Skip to content

The two Dems and an anxious week ahead

26 August 2012

This weekend was consumed by the micro, by Fulham showing enough at Old Trafford to reinforce the good vibes from opening-day romp over Norwich even though they were justly punished for a bad 30 minutes in the middle of the match. There’s no shame walking away 3-2 losers at United, although it possibly was a point wasted on merit and moral victories don’t get you to Europe.

The match, though, through the absence of one stalwart and the star turn of another, also served to shine a blinding spotlight on the club’s two tenuous player situations. How Fulham is able to resolve them this week will go a long way toward setting the future of the club, let alone this’s season’s ceiling.

Clint Dempsey’s situation has been beaten to death in the media, with no one having the full story as to why the club’s leading scorer is rotting away with the youth players in training, iced out of the senior team. There are enough rumblings from well-placed (and/or sympathetic) American sources that this situation is not principally Dempsey’s doing, although then it’s reasonable to ask why Martin Jol would repeatedly kill Dempsey in the media, impacting both the club’s leverage in price negotiation and the ability to keep Dempsey should no deal be completed. Still, it’s never made sense to me that Dempsey would feel he could benefit from sitting out. It doesn’t help validate his last two seasons, disprove age concerns, enhance his status with the U.S. national team, etc.

Whatever the impetus, I have thought throughout this saga that Fulham held all the cards, principally because there’s no way Dempsey would willingly sit out until January. If they didn’t get a price for him, they would keep him and he would have to reinsert himself into the senior side. Now, as it appears Jol is backtracking on prior statements in a transparent attempt to create a market for Dempsey elsewhere, I’m starting to believe he will be shipped *somewhere* before Friday. Where that destination is will depend on Fulham’s resolve and Dempsey’s desire to escape (including wage demands) rather than land at a preferred club.

The bigger situation coming out of Saturday’s match, though, was the continuing emergence of Moussa Dembele from a deep-lying central midfield role. Simply put, he was the best player on the pitch yesterday (and that’s with United’s Shinji Kagawa putting in an excellent, impactful shift) repeatedly beating multiple men off the dribble and carving open the United defense. When, United’s notoriously homer message board, is universally in awe of a visitor’s performance and United’s need to buy said player, you know it was a performance. Dembele’s elegance and power on the ball combined with his ability to track back and win tackles have made him a tremendous (yet still developing) player — and a very inviting target for major clubs.

With Dembele also on his final year of his deal (although there are mixed rumors that there’s a club option for a year beyond this season), Fulham have a massive decision to make. I have always believed heading into this season that Dembele was the guy Fulham couldn’t afford to lose, while Dempsey was at least replaceable thanks to some of the wing midfield talent coming through the club’s pipeline. Alex Kaciniklic has deputized well for Dempsey and looks promising, plus his tendency to stay wider than Dempsey has added more balance to Fulham’s attacks. Simply put, clubs like Fulham don’t have players like Dembele in the center of the park very often, and even if they manage to cash in on him, finding a suitable replacement who wants to play for a mid-table side will not be easy at all.

So what does Fulham do? Can they afford to sell both Dempsey and Dembele this week, pocketing north of 20 million pounds for the two, and have confidence that Martin Jol has contingency targets lined up? Can they convince Dembele to ink an extension with the club while dropping a sizable release clause in the deal along with a wink-wink understanding that the club would sell him to a UCL side should the right offer arrive after this season? Can they possibly afford to keep Dempsey at this point, relying on Clint’s professionalism and economic interests to override his obvious antipathy for the club and Jol at this point?

This is a massive week for Fulham heading into Friday’s transfer deadline. The moves that are made (or not made) will really impact the course of the ongoing overhaul being overseen by Jol. The upside for this club, based on two games, at least, is a top-10 finish and a reasonable chance to challenge for a spot in Europe. But life at mid-table clubs is not ever about one season. It’s about sustainability within transition. If the club could harvest 25 million pounds for the two Dems, they probably have to take it, with the significant risk that either/both could walk next summer for nothing.

Maybe not since the week heading into the final match at Portsmouth in 2008, the capper to the Great Escape from relegation, has a week been this important for Fulham’s future. It will be interesting to watch, albeit nervewracking to endure. In Jol we trust? We’ll find out by Friday how much trust we really should have.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: