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Clint Dempsey Interview
American soccer star Clint Dempsey talks to The American's Michael Burland
Clint, when you last spoke to The American you were still quite new at Fulham FC. How have things gone since?
When I came to Europe I wanted to play in one of the big leagues – the Premiership, or the Bundesliga, Serie A in Italy, or La Liga in Spain. I wanted a new challenge, to play against better players. When I started at Fulham it was tough, I was not really starting, just coming on as a substitute. I came from Major League Soccer where I was a big fish in a small pond. Here, I had to prove myself. I was able to play a part in keeping the team up, scoring the goal that kept us in the Premiership. The next season I was still having to fight my way into the team and we had another season where we barely stayed up on the last day. I didn't want to play in the Championship [the next level down in English soccer], I wanted to stay in one of the top leagues, so it was good that we were able to show our character through those tough times.
It's Catch 22 – you came across to play at a higher level and ended up playing less than you were in MLS.
Exactly. That's why some people are scared to make the move. It was a tough adjustment but it made me stronger mentally, and a better player in the long run.
Fulham are now a top-half team in the Premiership – would anything less this season be a disappointment?
Yeah, we're a team trying to move forward, do better than the previous years. The last two years have been good. We got though to the Europa League final. Right now we're in 12th place and that's where we finished last year, so we'd like to do better than that.
Was it a shock when Roy Hodgson left to manage Liverpool?
No, there was talk of it during last summer. For a long period we didn't know what was going to happen. So when it did, what can you do? You have no control over it, all you have control over is how hard you work and what you can do to make the team better. That's what we're trying to do now.
What's been the biggest difference for you since Mark Hughes took over?
We're playing a little more attacking style, with more attacking freedom. We're very organized, we study tapes and try to make sure we're best prepared for each game. It's good having him as a manager.
So it's a happy dressing room?
Sure, especially now we're sitting a little bit more comfortably in the table.
Fulham was known for having several US players, but with Eddie Johnson out on loan [to Aris in Greece then Preston North End], and Brian McBride retired, you've become the only American on the regular squad. Do you miss having fellow US players in the team?
It's nice having other Americans around because you have more in common, but it's not the reason I came to Europe. I came to try to better myself and play against some of the best players in the world.
Clubs like Manchester United and Liverpool are famous throughout the world. Before you came to Fulham, did you – or other Americans - know much about the team?
No, I knew some Americans had played for the team. When they showed interest in me I did some research and saw they were a mid-table team in one of the best leagues in the world so I was excited about that. Everton were interested in me too, but Fulham wanted me more – they put up more money for me. The MLS agreed the fee, I came here and it's been a good four years.
Given the choice between being staying in England and moving to sunnier climes such as Barcelona, Madrid or Milan, what would you opt for?
That's a tough one! I do miss the sun, but to be honest the weather's not too bad here. London's a lot more sunny than you would think. It is a change from my home in Texas – especially the winters, they're pretty bad – but I spent three years in Massachusetts! Luckily we didn't have to play outside in the winter. The weather's not the main thing, but I do miss the sun.
You had a good World Cup: What did you think of the refereeing especially in those US games.
It was frustrating, especially the second game. We won the game then they took it from us. And in the Algeria game I wasn't offside in the goal I scored. It is something the U.S. has had to deal with in World Cups and other major competitions. The penalty they gave Ghana in the 2006 World Cup in Germany, after we equalized, was not a penalty. You can't cry about it, you just have to get on with it. I thought we did a good job, winning our group.
Was it anti-American bias, or general erratic refereeing?
I don't know. It's something I've noticed in the in two World Cups I've been in. If it happens in another World Cup you'd have to start asking questions.
The number of games you've played for Fulham is about to overtake the number of games you've played in MLS and the National Squad combined.
I played about 70 games in MLS, I got 68 caps for the US and I've played 160-something games here. I'm happy with my progression and with my goals per game ratio – I play mostly in midfield and I gEt about one goal every five games. I'd like to do more.
With the long Premiership seasons and the World Cup between, you couldn't have got home often. Have you missed the US?
I miss my family. And the sun and Tex-Mex food. And I miss bass fishing with my dad! If I have twenty days off I'll spend ten days in Texas and ten in North Carolina where me and my wife have a house. I was born in Texas and my mom and dad live there. But at the same time I get to live my dream, playing soccer at one of the highest levels there is. I know a football career is not forever, so I'm trying to make the most of it. When I'm done I have time to be back in the States, doing all those thing I miss.
How have you settled in to the English culture?
Well, I'm a dad now – that's what I do when I'm not playing. My daughter Elyse is a little over two now and I have new born son, Jackson. They keep me pretty busy.
How are you sleeping?
I'm lucky, my wife looks after them during the night, but I try to change as many diapers as I can during the day!
Finally, how much did you see of the Super Bowl?
I saw the first half – I was flipping back and forth between the Super Bowl and the latest PGA tour – I was rooting for Tommy Two Gloves. And I was going for the Steelers. They were losing 21-10 at half time and I thought that was it. Then I had to go to bed – it got pretty close after that.
And what did you make of the Texas weather recently?
When I was there it never snowed – if we got some black ice they called school off, they didn't know how to deal with it. It's just not something Texas is used to!