A cherished Monday morning ritual for good U.S. Soccer supporters involves scanning the weekend’s lineups and results from Europe. With a big, puffy chest and a super-sized portion of pride, Americans relish the weekly delight of seeing something like this: “Clint Dempsey went the full 90 for Fulham against (fill in the blank.)”
Yes, Dempsey is having a banner season at Craven Cottage, valiantly guarding the honor of Yanks abroad with 18 goals in all club competitions this year and 12 in Premiership action.
So the debate is raging, and has been for some time, about whether Dempsey should remain in West London or move elsewhere this summer? Has he outgrown cozy Craven Cottage, where the Texas native is beloved, surely approaching “Fulham legend” status if he’s not there already?
Dempsey says he desperately wants to sample the Champions League delight, and who can blame any man for ambition? The debate quickly reduces down to this old ponder point: better a bigger fish in a smaller pond, or other way around?
But let’s push past that particular “big fish” or “little fish” sticking point. Let’s extend the argument by examining rosters and some of lineups over the weekend to see where Dempsey might actually fit. Because I think this is important.
Playing in Champions League means one of two things for Dempsey: he stays put in England and moves to one of the big four or five, or he ditches the land of fish and chips, moving East to the continent. (Bundesliga, anyone? Or as some know it, “current best league in the world.”)
For this debate, let’s keep the man in England; I frequently hear that he has the qualities to play for one of the Manchester outfits, along White Hart Lane, at the Emirates or possibly at that little ground a 25-minute walk from Craven Cottage, Stamford Bridge. And while I don’t exactly disagree, the debate cannot stop there.
The question then becomes, whom might he replace? And that’s where the cleat meets the sod on this thing.
Manchester United? Well, I don’t see him taking Ashley Young’s spot on the left. On the right he’d have to fight off Antonio Valencia and Nani at the least, tall orders, both. The strikers at Old Trafford over the weekend were Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez; there’s no way Dempsey displaces Rooney, and whether the Texan might be favored over “Chicharito” at this point is iffy at best. Heck, Dimitar Berbatov can’t get on the field right now, having been lapped by up-and-comer Danny Welbeck in the rotation.
Arsene Wenger’s fluid system at Arsenal makes it difficult to create a this-for-that switch scenario. That is, you can’t say Dempsey might replace Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain at such-and-such spot because the young Gunner moves around in Wenger’s 4-3-3.
Still, we can say Dempsey isn’t the true winger needed for the 4-3-3, a la Theo Walcott. Nor does he look like a midfield linker and creator, a la Tomas Rosicky. He’s really more of a second striker or a man tailor made to begin outside, looking to slash his way inside.
Nor is Dempsey a true two-way midfielder in the Jack Wilshire mold. Otherwise, here’s a partial list of players Dempsey would scrap with for minutes: Gervinho, Marouane Chamakh (forgotten man that he is), Aaron Ramsey, Abou Diaby and Yossi Benayoun. And that’s not even considering what might come of Andrey Arshavin, now on loan at Zenit but perhaps returning to the Emirates.
Benayoun, by the way, isn’t a terrible player at all, but has only four starts this year.
Manchester City? What a waste of time it would be to even begin listing the wealth of talent stuck to the “noisy neighbor’s” bench these days. Does Dempsey really want to take his spot alongside?
Spurs? Dempsey could possibly challenge Emmanuel Adebayor or Jermain Defoe at striker, but my best guess is that he’d share the minutes at best. In the midfield? Maybe. Then again, this is a side where Rafael Van der Vaart can’t get into Harry Redknapp’s side.
Liverpool? Yeah, I could see Dempsey getting some time on the perimeter or as second striker at Anfield. But I also see Liverpool currently in 7th, just barely ahead of Fulham in the EPL table. So, uh … what’s the point?
My point, on the other hand, is that Dempsey could, indeed, move to one of the EPL money clubs and not look out of place – but he’d most likely face a significant drop in minutes.
It’s Dempsey’s decision, of course. He’s earned the right to choose – never mind our debating over it all. Let’s just hope he doesn’t make a move and then look back on regular playing time as “the good old days.”