Interview: Q&A with American star Clint Dempsey ahead of World Cup
Clint Dempsey is acknowledged as one of the greatest field players produced by U.S. soccer team and is in line to play in his third World Cup this June in Brazil.
After playing in college at Furman, he began his professional career in 2004 with the New England Revolution and rapidly ascended to a position on the U.S. national team, which he joined for the 2006 World Cup in Germany and scored a goal in the team’s final group game, against Ghana.
Later that year he was transferred to Fulham in the Barclays English Premier League and gradually became a regular for the club – he scored the goal against Liverpool in spring 2007 that prevented the team from being relegated – and eventually a star.
His performances in the 2010 Europa League helped Fulham reach the final of that competition, and in 2012 he scored 23 goals in all competitions, including an American-record 17 in the Premier League. He transferred to Tottenham Hotspur and produced 12 goals in one season with Spurs, then was offered the opportunity to return to MLS and the Seattle Sounders for a contract that reportedly will pay him $8 million annually over the next three years.
With the U.S. national team in 2013, Dempsey scored six goals in 10 appearances to bring his career total to 36, second all-time behind teammate Landon Donovan. As part of a promotional campaign for Degree antiperspirant, Dempsey spoke with Sporting News by telephone from London, where he is completing a two-month loan to Fulham:
Q: When you came back to MLS in August, you had a stipulation in your contract to accept a loan spell in this winter window. Once you finished the Seattle season, what was the thought process on whether and where you would spend this time? And what did you hope to get out of it?
Dempsey: I wanted to go on loan during this window because I felt like I had a good amount of time off in the summer before starting the preseason with Tottenham, and during that preseason I ended up going back to MLS later on in their season. With not many games left, I ended up picking up an injury, and that kept me out for about three weeks.
I felt like I already had kind of a break. And then also when I was with the national team I had another injury with my calf, and I was out three to four weeks. So I felt like I’d had my time off. I wanted to get back to playing and get my body right because it seemed like I was breaking down. I don’t know if it was from all the travel; I don’t know if it was adjusting back to playing on turf again, but I just wanted to get my body right.
I wanted to come back to playing in Europe, and I think England is one of the best leagues in the world. I wanted to come back and be part of playing here and being around that competition and trying to get my body right again going into the World Cup year.
But it has been difficult here because in the month of January results haven’t gone our way. I only have one month left on loan here and hopefully in that time can make more of a difference. But I’m feeling more fit, happy with the minutes and the games. It’s just about producing more and being more effective as far as creating goal-scoring opportunities and scoring goals myself.
Q: Was it a little odd walking back into Craven Cottage after having left for Tottenham a year ago, then back to the States – now you’re back to where the whole cycle started?
Dempsey: Yeah, as far as where my whole journey in Europe started. It’s always kind of felt like home to me, London, and I did spend a lot of years at Fulham: 5½. Coming back here, it’s kind of come full-circle. I’m actually staying in the first flat that I actually stayed in when I came over here the first time.
It’s a great club. They were in a difficult situation when it was decided I was going to come on loan – being toward the bottom of the table. And I wanted to come and try to help out as much as I could.
Q: Fulham has had its troubles, and so has Sunderland, where your national teammate Jozy Altidore is struggling in front of goal. Do you have any close-up view, anything you’re seeing or hearing that explains what he’s doing wrong?
Dempsey: That’s the process of being over here. It’s a difficult league. You’ve got to figure out the system of play, how you can make an impact and fight for a spot and fight to make a difference. That’s what I did for the 5½ years I was here and I was happy to be a part of helping Fulham avoid relegation in my first season I was here, and my first goal, getting the goal that kept them up. But also being a part of helping the team get the highest finish they’ve had in the Premier League, and also getting to the Europa League final. So there were some great things done here.
And also I’m happy with what was accomplished at Tottenham: getting 72 points in the season, which is one of the highest point totals they’ve had, just missing out on Champions League.
That’s what it is. It’s a grind. No matter where you’re playing – in MLS or playing in Europe, you always have to keep working, make sure that you have a good season and you want to have a career. So you just have to figure out the new systems wherever you are and how you can impact games. That’s always going to be a little tricky.
Q: Now that you’re back in Europe after having spent a couple of months in MLS, are you feeling more or less secure about your decision to come back to the States to play?
Dempsey: I didn’t make the decision lightly. There was a lot of thought that went into it. For me, I’d already been over here six years, something like that. I’ve got kids, and I knew I wanted to raise my kids in the States. After I was done playing, whenever that time was going to be, I was going to go back to the States and I was going to raise my kids.
With Tottenham, I only had one year guaranteed with a one-year option, and MLS came in, said they would move mountains to get me back. And they made me an offer I couldn’t refuse to go back and continue the growth of the game in the States, to raise my kids in the States, be closer to my family. It’s the league that gave me the start, to go pro in the first place – and they gave me a 3½-year deal. I have no regrets, I’m happy with the decisions I’ve made in my career. They’ve made me who I am.
Q: I’ve suggested in a column that what’s been announced as your MLS salary and what’s been announced as Michael Bradley’s in his transfer back could convince more talented young athletes there’s real money in soccer and to pursue that sport if it suits them. Do you see your returns as maybe having that impact?
Dempsey: Yeah, I think it is good that players from America, that spent time in the league, are getting good deals. Because growing up, it seemed like international players – foreign players, I should say – were getting the better deals. With more American players getting good deals in the domestic league, it’s good for it. And like you say, kids can see it as an opportunity to do something that they love and take care of their family in a good way.
I think still kids will figure out what they want to do: whether they want to stay in MLS or go to Europe. You’ve got to follow what you want to do. That’s something I’ve always done. I followed my own path, didn’t follow anybody else’s lead. I just wanted to do my own thing, make the most of where I went. And I’m happy with the career I’ve had so far.
Q: Watching the World Cup draw a couple of months back, a lot of Americans were taken aback to see the U.S. played in the “Group of Death.” What was your reaction? What are your thoughts about what the U.S. can accomplish this summer?
Dempsey: Yeah, I think it’s a difficult group. My initial thought was like what you said: It was “Wow.” But at the same time, when you’re playing in the World Cup, you’re playing against the best teams in the world. If you want to go far in that competition, you’re going to have to play against good teams.
It’s exciting. You get an opportunity to play against Germany, Portugal and play against Ghana again. We’re looking forward to the challenge. We’re coming off one of our most successful seasons, 2013, and hopefully we can carry that forward in 2014. I think if we play our best ball we have the quality that we can get out of the group.
Q: You scored a goal against Ghana in 2006 and have played them twice now in the World Cup. What are your thoughts now about what you have to do as a team to get this year’s Cup started off right?
Dempsey: That was a dream come true to score the goal against Ghana in the World Cup. It’s what I dreamed about as a kid, being able to play in the World Cup and score a goal. And the other game we had, being able to be a part of causing the goal, getting fouled for the penalty that led to us to drawing the game up, allowed us to go into overtime – yeah, there were some good memories, but also we ended up losing those games. Hopefully this third time, we’ll end up getting a little bit of luck. I think we’re due.
Q: There were a lot of core national team players that were in this year’s January camp and the friendly against South Korea. Is that an indication that MLS is continuing to advance?
Dempsey: There’ve always been players from MLS that have done well and gotten into the national side and have played in World Cups. I don’t see that changing. I think the most important thing that you’re playing good soccer, that you’re playing at a high level, that you’re confident and you’re producing consistently.
That allows you to get into the national team, and doing well on that stage allows you to keep growing and progressing. Whether you’re in the domestic league or whether you’re in Europe or wherever you may be, the most important thing is playing consistently and playing well and confident. And yes, the league had continued to grow and produce good talent, and that’s promising.
Q: What can you tell us about the campaign you’re working on?
Dempsey: I’m with the Degree campaign, Degree deodorant, and the new product Motionsense technology – where the more you move the more it protects you. But the cool thing about it is they’re involved in soccer. If you go to http://www.degreesoccer.com/ fans can have a chance to win a trip to Brazil and join us down there for the World Cup.
It’s good to be with a company that is pushing the game in the States and getting behind soccer. So I’m excited.