Clint Dempsey: A fond farewell

Posted by John Crace

With the arrival of Roberto Soldado, it was almost inevitable there would be a few players heading for the exit. First out of the door has been Clint Dempsey, who has gone to the Seattle Sounders for a transfer fee of $9 million, and it is not hard to see why. Dempsey was struggling to hold down a first-team place and he needed regular football to make sure he made the U.S. squad for next year's World Cup. The only slight surprise, given his stated desire to continue playing in Europe, is that he has chosen to return to the U.S. But then most of his family and friends live in America, so you can see the attraction.

Dempsey came to Spurs with high hopes. He had been the star player at Fulham for a couple of seasons and wanted to join a club that would give him the opportunity of playing in the Champions League. Spurs had equally high hopes in signing him. It had been the want of a good goal scorer during the tail-end of the 2011-12 season that had been largely responsible for denying Spurs third place and a Champions League place, and Dempsey looked the sort of player who might provide them.

It never really worked out, though. In the early games of last season, despite scoring a memorable winner against Manchester United at Old Trafford, Dempsey looked an increasingly forlorn and dejected figure. His form improved towards the end of the season but even so, he still looked to be a man slightly apart from the rest of the team; a player on the periphery.

So where did it go wrong? It certainly didn't help that Dempsey didn't appear to be fully fit when he first arrived. Perhaps his desire to get away from Fulham -- the West London fans didn't forgive him for the manner of his exit the way they did for Mousa Dembele, who arrived from Fulham at about the same time without having forced his transfer -- also caused him to take his eye off the ball. Both literally and figuratively.

Maybe, too, he found it difficult adjusting from being Fulham's undoubted star player -- a man around whom the team was shaped -- to being a squad player at Spurs, where he was the one expected to adapt his game. If so, he was far from being the only player at the club who experienced the same problems last season.

Whereas in the Redknapp days, Gareth Bale had been kept almost exclusively on the left, with only occasional forays on the right, under Andre Villas-Boas the Welshman was given licence to play where he chose. Sometimes on the left wing, sometimes on the right and sometimes playing in the centre. And it worked a treat. Teams that had previously just doubled up to defend against him now found themselves exposed, and Bale scored almost at will.

But it had a knock-on effect for those around him. Benoit Assou-Ekotto had one of his worst seasons; suddenly he had no one with whom to link on the left and was often caught out of possession. Defoe and Adebayor also struggled, partly with injury and form, certainly, but partly also because Bale was now running into spaces that used to be theirs and they now found themselves either redundant or out of position.

Dempsey, though, was the biggest casualty of Bale's annus mirabilis. Dempsey is a striker who prefers to operate deep, with only the occasional late runs forward. With Bale playing the way he was, all too often Dempsey was caught in a no-man's-land between the midfield and attack and thus bypassed out of the game. Small wonder that when he did get the ball, he seldom looked confident.

It wasn't so much that Dempsey wasn't good enough, more that he wasn't the right player the club needed at the time. So both sides should say goodbye with grace and no hard feelings. Sometimes things just don't work out. I'll certainly remember the Dempster with affection. If he had done nothing else but score against Man United both at Old Trafford -- my daughter now thinks we win every time we go there -- and at home in the last minute of Fergie time, he would have still earned the right to be a Spurs legend.


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