A return to Tottenham? Fulham again? Everton? Newcastle? Clint Dempsey is expected to return to England on a short-term loan, and ASN's Blake Thomsen looked at all four possible destinations.
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November 26, 2013
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mornings belonged to Clint Dempsey?
For five-and-a-half years at Fulham and then a full season at Tottenham, Dempsey was a constant presence in the English Premier League. He was a committed, entertaining player who represented his country well, and he was always a lot of fun to watch.
And then Dempsey left England and joined the Seattle Sounders.
That move hasn't turned out particularly well—for Clint or the club—but Dempsey is expected to return to the EPL on a short-term loan in January. It will give him a chance to stay fit in advance of the 2014 World Cup, and to regain the form he lost when he packed his bags and moved to the Pacific Northwest.
But where will he end up?
From a soccer standpoint, the U.S. captain needs to consider his prospects for playing time as well as the tactical system of his potential team. Let’s take a look at some of the more plausible destinations that the rumor mill has churned out so far.
Tottenham has the rights to sign Dempsey if it wants to, but no credible reports have come out so far suggesting that his previous club is interested. Dempsey didn’t always dazzle in his one season at White Hart Lane, but it’s somewhat humorous that the shockingly goal-shy Spurs aren’t interested (yet) in signing a man who netted 12 times for them in all competitions, good for third on the team last year.
Interestingly enough, Dempsey fits much better in the current Tottenham team than he did in last year’s. A season ago, Tottenham rode the reliable “pass the ball to Gareth Bale if you’re within 40 yards of goal” approach to a fifth-place finish. While the superhuman efforts of the Welshman made the strategy viable, it often bypassed Dempsey (and the rest of the Tottenham attackers), making it difficult for anyone other than Bale to contribute much offensively.
This year’s team distributes the ball far more evenly, a system in which Dempsey would likely thrive. The balanced passing attack has helped Tottenham generate the most shots on target in the EPL; the team just doesn’t have anyone who can, you know, score. The 89 million pounds spent this summer on Erik Lamela, Roberto Soldado, Paulinho, Christian Eriksen, and Nacer Chadli has delivered a whopping two goals from open play. It's hard not to imagine the goal-poaching Dempsey having twice or three times that amount by himself.
It’s unknown whether Dempsey initiated his White Hart Lane exit this summer or if Andre Villas-Boas encouraged the departure. If leaving was primarily Dempsey’s decision, it wouldn’t be too shocking if AVB was interested in bringing him back. However, much of Tottenham’s current struggles can be attributed to having too many players and no idea how to effectively use them, so adding another attacking midfielder to the mix may not be in the plans.
The longer Tottenham struggles to score goals—only the bottom two clubs have scored fewer—the more likely a Dempsey return becomes. Time will tell, but for now it still seems unlikely that Dempsey will return to North London.
Dempsey was last seen for Fulham in a historic 2011-12 campaign that saw him net 23 goals in all competitions. On paper, the West London club seems like the perfect fit for Dempsey. Manager Martin Jol loves him. He has an incredible track record at the club. But the current situation is a lot more complicated than that.
To be frank, this Fulham team is dreadful. Gone is the excellent central midfield pairing of Danny Murphy and Moussa Dembele, which provided defensive stability and a solid platform upon which to build attacks. They’ve been replaced by Steve Sidwell and the ghost of Scott Parker, a duo that gets overrun in the middle of the park match after match.
To make matters worse, Fulham’s attack has regressed considerably, too. The ever-selfish Dimitar Berbatov will not be keen on providing Dempsey with the lay-offs and crosses he once enjoyed from Andy Johnson and Bobby Zamora, while the likes of Patjim Kasami and Darren Bent aren’t renowned for their willingness to pass either. It’s often difficult to even discern what formation Fulham is actually running, which speaks to the extent of its struggles as well as the laziness and lack of tactical discipline of Berbatov, among others.
All of this is to say that returning to Fulham is far from ideal. Still, Dempsey may value the familiarity and guaranteed starting place highly enough to seriously consider a return to Craven Cottage. Jol would certainly be delighted to have him, and perhaps a return to his old stomping grounds would be the perfect antidote to his current struggles.
Despite the very real concerns about Fulham’s quality, Dempsey’s familiarity and exceptional past success with the club make it his most likely destination. Whether the Fulham fans would welcome back their former hero—he was showered with boos last year when Tottenham came to Craven Cottage—is a different story.
Obvious Landon Donovan loan connections aside, Everton represents the most intriguing and highest upside potential destination for Dempsey. Everton’s attack has been inconsistent at best in recent weeks and, like Tottenham, the club will become more seriously interested in Dempsey the longer it struggles to score goals on a regular basis.
At first glance, Dempsey doesn’t look like a perfect fit in Everton’s 4-3-3. His preferred deployment would be in the left wing slot, but Roberto Martinez would (justifiably) never break up the famously telepathic connection that Leighton Baines and Steven Pienaar have enjoyed on that flank for years.
However, if Martinez were to get a little creative, he could get the absolute best out of Dempsey by deploying him on the right wing. Dempsey hasn’t played the position much, but the potential here is enormous. The overwhelming majority of Everton’s buildup play comes up the left side, which is no surprise given the quality of Pienaar and Baines, especially in tandem. If deployed on the right, Dempsey would be able to do what he does best—finish off moves by ghosting in unmarked from the opposite flank.
Starting right winger and Belgian international Kevin Mirallas would pose a legitimate threat to Dempsey earning a starting XI spot. But Mirallas has hardly shined this year and his particular skill set makes him ill-suited to benefit from the Baines and Pienaar magic on the opposite flank.
It’s also worth noting that Martinez switched to a 4-2-3-1 halfway through the Merseyside derby this past weekend, and Everton looked far more explosive offensively after the tactical change. A 4-2-3-1 could accommodate Dempsey, Pienaar, and Mirallas, and would make a Dempsey-to-Everton switch even more promising. All in all, Everton could represent an excellent fit with the potential to restore Dempsey’s form and confidence before the World Cup.
Given the two ultra-successful spells that Landon Donovan enjoyed on Merseyside, one has to think that Everton fans would welcome Dempsey to Goodison Park with open arms. Dempsey would also enjoy the prospect of playing for a team that is trying to crash the Champions League party. We’ll have to wait and see if Martinez will give him an invitation. It seems possible, if not necessarily probable.
Newcastle is very much on the rise after three straight wins, and currently sits just two points outside of a Champions League place. In the past two years, few clubs have been more active in the January window than Newcastle. The club’s recent transfer history—combined with its current overreliance on the red-hot Loic Remy for goals—means that a move for Dempsey makes a lot of sense.
The Magpies began the season primarily in a 4-3-3, but the dismal form of misfiring striker Papiss Cisse, as well as consistent inconsistency from winger Hatem ben Arfa, prompted a switch to a 4-4-2. The tactical alteration has delivered three straight wins, so it’s unlikely that Pardew will deviate from the formation anytime soon.
From a playing time standpoint, it’s a definite positive for Dempsey that Newcastle’s standout performers have been all over the field—except in his preferred positions. The first-choice outside mids at the moment are Moussa Sissoko, a fine player but one who is much more comfortable and effective playing centrally, and Yoan Gouffran, who has been dependable if unspectacular for the club since his arrival last January.
There’s also room for Dempsey up front, as he’s a far more talented player than current second striker Shola Ameobi. Admittedly, the big Nigerian has done a serviceable job alongside Remy in the current winning streak. But his goal scoring rate (just six goals in his last 56 Premier League appearances) is very poor for a team looking to qualify for European competition for the second time in three seasons.
Newcastle’s lack of exceptional personnel in Dempsey’s preferred positions bodes well for his playing time—an immediate role in the starting XI would be likely. With the classy Yohan Cabaye pulling the strings from the midfield and Remy drawing the attention of opposing defenses, it’s not hard to imagine Dempsey scoring early and often for Newcastle.
With its rabid fan base and 52,000-seat stadium, Newcastle has the big club feel and ambition that Dempsey has always regarded highly. He’d never been strongly linked to Newcastle before last week, but a January switch to the Magpies seems quite possible. And a fun U.S. national team angle? The timing of the potential loan works out that Dempsey would play for Newcastle in the notoriously heated derby against Jozy Altidore and Sunderland in early February.
What do you think of these potential destinations? Do you have a preference? Do you envision Dempsey landing somewhere else? Chime in below—we want to hear your take.
Blake Thomsen is a freelance writer and an ASN contributor.