Is Clint Dempsey the greatest American footballer to play in the Premier League? If you were to ask Fulham supporters that question, their unanimous response would be to say yes.
The forward began his career in his native country with New England Revolution after being drafted by the club in 2004 and immediately began to send shock-waves through the MLS. Despite only being 21-years-old at the time, he enjoyed a fruitful debut campaign, scoring seven goals in 21 appearances for the Revs.
The following season saw him play an integral role in his club’s route to the MLS Cup final as he recorded nineteen goal contributions in just 26 games. However, New England would end up losing the final to LA Galaxy before being defeated at the same stage in 2006 by Houston Dynamo.
Needing a fresh challenge, Dempsey decided to join Fulham later that year in a deal that according to the BBC was worth £2m, which was a Premier League record-fee for an American-born player at the time. His first season at Craven Cottage was a relatively quiet one compared to his MLS escapades yet he did play a key role in saving his new side from relegation.
With two games to go, Fulham were in desperate need of a hero to ensure that they would keep their top-flight status for another season and Dempsey stepped up to the plate, scoring the winner in their game against Liverpool. If the Cottagers had lost or drawn this particular game, they would have been playing Championship football in the following campaign.
Dempsey added to his legacy at the club by contributing to what is arguably Fulham’s greatest modern-day achievement in 2010. After securing Europa League football for the very first time in their history in the 2008/09 campaign, the Cottagers faced Italian giants Juventus in the last-16 of the competition.
A 3-1 defeat on their travels in the first leg left Roy Hodgson’s side with a mountain to climb at Craven Cottage yet they had levelled the tie by the 60th minute at 4-4 on aggregate courtesy of a brace from Zoltan Gera and a goal from Bobby Zamora which cancelled out David Trezeguet’s early strike for I Bianconeri.
With the game heading for extra-time, Dempsey produced a sublime piece of skill to lob Antonio Chimenti in the Juve goal from just outside of the penalty area. It was a goal which will be forever remembered by the club’s supporters as the moment where they started to believe that their side could go far in the Europa League.
Victories over Bundesliga sides Wolfsburg and Hamburg in the quarter-finals and semi-finals of the competition set up a meeting with Atletico Madrid in the final. However, despite playing an integral role in Fulham’s success in the competition, Dempsey only featured as a substitute against Los Rojiblancos as the Spanish side defeated their spirited opponents in extra-time thanks to a brace from Uruguayan forward Diego Forlan.
Despite their heartbreaking defeat, the Cottagers’ players returned to England as heroes for their exploits in Europe with Dempsey leading the way. In the following two seasons for the club, the former New England player top-scored with 12, and 17 Premier League goals before moving to Tottenham Hotspur in 2012.
Although he did make a brief and albeit unsuccessful return to Craven Cottage in 2014 on loan from MLS side Seattle Sounders, his first spell is what he will be remembered for by the club’s supporters. By scoring 60 goals in 225 appearances, Dempsey changed opinions regarding American players in England and ultimately secured his place as a modern-day legend for Fulham.
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