Over the past weekend, the whole world of soccer was immersed in celebration as MLS side Seattle Sounders made history through the signing of Tottenham Hotspur forward Clint Dempsey.
Major League Soccer (MLS), the most prestigious league that exists for clubs from the United States and Canada to compete in, was formed in 1993 and if you were to have said back then that a fanatical and boisterous Seattle crowd would be treated to the unveiling of a Premier League player two decades later, nobody would have believed you.
But on Sunday, it happened. The current coach of the USA national side and also ex-Spurs striker, Jürgen Klinsmann, declared seven days ago that soccer in America is now “unstoppable” and will only get better with time. The arrival of Dempsey, undoubtedly one of the greatest players the country has ever produced, indicates that the 49-year-old was indeed correct.
Debatably, since the arrival of David Beckham, the MLS has been growing at an astonishing pace that has surprised us all. For an MLS side to pry Dempsey away from the powerhouse league that is the Premier League, it is quite remarkable.
In all fairness, American football, baseball, basketball and hockey will still be the dominant sports for the next few of years, but Dempsey’s presentation in front of the cameras, and an adoring and rapturous fan base, was almost similar to what a legendary rock star would receive when walking onto stage to perform and that speaks volumes about the work being done to get soccer up to same level as the others.
Dempsey, 30, is still at a good enough age to play in the Premier League, but having already given six-and-a-half-years of his career to both Fulham and Tottenham respectively, with the World Cup 2014 also vast approaching, moving to Seattle is a sensible move for him and the reception he got showed that.
The USA captain moved to Fulham from New England Revolution in January 2007 and in his first two seasons at the club, Dempsey scored 7 goals in total as the Cottagers narrowly avoided the drop zone in the Premier League on both occasions.
From the moment their top flight status was secured at the end of the 2007/8 season under Roy Hodgson, Dempsey would later go on to become one of the club’s most consistent players in a variety of positions under Hodgson’s management, and didn’t always get the recognition he unquestionably deserved.
Hodgson drastically improved Fulham from perennial strugglers to a sustained and comfortable mid-table side, with Dempsey becoming a key man in that rise. He can play on either flank and his creativity for the team is a strong trait to his game, but ultimately, Dempsey is renowned for scoring all different types of goals, whether that be with either foot or his under-appreciated aerial ability.
In the 2008/9 Premier League season, Fulham finished ten places higher than the previous year and qualified for the UEFA Europa League in seventh. Dempsey displayed his poacher-like qualities, as all of his seven goals came from inside the box and he was also involved in a goal for Fulham every 288.4 minutes, claiming two assists from the 39 goals scored at Craven Cottage in the league that year.
Just like he has done by completing a move to Seattle, Dempsey helped create history as Fulham defeated the likes of Shakhtar Donetsk, Juventus and Hamburg on route to the 2009/10 Europa League final and the club also reached the FA Cup Quarter-Finals in a groundbreaking year for everybody connected with the club.
Dempsey showed his creative spark and was heavily influential in the success of Bobby Zamora, who had such a solid season upfront (19 goals in all comps). He was also amongst the goals himself, scoring twice on the road to Germany.
The long journeys across the world didn’t take too much wind out of Fulham’s sails and they were still able to record a respectable twelfth-placed finish in the Premier League. Dempsey equalled his tally of seven goals from the season before but managed to get one more assist (3), overall being involved in a goal for the team more quickly (239.7 minutes).
Although he was mainly positioned just outside the box behind Zamora, six out of his seven goals (85.71%) came from inside and further highlighted his capability to arrive unmarked onto chances and slot home.
He was originally a surprise candidate for the job, but after guiding Fulham to the brink of European success on a relatively small budget, the Hodgson magic was never going to go unnoticed and the glamour of managing Liverpool was too much for him to turn down when approached.
Fulham replaced him with Mark Hughes, saddened to see the 65-year-old depart, but with Dempsey getting better, added with the arrival of highly-rated Belgium international Moussa Dembele, there was plenty of optimism for the supporters ahead of the 2010/11 season.
That season saw more reliance on Dempsey to score the goals and that paid dividends for everybody at the club, as he scored 12 times in the Premier League and one solitary strike also came against Port Vale in the League Cup.
Under Hughes, Fulham scored a total of 49 goals in the league and Dempsey continued to get better during his time in England, taking just 206.5 minutes to be involved in a goal (with 3 assists).
His liveliness in and around the box was unrelenting, with 11 of the 12 goals he scored (91.67%) coming from inside and it also proved to be his best ever campaign for headed goals in the Premier League, scoring a reputable five (41.6%).
After just one season in charge of the club, Hughes left Fulham over the board’s “lack of ambition”, with Aston Villa and Chelsea both looking for a manager at the time although he wasn’t offered either position, and the Welshman was soon replaced by Martin Jol in the dugout.
Jol stated from the off that it was his desire to keep Dempsey in the attacking role that he had been flourishing in of late and after the goals kept on coming, 23 in all competitions to be exact, it eventually led to him being chased by Liverpool, Aston Villa and Tottenham in the summer of 2012.
In 2011/12, Dempsey was the fourth top goalscorer in the Premier League, just behind Robin Van Persie (30), Wayne Rooney (27) and Sergio Aguero (23) with 17 goals and the addition of six assists. The technique it took to score the goals was broadened, with 9 (52.9%) coming from his right foot, 2 (11.7%) with his left and 4 (23.5%) from his head.
He netted 15 (88.2%) from inside the box and was involved in a goal every 144.4 minutes, as Fulham again secured a top-half place but finished just one position lower than the previous campaign in ninth.
Liverpool and Aston Villa were serious about signing Dempsey, who was in the final year of his contract, but Tottenham beat both clubs to his signature, with Dempsey later admitting it was desire to one day play in the UEFA Champions League and that Spurs were his best shot at reaching that dream.
The majority of the supporters at White Hart Lane have wished Dempsey all the best for the future but admitted he never quite fitted into Andre Villas-Boas’ system, although he proved a decent acquisition at £6m by scoring 12 goals in all competitions, with seven of those coming in the Premier League and the bonus of four assists was astute.
He made 29 appearances last season and was involved in a goal every 188.6 minutes, as Spurs and Dempsey narrowly missed out on a Champions League berth to arch-rivals, Arsenal. Dempsey was used more as a wide player in games, whilst star-man Gareth Bale took centre stage just behind the striker. 3 (42.8%) of his seven league goals came from outside the box, but he wasn’t utilized in his normal poacher role that worked at Fulham and therefore struggled to make late bursts into the box, scoring no headed goals.
If you would have told the man that has made the headlines in his native America that he would play in the three different formats of the Europa League, score 57 Premier League goals and create 18 assists during his time in England, he would have taken right away before he made the move and his presence has now been ingrained on English football fans’ minds as the USA international that ‘made it’.
Spurs will remember him for the winner he grabbed at Old Trafford, burying a 23-year wait to secure a win on Manchester United’s turf, whilst Fulham will cherish every goal their number ‘23’ either created or scored in their rise to Premier League well-being. A new chapter in his life now begins, as American soccer welcomes back a hero.