Clint Dempsey - A Case of Irrational Exuberance?
With four teams involved in the semi finals of the FA Cup over the weekend Fulham was spared a trip to Anfield to play Liverpool in the Premier League.
Over the last eight decades Fulham has never won away to Liverpool but when they do get around to playing the rescheduled fixture on May 1 the team from London might be a little bit more confident than that dreadful record might suggest.
A primary reason is the USA’s Clint Dempsey. Dempsey is having a career defining season and with five games remaining he has already scored 16 goals in the league and 22 in all competitions.
Without Dempsey’s goals Fulham would be 9 points poorer. For a side such as Fulham, it is the difference between challenging for a top seven place and being in constant danger of being sucked into a relegation battle.
While averaging close to a goal every two games Dempsey has never gone more than three games without a goal this season in league play. It is even more impressive when you consider he’s played most games as a midfield player or as a support striker.
Nominally a wide midfield player, Dempsey does his damage when he operates more centrally. Fulham manager Martin Jol has shown an increasing willingness to allow Dempsey that option this season.
A consistent goal scoring threat from midfield is a much sought after quality and also quite rare. The skills required of a top class midfield player rarely overlap with the skills of a specialized goal scorer and so goal scoring midfield players tend to mature a bit later.
Frank Lampard of Chelsea is the top scoring midfield player in Barclay’s Premier League history and at age 33 he is still banging in goals. Lampard has hit double figures in league scoring for the ninth consecutive season but he never reached double digits until he was 25 and by then he had played eight seasons in the top-tier of English soccer.
Clint Dempsey was 24 and with only three seasons of Major League Soccer under his belt when he moved to Fulham from the New England Revolution for around $4M in 2007. He adapted quickly to his new environment, perhaps helped by Fulham’s penchant for US players.
Over the last decade or so Brian McBride, Carlos Bocanegra, Eddie Johnson, Kasey Keller and Marcus Hahnemann have all stopped off to play at Craven Cottage with varying degrees of success. (It has done no harm to Fulham’s standing in North America either with the team probably now enjoying the largest fan base outside the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool.)
McBride, from 2004 to 2008, served Fulham with distinction and finished his time as club captain and their joint all-time leading scorer in the Premier League. It is a record now held by Dempsey.
McBride’s physical resilience is another common trait with Dempsey. In a 38 game schedule Dempsey has never played in less than 29 games in a full season and has never started less than 27.
Twenty goals in his first 110 games for Fulham gave some clue to his eventual emergence as a consistent goal scorer. He plays with immense confidence and he also possesses that magical quality of finding time and space in and around the opposition penalty area where others either panic or are unable to shake-off tight marking defenders.
This season Dempsey is not only shooting more but he has been more accurate and his chance conversion rate is 33% better than in any other season.
But his game has improved in other areas as well. Dempsey is winning more tackles and more head balls, he is passing more often and he is passing more accurately. What is more he is creating many more chances for his team mates as well.
He is a player who is at the top of his game.
But therein is the dilemma. Dempsey’s current contract with Fulham is up in the summer of 2013 and that means that decision time is fast approaching.
Normally a club looking to retain a player’s services will offer a contract extension somewhere between 24 and 12 months before the expiry date.
The player has the option of accepting a new offer or refusing to renew. If Dempsey opts for the latter then two things will happen. The club could try to sell him this summer or it could accept that the “asset” will walk away in a year’s time and the club will get nothing in return.
The player also has the right to turn down a transfer and instead become a free agent in 2013 – that constitutes a gamble as his form may slip or injuries may take a toll. Both or either would impact on contract offers from other teams.
However, more often than not, any team that is willing to pay a transfer fee knows that the financial terms offered to the player have to be substantially better than he currently receives in order to garner a contract signature.
The cumulative effect of a US player enjoying a career season in one of the world’s top league and a contract expiring in a year’s time has sent North American chat boards and fan sites into overdrive.
A possibility of a transfer to one of the big teams in England (now regarded as the two Manchester teams, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea and Liverpool) have been discussed so often that it almost has a feel of fait accompli.
A fee of $15M+ is being tossed around as well. And it is not only North American fans that are piling on but the English press are now actively pumping the story for all that is worth.
The Daily Mail got in the game last week suggesting that Dempsey is off to Arsenal at a cost of $16M “after regular scouting reports since the turn of the year convinced Arsene Wenger he would fit perfectly into their system.” Now Dempsey may move to Arsenal (personally I doubt it) but to suggest that he would fit perfectly into the Arsenal system is contrived and inaccurate. Simply, Arsenal empathize width – Fulham play narrow.
All-in-all it has an air of – to borrow another phrase from another time – “irrational exuberance” about it. But the Daily Mail did pinpoint the two key elements – the need for the player to fit the system (Fulham’s system has served Dempsey very well) and the possible fee.
None of the big clubs mentioned before operate a similar system to Fulham, at least on a regular basis. Manchester United does from time to time but Dempsey is not going to usurp Wayne Rooney.
There is also the reality of UEFA Financial Play kicking in and that means clubs are going to be a lot more careful before paying out big money.
Dempsey just turned 29 last month and with a four year contract a likely demand, it means that his resale value will be miniscule when time is called on his next contract.
The transfer market trend is towards young players who have yet to peak rather than buying mature players at the top of the market.
Fulham and Dempsey may well decide that they should part ways this summer. But if it happens there are a number of reasons why the move may be more modest than most currently anticipate or even expect.http://www.forbes.com/sites/bobbymcmahon/2012/04/16/clint-dempsey-a-case-of-irrational-exuberance/