The Clint Dempsey-to-Liverpool - no, he's staying - no, Sunderland - no, Villa - no, it's Liverpool again - just kidding, it was Spurs all along story was really amazing. For the first time ever, a player wildly exceeded expectations, and decided his current contract was inadequate. You had to feel for poor Fulham, being in this completely unexpected and unprecedented.... Oh, what's that? This sort of thing happens literally thousands of times in every sport every single year? Oh, I didn't know. You see, Martin Jol is the only person I have ever listened to since the day I was born.
After a certain amount of time following sports - say, twenty minutes or so - it becomes easy to chart what happens when a player hits 50 home runs, or rushes for 2,000 yards, or scores more than 20 goals in all competitions. The current contract becomes a serious point of contention.
There are also, of course, a couple of directions a club can go when confronted with this unpleasant side-effect of success. Fulham chose almost, but not quite, the very dumbest. While it's understandable that FFC might have been hurt that Dempsey was flirting with others, Fulham responded by throwing him out of the apartment and changing the locks.
I'm sure that felt terribly good, at the time, but it made it more awkward to reconcile, to say the least. When Jol claimed this week that there were no firm offers for Dempsey, and that Clint would simply have to suck it up and report for duty - well, leaving aside in retrospect that it wasn't true, it would have been a poor idea for all sorts of reasons. When your two-time running club player of the year is forced to train with the youth team, what do you think said player will be saying to those kids? At best, nothing complimentary about Fulham. At worst - well, ask Joe Franchino how much fun it can be to practice with an irritated Clint Dempsey.
Once Fulham has more time operating as a professional club, they will learn that at least in public, it's better to - oh. Really. Over a hundred years. Well, you'd never know it. They tried to play public hardball with a player and agent who knew better.
My personal favorite was the theory that because Dempsey was 29, that made his value somewhere at Dead Sea levels. How old was Brian McBride when Fulham signed him? How old was McBride when Fulham made him their freaking captain? McBride was probably the biggest bargain in the history of the Premiership, of course...but that just underscored that this wasn't about talent, it was about money.
That doesn't mean it was fun to live through, especially with updates every half hour about the lack of bids from Liverpool, rumored bids from Sunderland, real bids from Aston Villa - and what it all meant for Dempsey. It must have taken some icy nerves from Dempsey, but then again, this is Deuce we're talking about. Fulham must have had some idea how a staredown with him would have turned out, you would think.
As soon as he turned down the Aston Villa offer, we knew Dempsey (or his management) was perfectly in control of the situation. Whether he knew that Tottenham was mulling over sending a "Do you like me? Y/N" note is debatable - everyone sure acted surprised. But someone was going to come through with an acceptable offer. Fulham made sure of it - they were lucky to get anything like market value.
Popular opinion has Liverpool FC as the losers here - and far be it from me to go against popular opinion. Fulham's complaint against the Redbirds is likely to go nowhere, but in retrospect if they had tied this down earlier, they would have avoided a bidding war. They certainly would have avoided two weeks of Dempsey very publicly saying he would go literally anywhere, inviting literally anyone to bid on him. There are plenty of reasons for tampering rules, and we saw all of them this month.
So now that it's over...don't take this personally, you know I love you like a vague acquaintance...but why were so worried about this? You, being an American soccer fan with no particular brief for Fulham, Liverpool, or Spurs. Let's say you're a USMNT fan first and last...why, exactly, were you on an emotional roller coaster about this?
I understand - you wanted Clint Dempsey to play in the Champions League, and you were worried that he would play in a substandard league. Since even M flipping LS can turn out the occasional acceptable national team player, I don't get the concern. If Dempsey had joined Stoke, along with the rest of the USMNT, how far would he have regressed? Bonus points for realizing that the worst Premiership team faces the same schedule as the best Premiership team...well, slightly tougher.
Sure, we'd like to see Clint Dempsey go to Barcelona, start every game, lift the Champions League trophy, and show a "Giuseppe Rossi sucks" T-shirt after the World Cup-winning goal. Far more realistically, he'd have his playing time rationed severely - just as every Champions League player must. Bonus points also for realizing that if a player does play a majority of league, cup and European games, that increases the likelihood of the national team starting an extremely talented player about ten minutes away from burning out completely.
A player like Clint Dempsey was going to get significant playing time for anyone - short of a team like Real Madrid buying him, which fortunately was not an option. Even the nightmare scenario - "now starting for Chivas USA, number 2, Clint Dempsey!" - wouldn't have meant Dempsey would have deteriorated overnight. If you were that worried about Dempsey's further development...well, I heard a rumor he was gonna turn 30 this year, but keep that to yourself.
I'd blame the panicky press coverage, but the panicky press coverage reflected with perfect accuracy the mood of our fanbase. This was on us. We wanted every rumor, we wanted every quote from Martin Jol, we wanted every potential outcome charted in loving, horrifying detail. We were Chickens Little. If Dempsey or his management had been paying attention to us, he would have accepted less money for a worse club, or tried to repair a dead relationship with Fulham.
Hopefully the next time a player we care about goes through this - and it will be very soon - we react better. (This is a comedy blog, so I always want to leave on a joke.)
....I can't call the USMNT "Nats" anymore, thanks to baseball, but we still don't have a catchy nickname. "Yanks" is out for a similar reason that "Nats" doesn't work anymore. "Stars and Stripes" defeats the whole purpose of a nickname, since we're trying to conserve previous syllables and keystrokes. I'm about to give up and call them the US Mint. (Doesn't help with the nickname for the women's team, though.)