That loud bang at around 6 p.m. EDT on Friday was the European transfer window slamming shut, ending a frenzied 24 hours of last-minute wheeling and dealing among top soccer clubs in England, Spain, Italy, France, Germany and Scotland.
In a sign of progress for U.S. soccer, an American player — Clint Dempsey — was among the high-profile names in the headlines.
Although the summer transfer window was open for 12 weeks, transfer-deadline day is known as a mad scramble that often results in 11th-hour deals that can make or break a season. Rosters have to stay set until the midseason transfer window in January, so some clubs make a final frantic push for players on their wish lists.
One club in the middle of the action was Fulham, which pulled off one of the biggest deals of the day by signing Manchester United forward Dimitar Berbatov to a two-year contract. The 31-year-old Bulgarian was also wooed by Italian clubs Fiorentina and Juventus.
“As soon as I was aware of Fulham’s interest, my decision to join was an easy one,” said Berbatov, who played under Fulham manager Martin Jol at Tottenham. “I’m impressed with the setup here and the people have made me feel welcome. There is a close and personal feel around the club and I can’t wait to get started.”
Said Jol: “Dimitar is a player I’ve always admired. He’s a player of great quality and technical ability who will give me the attacking option I’ve been looking for. When he’s not scoring goals, his ingenuity often leads chances being created for his teammates.”
The folks at Fiorentina were miffed at Berbatov, saying they were so sure he was going to their club that they bought him a plane ticket to bring him in for talks, but he never showed up.
“We are happy he did not come to Fiorentina,” a club statement read. “He did not deserve our city and our shirt and the values it represents.”
The other big Fulham story involved a player on his way out — U.S. national team star Dempsey, who, after a summer of drama finally landed at Tottenham four hours before the transfer window closed. The deal was pending his passing a physical.
The American, who still had a year left on his contract, made it clear all summer he did not want to stay at Fulham. Jol left him off the roster for the first two matches of the season, and Dempsey did not travel on the team’s preseason tour. Dempsey wanted to play for a Champions League team, and he has a better chance of that with Tottenham than with Fulham.
He had hoped to land at Liverpool, and there were rumors in recent weeks about an impending deal, but as of late Friday afternoon, he was still in limbo.
Aston Villa and Sunderland were also interested in Dempsey, who had the best season of his career last year with 17 Premier League goals and 23 goals overall in 46 matches. Villa reportedly made an offer, but Dempsey turned it down. Liverpool also made an offer, but apparently it fell below Fulham’s price tag.
Enter Tottenham. The Spurs jumped into the Dempsey sweepstakes late Friday. Tottenham had money to spend after getting hefty transfer fees for Rafael van der Vaart (moved back to former German club Hamburg) and Luka Modric (moved to Real Madrid). They also sent Mexican forward Giovani Dos Santos on loan to Mallorca on Friday, clearing the way for Dempsey.
So, Dempsey got his wish. Fulham got the price it wanted ($9 million). And American soccer is a little more respected this weekend. Five teams were in a bidding war over a U.S. player, and not a goalkeeper, either. A field player. That, right there, is progress.