With a chance to achieve a lifelong dream of playing in Europe denied in the summer, the New England Revolution’s Clint Dempsey was distraught over league handling of the matter and it reflected in his performances. But with time has come acceptance and with Europe still calling the delay might lead to a better offer.
By Andrea Canales
Ah, the impatience of youth. U.S. national team soccer player Clint Dempsey wanted badly to go abroad – and he wanted it right when the offer came. The fact that it arrived in the middle of the season for his Major League Soccer team, the New England Revolution, mattered little. Charlton, a team in England, had made the league an offer for the young player – the only goalscorer for the U.S. in the 2006 World Cup.
It wasn’t even a particularly good offer from Charlton, however. The rumored 1.5 million was less than had once been offered for DaMarcus Beasley or, more recently, Eddie Johnson, neither of whom looked as dangerous or capable as Dempsey in Germany.
Yet Dempsey’s squad, commonly known as the Revs, was struggling to make the playoffs at the time. Cutting it close was a trick the team had pulled off before, getting hot at the end of the season and making a stirring run for the MLS championship. Yet the Revs had never taken the final step, though, falling short twice in the last game of the year. The team was not inclined to undertake the Cup campaign without Dempsey.
The Charlton offer was refused, much to the chagrin of Dempsey, who vowed he would not renew his contract (set to expire in December of 2007) with MLS.
Ominous views of the situation painted the U.S. league as a tyrant holding down the development of its own players. “Let Clint Dempsey Go” became the new mantra of the anti-U.S.-soccer-slavery-in-MLS coalition.
It’s very true that Dempsey is underpaid in regards to his talent, but he is far from exploited. In his case, MLS has worked exactly the way it should – giving a little-known player a place to develop against seasoned veterans and display his maturing skills on a stage that would gain him notice to greater things.
“MLS has made some great strides and they have a good environment right now,” observed Ryan Dempsey, Clint’s elder brother. “A natural result of that is to have offers from Europe. That’s something that Clint has always wanted to do. He knew he was going to have to do it performing in his own country. When he came out of college that was the standard. You have to see if you’re as good as the players who have already paid their dues.”
The aftermath of the Charlton rejection was making all the parties involved look bad. Clint Dempsey came off as churlish, especially when his comments about how the league was holding him back from his dreams basically left it obvious that leading the Revs to a historic first title wasn’t one of his aims. Inevitably, Revs fans had to wonder, especially when Dempsey promptly earned himself a multi-game suspension after he threw an elbow that broke an opponent’s jaw, how much their fiery star cared for the club that had nurtured his potential.
The bottom line to the whole fuss was that the league was saying two things very clearly:
1. Don’t come for MLS players in the middle of the season – they’re actually busy at that time, thanks.
2. If you want to take a top player from his MLS team right when he’s needed – bring the league a very good offer, please.
The time from August to January can seem like an eternity to a player eager to begin the next phase of his career, but the enforced delay on Dempsey has likely benefited him enormously. Holding the line against a lowball offer, MLS raised Dempsey’s profile. Charlton’s attempt to sign him nearly unnoticed failed. Meanwhile, Dempsey won more acclaim when he was named the U.S. Soccer Player of the Year for 2006, an award that elevates his value even more.
“My words to Clint Dempsey two weeks ago were, just keep playing, it’ll work out,” related Sunil Gulati, who has a unique perspective on the situation, as he works for both U.S. Soccer and the Revolution.
Gulati’s advice to Dempsey was simple and concise.
“Maybe it didn’t work out in July or August, but MLS is not sitting there saying, ‘You’re never going to go abroad.’ They’re saying, ‘Not in the middle of the MLS season, in this race.’ It doesn’t matter what hat I’m wearing, I agree with that decision.”
Whether Gulati’s words spurred a change in Dempsey, or his own rediscovered loyalty to his club team sparked a renewed effort. The Revolution, led by Dempsey’s play, have lost only once since his return to the lineup.
“Clint has played extraordinary well,” Gulati noted. “I think he will for the rest of the season.”
If so, and if Dempsey can lead his team back from a one-goal disadvantage for the Chicago Fire, there’s a good chance that Dempsey may ride over to a European gig in January wearing an MLS champion’s ring.
The adage about good things coming to those who wait might prove true, then.
“I’ve got hope again and I’m looking forward to [Europe],” said Dempsey.
There’s also something to be said about appreciating what one has at the moment. Dempsey seemed clear about his current mission.
“Right now, the most important thing is the Revolution and trying to win us an MLS Cup and end on a good note. We’ve gotten to the playoffs, so that’s the first step. Now it’s just a matter of continuing to become a better team and find our form going into the playoffs.”
With everything else Dempsey has accomplished this year, an MLS Cup title could be the tipping point to catch the notice of even more top teams. His dream of Europe isn’t limited to England. Dempsey once had a trial with Feyenoord Rotterdam and reportedly a team in Turkey was interested in his services as well.
“We grew up admiring Italy,” said Ryan Dempsey of his brother’s preferences. “The Italian league when we were growing up was the league. That was when AC Milan was winning everything. Then Spain and England put themselves on the map. I’d say he has wanted to go to Italy, Spain, Germany or England since he was in high school.”
Gulati believed that Dempsey would soon reach that objective.
“If that’s what he wants to do, go abroad, he’ll go abroad” stated Gulati.
After all, playing a little hard to get often piques interest even higher, though that wasn’t Dempsey’s intention, or perhaps that of MLS, either. As messy as the situation has seemed at various points, it may have a happy and profitable end for all.
The economics professor, Gulati, was sure of it.
“I’ve no doubt that there will be multiple clubs in December and January who will want Clint Dempsey.”