It’s fair if you want to question Clint Dempsey’s move from the premium shelf of world soccer back into well-drink world of MLS.
It’s OK to wonder if the native Texan risks a slight decline in quality without the drive required to reach Premier League standard, not to mention the competition for spots on a Spurs roster that’s full of talent, regardless of whether Gareth Bale keeps his locker at White Hart Lane.
But some of the reaction for American fans is sliding toward “incredulous,” and that is misplaced overreaction.
Is it really so hard to understand why Dempsey would make this move? Actually, the better question is this: Is it really so hard to understand why Dempsey would grab this golden opportunity?
“Golden,” I say. Because however much you heart Dempsey, however much you value what the man has done for U.S. Soccer, you have to know this: another golden goose of a contract was not coming along for the 30-year-old striker.
The inexorable sands of time expire all too quickly in professional sports, as we know. Who can blame any man or woman for grasping that understanding with a disciplined ferocity?
His $8 million salary represents a healthy raise – and then some. Again, there is simply no way Dempsey would have such a whopper of contract dangled before him again.
(MORE: Dempsey to Seattle: $9 million fee, $8 million salary)
Some early reports had Dempsey in the $7 million a year range with Spurs, which always sounded high. (Dempsey even said on Twitter at the time that the figures were inaccurate.) Even if that amount was correct, considering the cost of living in London and higher tax structure abroad, it’s safe to say the Texas man has measurably improved his financial lot today.
It’s also fair to point out that Dempsey left Fulham to chase Champions League glory. But the reality stands: he is not in Champions League this year. And there is absolutely no guarantee that Spurs will be any closer to the world’s best club competition come next May.
The other consideration that probably isn’t getting enough recognition is playing time. Simply put, nothing is more important for a player going into a World Cup year. Dempsey did appear 43 times for Spurs, but he started in just 22 of Tottenham’s Premier League matches (i.e., the club’s most important ones).
Reports had circulated late in the spring that Andre Villas-Boas was willing to unload the versatile Dempsey, in part because he was too, well, versatile. The manager prefers specialists for White Hart Lane duty. It was logical to assume that playing time for Dempsey wasn’t going to improve significantly, although it might have remained static.
(MORE: Spurs confirm Dempsey’s sale to Major League Soccer)
Bottom line here, he is moving from a place where minutes where hardly guaranteed, into an address where he is a lead-pipe lock for starts and playing time. With 34 MLS matches, plus playoffs, U.S. Open Cup, potential CONCACAF Champions League contests and the lucrative, high-profile exhibitions Seattle can command, Dempsey is likely to feature in 40-plus matches a year.
(And by the way, have you been to a match at CenturyLink? That place rocks. Eat your heart out Euro soccer snobs … contests at Seattle’s downtown ground easily match the electricity at most grounds of the Old World.)
Yes, the standard is lower in MLS. But what does “standard” matter in the event that Dempsey’s minutes began declining around White Hart Lane. Who knows what he was being told by Villas-Boas with regard to how the minutes would be parsed with Spurs?
Again, we can have conversations about whether this move will squeeze the best from Jurgen Klinsmann’s top choice striker / attacking midfielder. That’s fair.
But any failure to at least consider why the man would make such a move is probably rooted in one thing: European soccer snobbery, this notion that American professional soccer isn’t worth the grass that it’s being played on – or the artificial surface, I suppose.
Major League Soccer is not the Premier League, clearly. But up to four other U.S. starters next year in Brazil could be MLS men, so it’s not like this is something rare.
Athletes cannot be blamed for doing what is best for themselves and their families. If a few U.S. fans are disappointed because they won’t get to see their hero in a Premier League shirt, that’s on them, not on Dempsey.