Clint Dempsey began his professional career in Major League Soccer with the New England Revolution in 2004. He spent three seasons in New England before transferring to Fulham in the Barclays Premier League, where Dempsey spent six seasons. In 2012, he was transferred to Tottenham, spending a year with the club before arriving back in Major League Soccer with Seattle Sounders FC.
Prior to Sunday’s match between the New England Revolution and Toronto FC at Gillette Stadium, Revolution General Manager Mike Burns commented on the league’s latest transfer. Burns was named as the New England Revolution’s Director of Soccer in April 2005 and has been with the club since. In 2008, he became the Vice President of Player Personnel and in November 2011, Burns was promoted to General Manager. Burns was with New England during Dempsey’s final two professional seasons with the club.
On the impact of the Clint Dempsey transfer
“I think first and foremost this only happens if Clint wants it to happen. He’s a tremendous player. He has a tremendous resume. He’s going to be great for this league again. I think it says a lot about him and how he views and values MLS. I think he ultimately wanted to come back and got the deal done to come back.”
A challenge that has become transparent across the league is the inability for any Major League Soccer club to sign a player such as Clint Dempsey. Burns commented on the implications for the league and the Sounder’s ability to sign a second designated player with the caliber of Dempsey.
“I think they just keep raising the bar with two very big, high-profile, highly-compensated designated players. I think it raises the bar for the rest of the league”
As mentioned previously, Dempsey was transferred from New England to Fulham in 2006. The departure occurred during Burns second year with the club.
“It’s difficult. If you look back to [January 2007] when he was sold, he was in the third year of his deal. He made it very clear at the time that he had aspirations and dreams to play in Europe, and both the Revs and league felt that at the time the offer was substantial enough to move him prior to the end of his contract, which we did. That’s obviously the reason why we didn’t have the right of first refusal when he came back into the league this time.”
The latest transfer places more pressure on other General Managers around the league to make similar moves both to improve performance on the pitch and satisfy the interests of supporters.
“Everyone would love to have Clint Dempsey, but there are not a lot of Clint Dempseys out there. I think because it’s Clint, because it’s a returning U.S. National Team player and not just any player – I mean Clint is arguably one of, if not the, top players of the U.S. National Team – I think this just makes a big statement of what he thinks about the league, and wanting to return. It’s not easy to get Clint Dempsey, but for sure everyone would love to have him.”
The age of players transferring from Europe and around the world to Major League Soccer continues to decline. Dempsey’s move is a testament to that statement as quality and interest in MLS continues to increase.
“I think the signings of probably (Thierry) Henry and (David) Beckham, I don’t want to say they carry more weight, but it’s different when it’s an international player coming to MLS than when it’s an American player returning to MLS. But I do think that at 30 years old, in his prime, one of the top players in the U.S., to return the year before World Cup year, I think says an awful lot.”
Many youth players in the United States have aspirations to go to Europe to play professionally. As world class players join MLS and more make the decision to remain in the league, there will be an impact on those aspirations with more players preferring to compete for time with domestic clubs.
“I’d like to think so, but everyone has been pretty open at the league level about wanting to make this one of the top leagues by 2020 or 2022. I still think you’re always going to have young American players to want to play in the best of the top leagues in the world. Clint just did that, and we’re not there yet. So as a player, you always want to test yourself and push yourself and play in MLS, play for the national team. I think you’ll still have that, because we’re not the Premier League yet. We’re not La Liga yet. Because of that, I think that until we get to that point you’re going to always want to have guys try to push themselves and play at the highest level they can.”
Commissioner Don Garber’s plan for the league to achieve world class status is less than 9 years away. There is still significant work to do and progress to be made.
“Anytime something like this happens, I think we get closer to that level, but let’s not kid ourselves. We still have a ways to go. But for Clint to come back in his prime – yes, it is certainly going to make Seattle a better team.”
Seattle’s signing of Dempsey will certainly impact future signings and decisions made by management and players, alike. Albeit premature, Major League Soccer has good reason to be optimistic about the future quality of play as it nears its goal to become a world class league by 2022.