Dempsey's long road to hero
Clint Dempsey was every inch the American hero on 21 June in Rustenburg, scoring the third in a 3-0 victory that saw the previously winless side skip past Egypt and Italy and into the last four. One of only a few American players getting regular first team action in a top European league, the Texas native, a battler in his bones and one of the most technically gifted in Bob Bradley's side, has upset the odds, overcoming a hard upbringing and a recent wobble in international form.
In an exclusive interview with FIFA.com, the Fulham man hailed his American side's fighting qualities, talked about his special goal and the upcoming semi-final with European champions Spain.
"That goal was something really special for me," Dempsey told FIFA.com about his flying header in the 71st minute in Rustenburg that coupled with Brazil's 3-0 win over Italy sent the Americans through to the semi-finals of a FIFA Confederations Cup for the third time. "I can't say that it was the biggest goal of my international career, but it is definitely a close second. The goal I scored against Ghana in the World Cup [a 2-1 loss] is still the biggest for me. Scoring in a World Cup was always my dream, but the goal here against Egypt is something I will remember with a smile for the rest of my life."
Dreams of stardom were a million miles away from the reality of Dempsey's upbringing. One of five children, he was raised humbly in tiny Nacogdoches, Texas and his parents scraped and scrimped to give young Clint a chance at achieving his dreams. "My dad used to drive me six hours back and forth to practise when I was young. He's a carpenter, and we didn't have a lot of money, so it wasn't always easy." When Clint was named US player of the year in 2007, he gave his prize, a brand-new pick-up truck, to his dad. "His truck was starting to fall apart and I thought he could use it," the English Premier League star said with a half smile.
Dempsey, who has scored 14 goals in two seasons with Fulham since leaving MLS outfit New England Revolution, is one of the most skilful players in the American team. He grew up idolising Diego Maradona and admits to habitually watching ‘Hero,' the official film of the 1986 FIFA World Cup™ in Mexico, as a kid. Also, having grown up exposed to footballing influences from Latin America, Dempsey's technique flowered in a distinctly different way than most of his team-mates. "The creative, individual style of the Central and South Americans appealed to me at an early age," Dempsey said in a 2006 interview.
At his core, though, Clint is a fighter. He battles for every ball, never gives up on a lost cause and puts in an honest shift in a USA side renowned more for graft than craft. "I may have scored the winning goal against Egypt, but my team-mates created the opportunity for me to be in the position to get it. Everybody worked so hard to earn us place in the semi-finals."
It was a happy day for the 26-year-old who had been criticised for giving away possession against Italy, leading to the Azzurri's first goal in a 3-1 win. A similar mistake a few weeks earlier in a FIFA World Cup™ qualifier with Honduras also led directly to a goal. In the win over Egypt here at the Confederations Cup, he was moved off the right flank and given a free role up front. He blossomed in the second half, named Budweiser Man of the Match with his most dynamic performance so far.
Dempsey, who has a burgeoning second career as 'Deuce,' a hip-hop recording artist, admits to being "shocked" by the US's amazing turnaround in fortunes in South Africa. And when asked about the main reason for the revival, he turns emotional, even serious. "A lot of people don't believe in this team, we don't get much respect," he told FIFA.com, visibly moved by the bond with his colleagues. "A lot of guys in this team fight and scratch to get contracts overseas and they grind through it trying to get respect and some playing time. It's not easy. So here, like this, when we're together, we fight together and we all believe we can do big things."
It will take another decidedly big thing for the Americans to navigate their meeting with Spain, who have been wowing the crowds in South Africa. When asked about USA's chances, Dempsey is cool, confident and eager, pointing out that they put in a good performance in the last friendly meeting between the two teams, a slim 1-0 loss in Santander last June. "We had our chances in that game," he says, perking up. "We know Spain's a strong team. Everyone knows that, but we're the kind of team that will make them work for it."