Three good questions for Clint Dempsey – Part III: Shunning complacency, and his second season at Tottenham Hotspur

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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.”

(MORE: Part I looks at Dempsey’s summers away and his ‘chill’ time)

(MORE: Part II … London calling)

 

New Zealand women footballers rebel against national coach

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Wellington, New Zealand (AP) Only weeks after New Zealand Football made headlines by signing a revolutionary equal pay deal with its female players, the organization is facing a mutiny by members of its women’s team against the national coach.

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New Zealand Football confirmed on Tuesday it had received a letter signed by a number of New Zealand players complaining about the methods and tactics employed by Austria-born coach Andreas Heraf.

The complaints follow the New Zealand team’s recent 3-1 loss at home to Japan. Heraf angered his players, and fans of the Football Ferns national team, by taking an entirely defensive game plan into the rare home international.

Heraf then further angered his players with comments defending his approach.

He said there was “a big difference in quality” between the New Zealand and Japanese players and that New Zealand “will never have that quality” to compete with top teams like Japan. He said the scoreline might have been 8-0 if New Zealand had not adopted a defensive approach.

One of New Zealand’s leading players, United States-based Abby Erceg, retired after playing 132 matches for New Zealand, citing Heraf’s approach in previous international matches.

She later told New Zealand media: “I couldn’t stand to wear that (national symbol) on my chest any more when his vision was to cower in a corner and not get beat by too much.”

New Zealand Football defended Heraf against the media and public criticism but admitted his comments were “strange” and “wrong” and did not accurately reflect his views. Heraf later apologized and said he had not expressed himself clearly.

But efforts to dampen the controversy have failed. New Zealand Football said in a statement it had “received a letter from the NZ Professional Footballers Association (NZPFA) last night with a number of complaints from the players of the Football Ferns.”

The mutiny comes only weeks after New Zealand gained international headlines for a deal which gives female pay parity with their male counterparts.

New Zealand Football signed the deal which provided female players with equal match payments, travel arrangements and prize money.

At the time, New Zealand women’s captain Ali Riley said the deal meant New Zealand would “be able to compete against the top teams, to be able to do well at a World Cup and the Olympics – this is what we needed.”

VIDEO: Colombia sees red, Japan takes early lead

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The first red card of the World Cup came just moments after fans took their seats in Saransk.

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After David Ospina blocked a breakaway opportunity from Yuya Osako in the third minute of the match, Japan star and former Manchester United midfielder Shinji Kagawa fired the rebound on goal. But his shot was blocked by the arm of Colombia midfielder Carlos Sanchez, which earned him a straight red card from referee Damir Skomina and an early trip to the locker room.

Kagawa then stepped up to the spot and calmly sent Ospina the wrong way to give Japan the shock early lead.

Colombia will play the rest of the match with ten men and no James Rodriguez, who was named to the bench for this match as he recovers from a reported calf injury.

Rodriguez out of Colombia starting XI

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Taking a page out of Egypt’s book, Colombia will be without its talismanic playmaker for its first match, Tuesday morning against Japan.

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Juan Fernando Quintero replaced James Rodriguez in Colombia’s starting Xi to take on Japan in Saransk as Colombia coach Jose Pekerman clearly hopes a few extra days of recovery for the injured Rodriguez will help him return to 100 percent fitness. Rodriguez is battling a reported calf injury.

Rodriguez scored six goals and had two assists in five games at the last World Cup in Brazil, helping guide Los Cafeteros to their first World Cup quarterfinals appearance.

World Cup’s only black coach says there should be more

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MOSCOW (AP) — The only black coach at this year’s World Cup says there is a need for more in soccer.

“In European countries, in major clubs, you see lots of African players. Now we need African coaches for our continent to go ahead,” Senegal’s Aliou Cisse said through a translator on Monday, a day ahead of his nation’s World Cup opener against Poland.

[ MORE: Where to watch Tuesday’s games, feat. Colombia and Egypt ]

The percentage of black players at this year’s tournament and with clubs in the world’s top leagues is far higher.

Cisse was captain of Senegal when it reached the 2002 quarterfinals in the nation’s only previous World Cup appearance.

“I am the only black coach in this World Cup. That is true,” Cisse said. “But really these are debates that disturb me. I think that football is a universal sport and that the color of your skin is of very little importance.”

[ MORE: Harry Kane “buzzing” after two goals | Southgate encouraged ]

FIFA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Cisse cited Florent Ibenge, the coach of Congo’s national team, as a sign of progress.

“I think we have a new generation that is working, that is doing its utmost, and beyond being good players with a past of professional footballers,” Cisse said. “We are very good in our tactics, and we have the right to be part of the top international coaches.”

Africa’s best performance at the World Cup has been to reach the quarterfinals, accomplished by Cameroon in 1990, Senegal in 2002 and Ghana in 2010.

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“I have the certainty that one day an African team, an African country, will win the World Cup,” Cisse said. “It’s a bit more complicated in our countries. We have realities that are not there in other continents, but I think that the African continent is full of qualities. We are on the way, and I’m sure that Senegal, Nigeria or other African countries will be able win, just like Brazil, Germany or other European countries.”

A lack of minority managers also has been documented at the club level. The Sports People’s Think Tank said in November there were just three minority managers among the 92 English professional clubs as of Sept. 1.