Back in the summer, when Clint Dempsey’s future hung in the balance of a transfer market that undervalued Americans (we were sure of it) and the future of American soccer (read: our World Cup hopes) hung with it, there wasn’t much concern that whatever happened wouldn’t work out for the Texan. He’s Clint Dempsey. “Badass” where you start with the descriptors, moving up from there.
Clint proved himself at Fulham. He deserved to move on to a bigger club in the Betfair Premier League. Naturally, he wanted Champions League soccer, and had said so many times, so the expectation was that he would garner interest from a team in the English top four. Until the drama had played itself out, however, we didn’t know that he’d land at the one club in the English top four not playing Champions League football. Good enough to qualify in any other year, Tottenham had the misfortune of finishing fourth just as Chelsea decided to win the European title with a decidedly underwhelming team.
Still, Tottenham. Not bad, right? Hardly a disappointment to be there and not say, Liverpool, who is not only not a Champions League club at the moment, but looks to have a hard road ahead back to their former lofty status. Spurs has a new coach in Andres Villas Boas, and Clint would have to prove he could play in a team featuring a significantly higher level of talent than he was used to at Craven Cottage, but he’s Clint, remember? “Badass” is his baseline. Badasses don’t ride the bench. Badasses get on the field, and badasses score goals.
Sitting here, a handful of months later, it looks like Clint is facing another battle to prove himself on all fronts. There are rumors that AVB didn’t necessarily want him, that the club panicked when other deadline deals fell through, and a club legend is questioning Dempsey’s talent. Clint’s still a badass, but the degree of his badassery has taken a hit or two. There is no grace period here; Tottenham has aspirations and spent a lot of money to turn near-misses into establishing themselves among the Premier League elite. Sitting fifth through just more than a quarter of the season, Spurs has much more work to do if they hope to challenge for a place in next year’s Champions League.
It is early. But Clint will find, along with his millions of American fans sitting here hoping for him to continue his uninterrupted run of year-over-year improvement in production since his move to England, that the clock moves faster at a bigger club. Fulham’s dreams mostly consisted of staying up, with any finish above 18th place a bonus. Mid-table is massive. A Europa League run is gravy. Clint’s goal-scoring was important at Fulham, but the microscope was much kinder to his flaws. That won’t be the case at White Hart Lane, where every player is open to rampant—and sometimes unfair—criticism because Tottenham’s goals are much bigger.
Dempsey has dealt with plenty of personal pressure over the course of his career. Constantly proving himself to manager is old hat at this point. But this kind of larger pressure, the kind that will follow him into the lineup as Spurs fans and the English media bear down on a new coach (with his history of failure at Chelsea) and a team from whom fifth place is failure, is new.
We don’t have any real reason to doubt that Clint can handle it. He’s badass, after all. But it might be a little rougher going than both he and his fans are used to for awhile.