012

Clint Dempsey and the Transfer Market

I am attempting to put my homer hat on a shelf and take a good long look at the Clint Dempsey transfer saga.  Since the end of last season, speculation has run rampant that Dempsey, arguably the best American field player to ever suit up for a Premier League side, would leave the confines of Craven Cottage for climes with a more cash.  In particular, there were rumors that Dempsey would move to Arsenel or Liverpool.  To be sure, Dempsey was certainly looking for a chance to play Champions League soccer.  But as the summer wore on, the market for Dempsey seemed soft.

That leads to the question of why?  Let's take a look at Dempsey and his time a Fulham.

From his early days at Fulham, he proved adept at two things.  First, he regularly scored goals and for every year he was fully healthy, he scored more goals each year than he did the year before.  Dempsey became a Fulham hero in his first year when he scored the goal that saved the Cottagers from relegation in 2007.  In the 2011/12 season, the Texan scored 23 goals across all competitions for Fulham, rightfully earning him Club Player of the Season honors as well as consideration for Professional Footballers Association Player of the Year.

Second, every time the manager merry-go-round at Fulham forced managers to change, Dempsey earned his way in to the starting XI.  Each time.

Dempsey has displayed his versatility as a player, playing as striker, withdrawn striker and midfielder.  He was able to score no matter where he was placed in a line-up.  He is a relentless player, playing until he drops and never quitting.

So, in the summer after his most successful year as a professional, why is it the Dempsey might be headed not to Arsenal or Liverpool or even Tottenham?  Why, if the rumors are correct, is Dempsey probably headed to another mid-table team in England?

Clearly, the market for Dempsey is not as strong as either he thought or for that matter, his agent, or American fans.  There could be the xenophobic explanation--i.e. Dempsey is an American and therefore not someone that would be considered good enough.  But while there may be some doubts about Dempsey because he is an American, it cannot be said that Dempsey is couldn't play on Champions League teams.  He has succeeded on every team he has ever played on, and did so despite his supposed "American" handicap.  If American fans think that is the reason, we will never get past that mindset until such time as the U.S. wins the World Cup, when ever that may be.

Rather the reason for a soft transfer market for Dempsey is probably three-fold.  Dempsey can be incredibly streaky as a player.  When he is "on" he is really on and a threat to score at any moment.  But there are many times, sometimes in big games, that Dempsey is practically a non-entity.  That has happened for the U.S. MNT and for Fulham.  Yes, last year was a great year for Dempsey, but it is hard to ignore the streaky nature of his play.

Second, is what is Dempsey's best role?  Striker, withdrawn striker, central midfield, flank player?  Dempsey's versatility may actually be his downfall.  Dempsey may be able to work as a striker, but he would need to be a withdrawn striker as he is better going at people, coming into the attack.  That is not to say he can't hold the ball up and take the abuse a target striker has to take on occasion, but it is not his best role.  In a fairly traditional 4-4-2, Dempsey can work either at the top of a diamond midfield. or on the right flank.  But with a number of teams moving into a 4-3-3, Dempsey may not fit very well anywhere.  Hence, Sunderland's interest, which is a much more traditional set up.

Third, and finally, Dempsey is 29.  He is at that magic age, and likely his peak, as a field player.  In the past clubs have overpaid for players (and some clubs still overpay in the transfer market).  But in the current world, Dempsey, at his age, is not going to have a massive future transfer value.  If he gets a three or four year deal, he will be 33.  His next move maybe back to MLS, a league with notorious reluctance to pay any transfer fee, so they would take him on a free.  Without any future transfer value, this is his last big move and as a result, his current transfer value is going to be smaller.

With the transfer window about to close, the dealing for Dempsey maybe intense but if I were putting money down, if Dempsey is going to leave Craven Cottage, it will be for the Stadium of Light and Sunderland, not Anfield.

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