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Chicken and donuts

31 August 2012

Hug it out

The last month and a half has taught Clint Dempsey the same lesson we normal working stiffs most likely have learned ad nauseum: The market tells you your true value. It doesn’t matter how good you think you are, or even how good you actually are. Time, place, budget and relationships all play a huge role in what someone is willing to pay you, and what someone is willing to pay you is what you are worth.

What the market has told Clint Dempsey is that no Premiership club in this tighter transfer market is all that interested in a 29-year-old with no truly defined position. Or one with a perceived attitude. Or maybe one who’s American. Or is asking for big money. Or maybe Fulham has sabotaged the process with outrageous sell prices. Whatever the reason(s), no one has wanted to ante up for the fourth-leading scorer in the league last season while his current club has had him on ice.

This game of chicken ends tomorrow, and how it resolves itself could determine myriad other moves around the league and how Fulham is set up for the next four months and well beyond.

In a press conference Thursday morning, Fulham manager Martin Jol acted the part of the poker player comfortable with position. In one moment, he said that Fulham remained very clear in what it wanted in a deal for Dempsey, and if they received that offer, they would sell. In other moments, he said he would be able to forgive Dempsey for this holdout/strike/suspension/icing and welcome him back into the fold. Then he went and epically trolled Liverpool, smiling and referring to them as “potentially a Champions League” side in mocking reference to Dempsey’s previously stated career goals and the distance the Liverpudlians are from that level at the moment.

At some point, though, some Premiership club is going to shove its Dempsey chips into the middle of the table and see what the other players do. Here appear to be the options:

Liverpool antes up
With Andy Carroll being loaned to West Ham and Liverpool missing on a couple other targets, the stage appears set for them to make one last legitimate push for Dempsey. The cash savings on the Carroll deal along with one or two other small sales should give Liverpool the cash to hit Fulham’s price. There were (nonsensical) rumors about a Jordan Henderson + cash deal, but unless Charlie Adam is coming the other way (and that might not solve Fulham’s current central midfield problem), the best bet is Fulham would want the cold, hard cash and allocate it elsewhere as needed. Liverpool is very striker thin after the mercurial Luis Suarez now. Will Brendan Rogers buckle? And will Fulham choose to work with Liverpool after the alleged Summer of Tap-Up helped cause this whole thing?

Arsene/Arsenal launch a stealth bid
There’s this team in London who’s actually in the Champions League (and has a joke for a group) and, um, has zero goals so far this season. Last I checked, that’s not good. Also last I checked, Dempsey knows how to score goals in this league and has the grit and balls that Arsenal’s current roster seems to lack. Could Arsene Wenger swallow hard and violate every one of his tried-and-true transfer strategies that have led to no silverware since 2005? Dempsey’s not really young, French or African, but he can score and he’s relatively cheap for a very profitable side who just raised a ton of money by selling Robin Van Persie and Alex Song. Dare they sneak in at the wire?

Clint settles for a move to the Northeast
A lot of people on Twitter are underestimating the possibilities at Sunderland. It’s not a sexy club, but with new, rich ownership, an almost-50,000 seat stadium, a very solid roster and a well-regarded manager who elevates clubs (while running his starting XI into the ground), the Black Cats surely could push for a spot in Europe this season with Dempsey and maybe one more move. Sure, Clint’s kids wouldn’t understand a word of the locals’ “English” and it’s not UCL (or even EL) this season, but you could do a lot worse for a post-breakup hookup. He’d get a decent contract, get a lot of playing time and say he played in a couple of Wear-Tyne derbies.

Clint swallows his pride and takes the best situation
It couldn’t happen, could it? I surely haven’t spoken to Clint personally, but every person who claims to have some access to him pretty much suggests that the bridges at Fulham have been 3rd-degree burned. To whatever degree Jol has been lying/covering for the ownership, it seems Clint feels like he has been unfairly thrown under the bus as Fulham spats it out with Liverpool. Is there any way he can put the emotion of the situation aside and assess what a return to Fulham would mean for him?

The current Fulham roster, assuming a couple of rumored signings happen, is like a donut: rich with flavor on the outside and completely, totally empty in the middle. There is room for Clint here. He can play some on the left. He can slide inside to play with/instead of Bryan Ruiz. He would have a lot of space and creative opportunities playing with strikers like Mladen Petric and Dimitar Berbatov.

He also knows that he has to play for the next four months if he has any hope of forcing a January transfer and/or signing a pre-contract for 2013 and beyond with a club of his choice. Or he could do the most unexpected of things and sign an extension with Fulham, accepting that this is the best he can do and locking up significant cash.

Tomorrow is a massive day for Fulham. Several more players will likely come in, and one major one may go. Someone is going to buckle tomorrow. Will it be Fulham? A suitor? Clint himself? We’ll find out soon enough, and then we’ll have our final answer as to what the market thinks of him. It’s not personal, Clint. It’s business.

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