Hang around Clint Dempsey for a few minutes, and the words “get better” or “improve” will soon spill out of his soft rural drawl.
These are the words and tenets around which the Tottenham Hotspur and U.S. international attacker have built a highly successful career. He seeks out betterment with a no-nonsense, businesslike focus, the way a bomb-sniffing dog, utterly unaware of distraction, diligently scans for the potential menace.
Complacency never an option, Dempsey got better every year at New England, leading to his recruitment at Fulham. Once ensconced at Craven Cottage, Dempsey kept the career curve pointed north, finding more grind and smarts in his game every year, adding to his personal bag of tricks while driving toward the goal of a bigger club.
A club like Spurs.
Dempsey’s first season at White Hart Lane was sure-footed enough. The U.S. man finished third in goals and second in assist with Spurs, starting in 32 matches and appearing in 43 overall.
But the numbers Dempsey would like to repeat: those 17 EPL strikes and 23 in all competitions for Fulham in the breakthrough 2011-12 season. That’s what he wants.
We’ll see …
In time arranged by Spurs and the United States national team, I talked to Dempsey on Saturday. (This is the third of three parts of the interview.)
Q: Your early days at White Hart Lane certainly could have been easier; getting into the team so late and then playing catch-up on fitness is hardly ideal. But manager Andre Villas-Boas seemed to demonstrate faith in your abilities straight away. Did that help push things along?
Yeah. He believed in me, gave me a chance to be out there and try to prove myself. I was unlucky in that first game at home, I would have scored goal in my first game at home [Sept. 20 in Europa League vs. Lazio] if I wasn’t offside. That might have gotten things rolling for me sooner, but it took just a little longer. But then I got my first goal, an away game at Old Trafford. It was first time we won there in quite a few years [since 1989]. So that was a good debut goal to get. So, yeah, he showed faith in me and I tried to repay him by getting some goals in some big games.”
“Toward the end of the stretch, I got my fair share, but obviously I would have liked to have done better and gotten to those levels that I got to in my last year at Fulham. Hopefully, that’s something I can strive for next year at Tottenham.”
Q: Everybody’s name gets tossed into the media’s transfer-madness meat grinder. Yours did in May, and I read that AVB might be willing to part with you because he likes players able to perform strictly defined roles; your game has always been harder to define. I’m wondering if you have any thoughts on that?
You always just go out and try to do the best you can. I’ve been told I can play a number of positions. I feel like I’m a pretty complete player. But you just try to go work as hard as you can, to fight for your spot and get on the field. That won’t be any different. Far as I know, I will be there for the next three years. I go into preseason doing what I do every year, play hard, try to get into the team, get as many games as possible, get as many goals and assists I can get. That doesn’t change.”
“He tried me in different positions, and told me what he expected of me. And I would try to go out and perform that. Saying that, he did play me, I got quite a few games last season. Quite a few starts. I was happy with my first season. It was the best season I’ve had in the debut seasons at a club, so I’m happy with that. But like I said, I’m looking to try to get to the level of what I did when I was in my last season at Fulham.”
Q: What are your personal expectations for Year 2 at White Hart Lane? Are you the type to set individual targets on number of goals and such?
You want to play for the top four [in league positioning] every year and try to win silverware and get as far as we can in whatever the competitions were in, Europa League, F.A. Cup, Carling Cup and all of them. You try to get better every year. The focus this season is to try to finish in the top four [in the English Premier League], finish as high as possible and try to win something.
“I just try to better myself every year. I want to be better than what I was last season, obviously. I want to play as many games as I can play and start as many as I can, try to help this team do well. The goals are to try to qualify for champions League and try to win some trophies. If I can play a part in that, I’ll be happy.
“So like I said, I just try to get more goals than I got last seasons and more assists than I got last season, but I don’t put a number on it. Obviously, I’d like to get to those levels that I had with my last season at Fulham, when I got those numbers like I did. That would be a great number to shoot for.”