Clint Dempsey arrived in Miami from London on Monday after a stressful tumultuous summer, eager to put the drama behind. On his to-do list: repair his image with Fulham fans, raise his game with Tottenham, and get the U.S. national team a few steps closer to the 2014 World Cup.
The 29-year-old forward is in town training with the national team for a World Cup qualifier in Jamaica on Friday, a welcome diversion from the highly publicized saga that finally came to a resolution last Friday night with his 11th-hour, $9.6 million move from Fulham to Tottenham on transfer deadline day.
The fact that an American made headlines as the transfer window closed is a sign of progress for soccer in this country. Dempsey, who scored 23 goals in 46 matches with Fulham, is also believed to now be the highest-paid U.S. player ever with a three-year contract worth $22.2 million.
“I think it can inspire American people because if a kid from Nacogdoches, Texas, can make it, they can, too,” Dempsey said on Tuesday after a storm-shortened workout at Florida International University. “I’m from a small town, had to work hard.
“I’m lucky I had parents driving me three hours to Dallas for practice and three hours back, made me appreciate at a young age that I couldn’t take things for granted. You couldn’t give less than 100 percent because of sacrifices your family was making for you. Hopefully, I inspire people.”
U.S. captain Carlos Bocanegra said Dempsey’s experience at the elite level will rub off on his U.S. teammates.
“Clint is going to a big club, and he’s been fantastic at club level for the past few years,” Bocanegra said. “We’ve got a lot of players playing in Europa League and Champions League now, and when they come into camp, they bring their quality, and it makes us better.”
Dempsey got his wish: a legitimate shot at playing in the Champions League. Tottenham finished fourth in the English Premier League last season, which normally would have qualified for the elite competition, but sixth-place Chelsea took the last of England’s four places by shocking Bayern Munich in the Champions League final. The reigning champion earns an automatic berth, so Tottenham got bumped.
Dempsey had made it clear early in the summer that he wanted to leave the Cottagers for a higher-profile club, and rumors began to fly that a deal with Liverpool was in the works. But the deal never materialized, and as the new season got under way in August, things got messy for Dempsey at White Hart Lane.
Fulham manager Martin Jol criticized Dempsey for refusing to play for the team while holding out for the transfer. Jol left Dempsey off the roster for the first two matches of the season.
Dempsey said he is upset with the way his exit from Fulham played out, that some things were said that were not true.
“It was very difficult,” he said. “I’m disappointed in the way my time ended with Fulham, with the way I was portrayed in the end, but that’s in the past now. I’ve got to move forward. That’s part of the business, but I just want to thank the fans for five and a half great years. I look back on my memories there with a smile on my face.
“Some of my best memories in football were there, and I’ll definitely miss the fans. I’m also thankful for the chairman [Mohamed Al-Fayed]. He’s the one who took a gamble on me in MLS, and I’m grateful for that. It gave me an opportunity to play in that league, one of the best in the world.”
A perfect fit
U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann knows better than most what it’s like to play for Tottenham. He scored 38 goals in 65 games for the Spurs and believes it is a perfect fit for Dempsey.
“He has that type of character and personality. He was admired and loved at Fulham, and now it’s another level to step up to for him,” Klinsmann said after Monday’s practice. “As long as you work hard, as long as you give everything that you have, he has all the technical ability and talent, the people will love him. I’m pleased because I can certainly tell him about that club, which is a very special one in England, obviously.
“He had that goal that he wanted to play European football at the highest level as possible, and he suffered over the last couple of weeks with the situation, and now it’s all done and he’s ready.”
Dempsey is itching to play after sitting since June.
“I’m definitely excited, ready to go,” he said. “It was good to get a little rest, to be honest, because I’ve been going nonstop for a few years now, and it’s good to rest up. I was pretty beat up at the end of last season, so now I feel refreshed and ready to go, get back to work and have a good year.”
The U.S. team will have one more workout in Miami on Wednesday and will fly to Kingston, Jamaica, on Thursday.