Mintzfulham1 Photos by Samuel Mintz for ASN
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ASN Goes to Fulham, Finds Lots of Fan Frustration

Clint Dempsey's form at Fulham is causing all sorts of consternation here in the U.S., but ASN's Samuel Mintz wanted to gauge the sentiment in and around Craven Cottage. Here is his report.
BY Samuel Mintz Posted
February 07, 2014
9:50 AM
LONDON—The pessimism and frustration that Fulham FC fans are feeling about their team this season was captured by an older fan named Derek Powell who I talked to outside Craven Cottage last Saturday. When I asked whether Clint Dempsey could make a difference in Fulham’s campaign for survival, he didn't sound hopeful:

“Well, put it this way. Most of the other players we’ve got to use are even worse than he is.”

Ah, nothing like a little British defeatism to brighten up a gray day in London.

Powell might be onto something, of course. Fulham sunk to the bottom of the English Premier League table with a 3-0 home loss to Southampton FC that day. Fulham were outclassed by the Saints on the field and embarassingly drowned out by the away supporters in the stands. Dempsey was relegated to the bench by the arrival of German midfielder Lewis Holtby, on loan from Tottenham, but the American captain did make an appearance in the 64th minute.

There was a brief moment of hope from the stands as Dempsey replaced the dutiful-but-predictable Damien Duff, but ultimately the Texan's stint would turn out no better than any of his previous showings during this loan spell. Dempsey barely made an impact on the game, almost all of his touches resulting in a loss of possession, backward movement, or an offside flag. It didn’t help that Fulham were already a goal down when he came on and quickly conceded two more, but what the Cottagers need right now is a player who can make an impact in situations like that—not one who’s trying to remember how to regain fitness and play at this level.

I spoke to a few fans outside Craven Cottage before the game, and the consensus that I gathered is that Dempsey is still adored, but most also agreed that something’s missing. Whether it’s due to his advancing age, his lack of fitness, or his 2013 return to MLS, Dempsey is definitively not the same player that he was between 2007 and 2012, when he scored 50 goals for the club.

“I liked him before he left to Tottenham, said Mauricio Sanchez. “I haven’t seen enough of him this season yet to be happy with his performances so far. I’m not sure if the MLS slowed him down a little bit, or his confidence went down after leaving Tottenham.”

Sanchez said that while he still respects Dempsey and considers him a good player, “I think being an influential player here at Fulham got to his head a little bit and ultimately led to his problems.”

Another fan, Tony Hill, expressed more of a positive view. “He’s a good player. [This time around] he’s only played a couple games and hasn’t really shown his potential yet, really, but he’ll be alright.”

Hill added that most Fulham fans don’t feel any resentment toward Dempsey for leaving the club when he did. “He had to go. The manager that was here didn’t want him and wouldn’t play him, and when that happens the only way to play football and advance your career is to go somewhere else.”

Still, said Hill (pictured below), “He shouldn’t have gone, really. I think both the club and Dempsey would be better off if he had stayed a bit.”

One other thing that several fans agreed on is that Dempsey, to use an American phrase, is a “clutch player."

“He’s great, he scores the goals when he needs to score them, that’s what we like about Clint,” said Eve Macdonald.

Keith Tracey agreed, and added what he sees as a few more of Clint’s best qualities: “I think he had a couple of seasons where he was really an outstanding player. He’s probably past his best, but he’s a good player. He’s an intelligent player, good positioning. He’ll pick up a few important goals.”

Several people I spoke with responded to Dempsey’s name with a dreamy look in their eyes as they remembered the heady times of the 2009-2010 Europa League campaign, when Dempsey scored a spectacular chipped goal against Italian powerhouse Juventus in the round of 16. The club fell just short of winning hardware, as losing to Atletico Madrid, 2-1, in the final.

But as most fans of the club are acutely aware, this season is a far cry from Fulham's high-flying performances of a few years ago. Dempsey is a player who in some ways seems suited to a relegation dogfight. He’s grimly determined, and a hard worker. And he’s done it before with Fulham, scoring a vital goal (and his first for the club) in 2007 against Liverpool to help secure the Cottagers’ place in the top flight.

Both of those goals came when Dempsey was a talisman for club and country; today he has become more of an enigma. It’s possible that being in the mire of the English Premier League relegation zone will help him sharpen up his game and focus before the World Cup. It’s also possible that Fulham will continue losing and get relegated, messing with Dempsey’s psychological state at a time when he most needs to feel secure.

After a very positive transfer window, Fulham fans, at least, are feeling hopeful about Deuce.

“Now that he’s come back, hopefully he’ll do a good job,” said Hill.

“He might save Fulham from going down, which we would all appreciate,” said MacDonald.

Do you think Clint Dempsey can help save Fulham from relegation? Will his time in London prove beneficial in the run-up to the World Cup? Let us know in the comments below.

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