“Hi. My name’s Clint Dempsey and I’ve played for the USA on 91 occasions and scored 30 goals, including two plus an assist in my last appearance against Guatemala which helped the team progress to next year’s final round of World Cup qualifying. Last year I had my best season ever for Fulham, scoring 23 goals and I was voted the supporters ‘Player of the Year’ for a second successive season. During the summer, I thought I was going to join Liverpool but negotiations weren’t completed so on the last day of August when Tottenham came in for me I agreed to sign for them instead. Andre Villas-Boas has used me a lot this year but the fans at White Hart Lane don’t seem to like me. What am I doing there?”
Clint Dempsey is a player who always seemed to play well for Fulham against Tottenham – he scored two goals in eight appearances from an attacking midfield position. Spurs only became interested in signing Dempsey late in the transfer window when Liverpool failed to meet Fulham’s valuation of the player. The rumours of his transfer to Anfield had dragged on all summer leading to a breakdown in relations between Dempsey and his manager, Martin Jol. Dempsey had missed much of the preseason training programme with no match practice when Tottenham decided to make a move for him in the final days of the transfer window, their other striking options having floundered in typical Tottenham/Daniel Levy style.
Dempsey wasn’t the type of signing Spurs supporters had been expecting but I could see the reason behind the move by Tottenham. He was an experienced Premier League player who had scored regularly for Fulham and was a player who could be used in a variety of positions with the possibility of contributing a number of goals for the team. I had expected him to be a squad player, making appearances from the bench or covering for injuries.
Dempsey’s introduction to Andre Villas-Boas’ team was as a substitute against Reading. He then started against Lazio in the Europa League in place of another summer signing who had been a target of Liverpool, Gylfi Sigurdsson. He was given a central midfield role, playing behind the lone striker, Jermain Defoe. Dempsey played quite well against Lazio and was unfortunate to see a perfectly good goal ruled out for offside. Since his debut, Dempsey has played in every game and started in eleven of the fourteen matches. He has been deployed mostly in central midfield, supporting the striker. He has scored two goals which have helped the team secure away wins at Old Trafford and Southampton. No-one will forget his winning goal against United, not for it’s quality but just that he was there following up to put the ball into the net as Spurs ended their horrendous record against United.
On occasions he has covered for Gareth Bale on the left wing and in the Capital One Cup matches he took on the lone striker role at Carlisle and Norwich but was less effective. Neither did playing wide on the left suit him. Against Queen’s Park Rangers and in the match against Chelsea he was quickly brought back into central midfield. In both positions his lack of pace was a problem while on the left wing he appeared unsure of his role and his goalscoring touch deserted him as the lone striker.
With Villas-Boas looking for the team to counter-attack, Dempsey tends to slow play down rather than maintain the momentum and he is often unable to get forward quickly enough to support when Lennon or Bale take off up the wing in full flight. It has been a difficult time for Dempsey since coming to White Hart Lane. Initially, he needed games to build up his match fitness and sharpness but he has also been involved in a lot of travelling to play for the United States. Following one international period he looked rather lethargic, probably a combination of a lack of preseason training and too much trans-Atlantic travel.
Not the Fans’ Choice
Supporters have been looking for the manager to play Defoe and Emmanuel Adebayor together but Villas-Boas continues to select one or the other, with Dempsey continuing in the team. Even after the success of the partnership against Maribor when Adebayor started ahead of Dempsey, the American was recalled for last weekend’s game against Manchester City with three goal Defoe left out. Villas-Boas prefers Dempsey as he probably sees him as the player to provide the work rate in midfield that is unlikely to come from either of his strikers if they were to be asked to play in the deeper role.
In an Associated Press report by David Skretta, the comment on Dempsey’s last appearance for the United States, probably sums up Villas-Boas’ thoughts about Dempsey and his value to the Tottenham team.
‘Clint Dempsey is precisely the kind of scrappy player that Jurgen Klinsmann covets on his teams, an attacker who is willing to throw his body around for the greater good.’
It has been difficult for Dempsey to fit into the Tottenham team as the players try to adjust to the way Villas-Boas expects them to play. He hasn’t found the goal scoring opportunities which came to him so readily at Fulham last season and he appears to be unsure of his role in the team with the game often passing him by.
Clint Dempsey, like Sigurdsson and many other new signings before them, have found it difficult to settle in at Tottenham and show their best form. Steven Pienaar was outstanding with Everton, had a year with Spurs where he made little contribution only to return to Goodison Park as the star of their team. Last season Dempsey and Sigurdsson were the ‘big fish’ in the small pond at Craven Cottage and the Liberty Stadium respectively but this year they are the ‘little fish’ in the massive pond of White Hart Lane. Some Spurs’ fans are already talking of Dempsey, and Sigurdssen, as being two poor signings while Liverpool supporters are relieved to have missed out on both of them. Only time will tell if Clint Dempsey can turn things around to win over the super-critical Spurs’ supporters.