Meet Clint Dempsey, the Premier League much under-appreciated yet finest American footb..er.. soccer player.
The name "Dempsey" isn't exactly what you'd call common. However, Google the name and the first result is not what you would've expected - it isn't a cheesy actor famed for Grey's Anatomy. It's Fulham's very own Texan superstar.
Dempsey's rise to fame is a classic example of the "written in the stars" journey. His story is one of courage and perseverance but entwined with grief, tragedy and every so often, unmistakable glimpses of hurt. Born in the remote Texan town of Nacogdoches in East Texas into a relatively poor family as the fourth of five children, Dempsey's was a humble upbringing. His footballing journey started off when his older brother Ryan was offered a tryout by the Dallas Texans, a youth club. Clint, who tagged along, was noticed while juggling a ball on the sidelines to pass the time. Almost immediately, he was recruited into the youth team.
Very soon, he became the standout player for the club. However, due to the family's time and money constraints and with his sister Jennifer becoming a ranked youth tennis player, Dempsey's career was cruelly cut short. However, the subsequent passing away of his sister after suffering a brain aneurysm was the rather macabre catalyst for his return to football. The death of his sister - someone he was very close to - had a profound impact on the then 12 year old. In his teens, Dempsey started going back to Dallas, playing with greater determination than ever before and, after going through the system regularly scoring goals, he was selected by the MLS side New England Revolution as the 8th pick overall in the 2004 MLS SuperDraft.
In his rookie season for the Revolution, Dempsey started 23 of 24 matches, helped the club to the Eastern Conference finals and earned the 2004 MLS Rookie of the Year award. In 2005, he scored 10 goals and had 9 assists and scored in yet another Eastern Conference final as the Revolution rolled into the MLS Cup final. Following an injury affected 2006 campaign, Dempsey was purchased by Fulham for $4 million - then the highest amount ever offered for an MLS player. Dempsey made an almost immediate impact for the club - his first goal on May 5, the only one in a 1-0 win over Liverpool, saved Fulham from relegation and guaranteed Premier League football for another season at Craven Cottage.
In the following 5 years, Dempsey's career has really blossomed. His goals tally for the years since 2006 - 8, 12, 11, 15, 23 says a story in itself. He has matured as a player, and is very often the focal point through which all of Fulham's forward play in he final third go through. His awareness, dribbling ability and vision are among the best in the Premier League. Playing in a withdrawn attacking role, Dempsey is often seen roaming over the final third of the pitch, probing and pressing to thread an elusive pass through the opposition's defence. Off the ball, his hard work, desire to defend and tenacity are all admirable qualities. He may not be the most athletic or the fastest player on the pitch, but Dempsey's quality transcends what is considered average in the EPL. In short, he is simply class.
Dempsey is the current highest scoring American in the league, passing fellow American/Fulham legend Brian McBride after scoring the winner (again) against Liverpool in last December. He is also the first American player to score a hattrick in the Premier League. Dempsey is Fulham's current highest scorer and has scored 20 goals more for the club than his nearest competitor - the erstwhile Bobby Zamora. He also creates as many chances from open play as his most illustrious peers, Juan Mata and David Silva. As of now, he is also among the highest scorers in the Premier League this season. Over the past two seasons, only Robin van Persie has scored more goals than Dempsey while counter attacking. Again, Dempsey has had 20 goals from inside the penalty box in the last two seasons. Only van Persie (34) and Dimitar Berbatov (25) have more.
Of course, he has had his issues as well. He has often in the past been involved in cases of violent conduct, both with the Revolution and with the Cottagers. In 2006, he was twice suspended from the MLS, once after getting into a fight with teammate Joe Franchino and secondly, after breaking the jaw of his national teammate Jimmy Conrad. In 2007, Dempsey accidentally broke John Terry's cheekbone after elbowing him while fighting for the ball. In 2011, he very nearly did the same to Manchester United defender Phil Jones. Dempsey has also had consistency issues as well, often scoring in purple patches before a barren spell. For someone of his talent, he still fades out of matches occasionally. In the US international side, he has been arguably overshadowed by his teammate Landon Donovan.
Nevertheless, there is no doubting the quality of the Texan. His is very often under-appreciated when compared to his peers in the industry. Unlike some of his more 'outspoken' colleagues, Dempsey prefers to do all his talking (and elbowing) on the pitch, much to the delight of the Fulham faithful and some neutrals like me. There is no doubt that given the appropriate surroundings, Dempsey could very well become an even better player. Given his current form and swagger, some might see Fulham as being too small for the man. Regardless of where he ends up, all I want is more of the same please!