Frank Isola: Dempsey and Fulham might have to settle for each other

With a potential move to Liverpool all but dashed, Dempsey may have no choice but to suck it up and return to action for Fulham.
Clint Dempsey may be the best U.S. born player in the world, but right now he gets an asterisk next to his name.

Dempsey is in limbo, stuck somewhere between Fulham and Liverpool. Or is it Fulham and Sunderland or Fulham and Roma? Who knows, maybe Dempsey is standing on a London street corner right now holding up a sign that reads: “Will score goals for money.”

The transfer window closes 11 p.m. on Friday and a long discussed move to Liverpool seems unlikely amid reports that Liverpool boss Brendan Rogers has his eyes on Chelsea striker Daniel Sturridge. That’s bad news for Dempsey, whose mission from the start was to play with a big club and compete in the Champions League.

That really should be the next step for the 29-year-old Dempsey, who is in the prime of his career and who, last season, enjoyed unprecedented success for an American playing aboard. But as the Dempsey saga drags on he could very well end up back at Craven Cottage trying to mend fences with manager Martin Jol. That would make for an interesting reality TV show, no?

“Clint got bad advice,” says a U.S. soccer official, who requested anonymity. “His best option may be to go back to Fulham and try to work things out.”

It doesn’t matter if you side with Jol or Dempsey in this fiasco. It’s an unhealthy situation, without question, but it is also one that can and should be salvaged. And Dempsey needs a resolution quickly.

He was outstanding last season, scoring 23 Premier League goals, becoming the first American to produce an EPL hat trick in a 5-2 win over Newcastle United. Dempsey has every right to want to capitalize on his best season, but what good is he doing himself and U.S. soccer if he’s not playing?

It’s interesting that Landon Donovan hasn’t come close to matching Dempsey’s success in Europe and yet Donovan remains the face of the U.S. soccer. Both players have produced memorable moments with the national team, but when it comes to name recognition among the casual fan, Donovan gets the nod.

Playing with David Beckham in Los Angeles certainly helps Donovan’s Q-rating, while Dempsey isn’t doing himself any favors in his standoff with Fulham. Even if the club has mismanaged this from the start, Dempsey runs the risk of looking like the petulant superstar, and that’s an awful label to bear.  

Mario Balotelli carried that label with him all year but things changed quickly once Manchester City won the League title and Balotelli became the break-out player at Euro 2012. Redemption for Dempsey could come with his next goal.

But where and when that goal comes is a question no one can answer. Fulham has already played two league games without Dempsey and has one win as well as a 3-2 loss to Manchester United last weekend at Old Trafford.

With midfielder Moussa Dembele headed to Tottenham there could be more moves on the horizon for Fulham. In a perfect world, Dempsey gets his wish and is playing at Anfield within the next 10 days. But this doesn’t look like a fairy tale ending.

In the end, Fulham may need Dempsey just as much as he needs the club.