“Clint scores goals,” veteran coach Martin Jol recently said about his ace marksman Clint Dempsey, knowing just how important his American international is to Fulham’s fortunes in the English Premier League this term.
Dempsey’s other coach, Jurgen Klinsmann who took over the USA post seven months ago, also knows the value of his combative and fiery forward. He lauded the player’s “hunger” and “drive” in a recent interview with FIFA.com, holding up Dempsey, 28, as a team leader and a committed and devoted example to the rest of his squad.
Dempsey's current campaign in England has been his most impressive since jumping over the Atlantic in 2007 from MLS outfit New England Revolution. Last month he scored a pair of hat-tricks, with his goals in a 5-2 win against Newcastle on 21 January carving him a place in history as the first American to score a treble in the English Premier League. He's scored ten league goals so far this season, putting him seventh in the scoring table, and 16 overall in all competitions. “He’s a fantastic player doing what he does best,” added Jol.
The striker is every inch the guiding light for a Fulham side sitting in 13th place. And, while Jol is keen to publically praise Dempsey, he would be wise not to do so too loudly. That Dempsey did not end up at a one of the Premier League's bigger-name clubs in the recently closed winter transfer window came as a surprise to some.
With an ability to play up front in a traditional No9 role, drop back into the hole or out wide on the left or right, Dempsey has versatility beyond the predatory role of poacher. And as USA coach Klinsmann rallies to get players to the “next level” of the Champions League, where he says “the music is played”, Dempsey seems primed to lead the way. As the player himself put it to FIFA.com, “Life is short and I want to go as far as I can.”Famously fiery, Dempsey is not exclusively about scoring goals. A famous confrontation with the ever-feisty Craig Bellamy of Liverpool earlier this season put the other side of his game on display, the battling side. A coming together of heads with the tempestuous Welshman was followed by a tense confrontation. But Dempsey kept his cool and checked his considerable aggression to score a late winner for the Cottagers.
The American is a firebrand, a temperamental character who is made better for his emotional investment in the game. He battles for every ball and never gives up on a lost cause, rarely losing the plot and letting his emotions boil over.
Dempsey’s upbringing gives some insight into his truculent nature on the pitch. The fourth of five children born to a family of humble means on the dusty outskirts of East Texas, he fell in love with soccer at an early age in a trailer park. His father, a carpenter, drove young Dempsey five hours back and forth to get a run in with the local youth clubs. That appreciation for sacrifice as well as the Latin influence, fire and flair that came from Dempsey’s early proximity to Mexico, helped mould a player whose influence for club and country is difficult to overestimate.
“I play with a lot of heart and every time I go out on the field I do all I can to help get that win, whether it’s for Fulham or the US,” said Dempsey, who has begun to challenge poster-boy Landon Donovan as the pre-eminent American player of his generation, recently picking up his second US Soccer Athlete of the Year award.
Dempsey will be crucial to American hopes of reaching their seventh straight FIFA World Cup™ in Brazil in 2014 (he’s taken part in the last two). Although the States will be expected to reach the finals from the CONCACAF zone, Klinsmann’s start in the job has been something short of totally convincing. And qualifying begins for his charges this summer with a couple of potential banana skins in the form of much-improved Jamaica and Guatemala in the US's preliminary group.
Dempsey’s fighting spirit and battling qualities should come shining through. “We work hard as a team – we always do,” said Dempsey, who has amassed 24 goals in 82 caps with the national team. “When we’re together, we fight together and we all believe we can do big things.”