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Kicking the can on Clint Dempsey’s precarious place with Spurs

Jan 2, 2013, 4:15 PM EDT

Clint Dempsey Getty Images

Clint Dempsey may have bagged a goal to start 2013, but yesterday was a decidedly mixed one for the U.S. international. With Gareth Bale suspended for diving too much, you would have expected Dempsey, having returned from a groin injury during Spurs’ trip to Sunderland, to start on the left side of André Villas-Boas’s 4-4-2. Instead, Gylfi Sigurdsson got the call.

To his credit, Sigurdsson has forced Villas-Boas’s hand. For the better part of a month, the attacking midfielder has been Spurs’ best player on the ball. If it wasn’t for Gareth Bale’s Boxing Day explosion, you could argue the Icelander has been the team’s best attacker (per minute) period. If he’s fighting Clint Dempsey for playing time, there’s little doubt Sigurdsson has started to get the upper hand.

It’s a battle that’s been implied since Deadline Day, when Spurs took advantage of a short-sighted Liverpool to land the American on the cheap. The move pushed Sigurdsson down the depth chart, and while both players struggled in their first months at White Hart Lane, Dempsey was able to maintain his relative advantage.

Now that Sigurdsson is flashing his Swansea form, he and Dempsey may have swapped spots, a state that could see “Deuce” eventually struggle for playing time. Over the next month, if Emmanuel Adebayor goes the Africa Cup of Nations (for Togo), Dempsey should get starts up top (provided Villas-Boas doesn’t use the absence as an excuse to switch back to a 4-2-3-1). There, Dempsey will be expected to produce goals. If he can’t catch fire, he’ll may slot in behind Sigurdsson on the depth chart when Adebayor returns.

On a fully healthy Spurs team, that means Dempsey is the second attacker off the bench. Specific matchups and game situations may see him used before Sigurdsson, but unless Dempsey can start to winning this one-on-one with the Icelandic international, he’s going to scrounging for playing time in the new year.

It’s a situation that’s always brought the best out of Dempsey in the past. At Fulham, he would habitually lose his place whenever the Cottagers were forced to swap coaches. Within months, he’d not only be back in the starting lineup but be one of Fulham’s best players.

The only difference this time: Dempsey had a spot to lose. André Villas-Boas has never forced him to prove himself. The Portuguese manager has put his faith in Dempsey.

At a competitive place like Tottenham, though, faith is not enough. Bottom line: Dempsey needs to play better to keep his spot.

  1. mnesta - Jan 2, 2013 at 5:32 PM

    Wow, a lot of odd assertions that as a Spurs fan watching the team game in and game out don’t make sense to me. First, Gylfi’s been Spurs’ best player on the ball over the last month per minute? That was his first start in the league in 2 months, he hasn’t played more than 20 minutes in a league game in two months, and if we are to ignore Gareth Bale’s Boxing Day explosion, do we also ignore Aaron Lennon and Dembele, who have been excellent as well? You state per minute, but beyond a couple of decent set piece deliveries, I’m not sure where that comes from. Second, you state Adebayor’s playing for Togo as fact, but he has fallen out with the team again and even AVB doesn’t know yet whether he’s going or not.

    Those points to the side, I did think it curious he didn’t start, but there’s a multitude of reasons other than Gylfi’s “emergence”. Spurs were playing the second to worst team at home so a less risky place to give Gylfi a run out, Dempsey is just coming back from injury (he eased Dembele back earlier in the year), Spurs have an FA Cup game Saturday and wanted to save Dempsey to give Defoe a rest then and get Clint back to match fit, etc. Thus, this issue you raise is basically the same that’s always been there, he just gave Gylfi a run out over him for the first time all year. We can save the alarm bells until this happens more regularly.

    • Richard Farley - Jan 2, 2013 at 6:05 PM

      Thanks for the comment. I hope you don’t mind me giving your assertions the same attention:

      – you may disagree on Gylfi’s quality, yet he got the start yesterday. It would seem AVB disagrees, to some extent, and whereas Sigurdsson has struggled to take playing time from Dempsey all year, yesterday he did.
      – so why the sudden change in usage. Perhaps it was a lark, but perhaps the contention that Gylfi’s play has improved has something to do with it? The man has two assists in his last three games, numbers acquired by doing more than merely providing some set piece service.
      – regarding Adebayor, as of now, he’s slated to go. Togo, at least, is expecting he’ll go, though it’s obviously a unique situation. If the standard for fact is that we don’t know if he’s going because he hasn’t left, then very few players can be said to be going to ACON.
      – using Dempsey for an FA Cup game against Coventry as opposed to a league match would actually be more evidence he’s losing ground. It’s not a mere mitigating factor.
      – this was his second game back from injury. He’d already come back against Sunderland, though it’s possible he could be slowly reintegrated (though Bale was not).

      I know it may be tough to take, but Dempsey may be losing time with Spurs. He may also hold his ground. Obviously, we don’t know yet. Hence the discussion.

  2. zampanno - Jan 2, 2013 at 7:32 PM

    I, as with Mr. Mnesta, believe Dempsey not making the starting XL vs Sunderland is due to him coming off his injury and AVB wanting to work home into the full speed ( for me, this is why I thought AVB brought him in not at half time but with just 15 minutes to go) I really think AVB is all about squad management and such is the case here. Like you’ve suggested Mr. Farley, he’s a player who is constantly battling to show his class and I truly see him gaining and retaining a starting spot with the squad. He simply makes things happen; AVB knows this and will give Dempsey the best opportunity to show what he was doing at Fulham all of last season.

  3. wfjackson3 - Jan 2, 2013 at 11:41 PM

    First, I agree that Gylfi shows lots of quality. Quite frankly, I am impressed by him every time I get to see him play and I wonder why some Spurs fans seem to be constantly knocking him. That said, I am not worried at all about Clint’s playing time. He has shown through the years that he is willing to work his ass off, do what the coach wants, and get back in the starting lineup. If it comes to that again, I am sure he will do what it takes to get in the starting 11.

  4. thompsonan1 - Jan 3, 2013 at 3:01 AM

    I’m not sure where you are getting your information on Siggurdson. It’s clearly not from watching the matches. This was his first extended period on the pitch in the league in months. Arguably spurs best player of late? That is borderline insane. If making a list of the most influential players who have contributed to this recent run of form he doesn’t even warrant consideration. Regarding this “battle” In a little over his last 3 full matches of minutes, Dempsey has notched 3 goals and 3 assists (counting the one in the Europa league that was made an OG). One could argue that of late he only cemented his already firm lead in this duel with Siggurdson. Dempsey was left from the team because he was nursing an injury, had played just days before, and Spurs were facing a vastly inferior opponent. Although you missed the boat on the reason, you are correct in saying his position in the team is precarious. Adebayor’s recovery from injury has been successful and he’s finding his form. He and Dempsey have been used in the same spot which will is the real competition for Clint. If he goes to Africa that problem should be resolved as long as Spurs can continue their form. To Clint’s advantage, when he’s healthy he’s going to be the first replacement for most attacking positions in either formation AVB uses so he’ll see plenty of time even if he loses out to Ade.

  5. scottp11 - Jan 3, 2013 at 11:21 AM

    Way, way off on some of this stuff. The context puts the entire article into error.

    First, Gylfi has certainly NOT been the best player on the ball the last month. He was relegated to deep bench for most of the season. Yes, in the last month he’s come on 7 minutes, 10 minutes maybe 14 minutes here and there…and yes, looked good at times. In fact, he’s been painfully close to a few goals (while adding a couple assists). But nothing more than a “nice” sub towards the end of the match, a huge problem area for Spurs this year. The best players on the ball have been without a doubt Sandro, Dembele and Lennon, 100% without question. Defoe has also shown a bit of quality there as well, other than shooting it every chance.

    All Gylfi has done is moved from “that guy’s slow and lost” to, “hmm, he’s had a couple nice appearances, maybe he should grab a start during the crazy holiday season to get someone rest and start a Europa league match…”. Nothing more.

    There are a hundred articles out there about Adebayor NOT going to ACON. It’s been reported ad nauseam. He “retired” to protest poor or lack of wages given to him and fellow Togolese players. He’s the captain and best Togo player and was basically looking out for his fellow countryman, who are all lesser earners. Now granted, when the news broke and since all Spurs fans and AVB still have a small wonder whether the posturing will turn successful and he’ll join the team for ACON. But there has been not a single mention of that happening whatsoever in any media. As of now, as weeks ago he is “retired” and not going to ACON.

    With Dempsey, he was hurt. He wasn’t benched. Since Ade has come back, AVB has been rolling out a surprising 4-4-2. So that does move Dempsey off the lineup. No one thought a 4-4-2 would ever be used, but that’s the case with all the injuries in the MF this season. Furthermore, AVB has said that he considers Dempsey to be a striker. In the same toke, Ade is a striker as well but AVB has been having him track back a LOT, in a similar role that Dempsey can be effective in.

    There’s no doubt that Dempsey’s space is pinched, but he was a constant 90 minute guy for most of the season. With the latter part being very effective, but sadly not in the goals. Sadly, this is what he wanted to a degree, a higher club. I even played against him as a youth in Texas, so I’m a big fan! Spurs might not typically have world class strikers or defense, but they do like to find solid Midfielders from around the globe.

    • thompsonan1 - Jan 3, 2013 at 12:11 PM

      @scottp11 you are spot on except for one small detail. dempsey hasn’t been a 90 minute guy for most of the season. in fact i think i recall him only going the full 90 maybe twice this year. i’ve watched every spurs game and he’s usually brought off between the 60th and 75th minute. Even at half time at one point. Everything else you’ve said is true. Siggy was just getting a run out based on the scenario. Also, despite playing decent in his first start in months, it only took Dempsey 4 minutes after replacing him to have a greater impact on the match. He’s nothing to worry about for Dempsey fans.

    • Richard Farley - Jan 3, 2013 at 12:32 PM

      Thanks for the reply. Both this and the preceding comment are addressed in my previous response, but regarding Adebayor:

      I don’t know when your hundreds of articles were penned, but that’s from yesterday. It hasn’t had enough time to be reported ad nauseam, but it’s still there. And for various reasons, Adebayor has often retired from international football only to eventually show up. Some of those reasons were profound, some were … less so.

      I understand why people are supportive of Dempsey, but there’s a reason why AVB’s now playing 4-4-2, Gylfi’s getting more time, and Dempsey is now in a more precarious place.

      • thompsonan1 - Jan 3, 2013 at 3:02 PM

        Gylfi is not getting more time…. Where are you getting this Richard? He got one start. Prior to the last couple matches he’s actually been reduced to even less minutes than the 15 or so he was getting regularly off the bench as a result of Ade coming back. That is absolutely nonsense.

      • Richard Farley - Jan 3, 2013 at 3:03 PM

        You mean other than his start? This was written after he got 75 minutes. I suppose I got this … from the game.

      • bsanduskee - Jan 3, 2013 at 3:25 PM

        Richard, I don’t want to be too nit-picky here. But I agree with mnesta, zampanno, scottp11 that your article is not really based on facts. You are telling them (and now probably me) that you can understand why people like us “are supportive of Dempsey.” The point is that in the past six to eight weeks Dempsey had solidified his starting position on the team and has been looking very strong. And then he had his injury. Dempsey looked excellent again against Sunderland, scored a brilliant goal that killed any chance of Sunderland making a dramatic comeback.

        I can understand why some people, especially Fulham fans, want to try to make it appear Dempsey is still struggling at Tottenham, but there is a reason why AVB likes Dempsey so much and has been regularly starting him the past six to eight–and that reason is that Dempsey has been performing well. Will Dempsey score 17 league goals and 23 in all competitions in a season for Tottenham? Probably not, but Tottenham is a much better team than Fulham (with a much better coach) and Clint will not have to carry the load like he did at Fulham. Clint will be contributing to the cause even when he is not scoring so many goals. You can see that he already is starting to display leadership in a Tottenham shirt.

      • Richard Farley - Jan 3, 2013 at 3:32 PM

        Thanks for your response. All that is fair.

        I definitely don’t think Dempsey has solidified a starting spot. In fact, with the move to a 4-4-2, he almost certainly is not in AVB’s choice XI.

        I wrote earlier this month that the situation shouldn’t be so back, Clint should still get tons of time because of his versatility, but not Gylfi’s playing much better than he was.

        And then he got the start yesterday.

        The biggest weakness in my piece isn’t that Gylfi hasn’t been good (he has) or Dempsey hasn’t lost some ground recently (he has, but that could very well be only because of formation). The biggest weakness that I may be understating the role Dempsey’s injury’s played in his playing time over the last two games.

        Essentially, I’m saying that the Sunderland game showed his health, he should have been expected to start over Bale against Reading, and he didn’t. Then I try to attribute causes.

        But what if Clint isn’t 100 percent? Another posteer brought this up. I, personally, wrote against that contention, but if somebody offered it as rationale for AVB’s decisions, my response would be “well, you know, that very well may be right.”

      • thompsonan1 - Jan 3, 2013 at 3:49 PM

        @Richard. You have to understand this is a side involved in 3 major competitions. Siggy getting a 75 minute run out against a horrible premiership side when 2 players who would play in that spot are either suspended or not 100 percent isn’t anything to write about. This is especially true when Spurs have 3 matches in the space of a week. Siggy’s role over the last 2 months has been reduced dramatically with the inclusion of Adebayor and Dempey’s form improving. I agree that Dempsey doesn’t have a guaranteed spot, especially with Ade involved. But in your article you claimed that Siggy is experiencing some sort of resurgence and has been one of their better players of late. This is blatantly false. Had Dempsey not been injured and Bale been suspended he hardly would have seen the field. One start isn’t enough to warrant buzz, especially when Dempsey’s replaced him and immediately scored to ice the game.

      • Richard Farley - Jan 3, 2013 at 3:59 PM

        I don’t see how saying Gylfi has been good is anywhere close to blatantly false. You could look to his actual play or if that’s too subjective the fact that AVB actually picked him yesterday.

        Regarding three competitions, who else was held out by Spurs against Reading? People have said this was a weak side so AVB decided to essentially rotate, but the theory breaks down when you look at every other spot in the Tuesday’s XI.

        Regarding Dempsey being injured, see other responses. This wasn’t his first game back.

        And in another response, somebody said Clint made more of an impact within four minutes yesterday than Gylfi had during the whole game. I think that’s a great example of this conversation’s subtext. Clint scored a goal, but c’mon. It’s not like that goal showed some unique and special talent – some form that is about to carry him into a second half surge.

        There is a tendency throughout the threat to see everything pro-Clint, which is a great sign of loyalty. But it has distorted Gylfi’s quality and a points overvalued Clint’s Tuesday impact and his place now that Spurs have gone 4-4-2.

        Again, it’s exciting Clint has fans. But he may be in a fight for playing time.

      • thompsonan1 - Jan 3, 2013 at 4:43 PM

        I am aware it wasn’t Clint’s first game back. His first game back was a couple days prior to that, hence him not being likely to start in the game. I watch every match and Siggy has been unimpressive. He has had a few bright moments here and there and looked pretty confident against reading. But you are acting as if he’s suddenly won over the manager with great play. It’s all very naive. I’m not viewing this from a Pro-Clint perspective at all. It’s just common sense. If Siggy had been experiencing this newfound form as you suggested wouldn’t he have started against Sunderland when Dempsey was initially injured??? That’s why this theory about Siggy is laughable. He couldn’t even break into the team when Clint wasn’t in the 18 due to injury!!! Watch the league. Every top 5 team has fringe players who are given random starts due to the schedule, injuries, every week struggles of an arduous premiership campaign. Siggy is one of those players. You actually try to say minus Bale’s hat trick you could argue that Siggy has been Spurs’ best attacker. That is absolutely rubbish. Not a chance. Lennon, Defoe, Bale, and even Clint prior to his injury have all been playing wonderfully.

        You say that Clint’s goal wasn’t a display of form to carry him into the second half. Fair enough. However, in both substitute appearance he was great on the ball and should have had an assist when he put Ade through with a brilliant heel flick. Prior to his injury he was really enjoying himself, scoring or assisting regularly and earning praise from AVB and the British media. Siggy is a good talent and perhaps deserves another chance after playing his way out of the side. But Clint fans should be much more concerned about Adebayor.

      • thompsonan1 - Jan 3, 2013 at 4:54 PM

        Also, the fact that the rest of the Spurs side was primarily first choice guys does not disprove squad rotations. Manager’s don’t just rotate their entire squad when they have a pressing schedule. They still have a goal in mind and the responsibility to win matches. Siggy is a worthy replacement and his inclusion in the side doesn’t hurt them very much so it’s ok to throw him in. You rarely see a manager change up most of his squad for a league match unless its City or United.

        Also, If you want further proof that this demanding holiday schedule had something to do with it, look no further than the Mataless and Harardless side Chelsea fielded against QPR.

  6. Richard Farley - Jan 3, 2013 at 3:35 PM

    Also, this is turning into a potential Reader Generated Content post.

    • Richard Farley - Jan 3, 2013 at 10:05 PM

      Yep. Definitely rolling this into an RGC. Too much good debate here. Look for it either Friday or early next week.

      • cornet76 - Jan 5, 2013 at 1:48 PM

        Mr. Farley,

        When Deuce was at Fulham except for his first year when he made 12 appearances he always had at least 40 appearances a season; remember that there are 38 league games. During his tenure there he ranked just above Danny Murphy and just below Brede Hangeland for appearances. So we know he was a regular.

        Spurs are a contender for a top 4 spot, are a different animal altogether with a deeper more talented roster, they are potentially involved in more meaningful games. It’s like moving from the Utah Jazz to the Lakers.

        Welcome to the world of squad rotation. Every team does it differently.

        Some managers play guys until they falter, some have a regular rotation and many are somewhere in between.

        I look at it like a pump engineer; if you have two pumps on the same system, you run one for a week and then the other one for a week. The rotation keeps both in good working order. If you only use the primary all the time the backup may not start if an emergency suddenly occurs.

        I’m no expert on AVB but he seems to be an “in between “ guy. Remember, he is still getting to know these guys and he is getting new guys in.

        My guess on why he started the Swansea flash the other day was probably a combination of Deuce’s health and the need to keep a bench guy sharp. Refer to ML Baseball managers for how that works with players. The great ones know just when and how to rest their starters and get their bench guys PT. It shouldn’t be a lot different with EPL managers.

        It’s not just a question of form. After all AVB benching Friedel for Lloris did not mean Brad was playing poorly.

        Clint is just in a different situation. For most of his time at Fulham he was their best player and his PT reflected that.

        At Spurs he is not and his PT will reflect that as well. I don’t think it is unexpected nor is it a big deal. Clint is older now and facing the stiffest competition he has ever faced in his career; can anyone even name who his competition was at Fulham? I can’t.

        He’ll get the PT he deserves.

      • Richard Farley - Jan 5, 2013 at 1:57 PM

        Thanks for the feedback. I think Deuce’s reduced playing time (if it happens) is more b/c of formation than his performance (though his early performances might have led to a change in formation). He’s clearly been much better over the last couple of months, as would be expected based on his settling into a new team. Then again, Gylfi’s been better, too (as would be expected).

      • thompsonan1 - Jan 5, 2013 at 2:57 PM

        @cornet76. completely agree with you. this is how it works with the big clubs. its completely natural for players to be left out from time to time or for an injury to see them needing to play their way back. especially during the holiday period with all the games its very rare to see the same guys playing consistently through the schedule. if you are trying to get your eye on who is “first choice” you should not just look at consistency in the line up but also who in on during the “big games”. with a large talented squad capable of leaving out top players against the readings and qprs of the world it is common to see top players replaced in the line up vs these opponents. Maybe I was a bit harsh to Richard but cornet made my point better than I could. Reacting to Siggy getting a start against an inferior opponent, in the thick of the holiday schedule, while similar players are out is overreaction. Anyone who has followed any of the top 4 or 5 clubs in any of the top leagues knows this to be true. It’s the nature of the business. Redknapp was heavily critized last year for playing the same 13ish players consistently. Many believe this to be the cause for their collapse in the latter months of the season as the team was exhausted, unlike their peers.

      • Richard Farley - Jan 5, 2013 at 2:59 PM

        Don’t worry about being harsh. You made good points.

        The above post is just talking the issue out. A lot of “may be” rather than “is”. It’s fair for people to have different views …

        Though really, there is a defensiveness here that you don’t often see. As I’ll write later today, I think part of that is bad phrasing on my part (second paragraph) and part of Dempsey loyalty.

      • thompsonan1 - Jan 5, 2013 at 3:08 PM

        also, none of this is relevant as Dlint just put on a show in the FA cup. Dempsey has been more confident and productive on the ball and with 5 goals and 4 assists in his last 400ish minutes it isn’t really a question who is first choice here (it wasn’t before either).

  7. cornet76 - Jan 6, 2013 at 1:54 AM

    Mr. Farley,

    You over emphasize the importance of formations.

    After all between Fulham and the USMNT Dempsey’s teams have played a variety of formations and he has always been an ever present.

    When you are the best scorer or close to it, managers find a way to get you on the field, formation be damned. Make no mistake, what has kept Clint on the field all these years is his knack for scoring important goals in all kinds of circumstances, nothing else.

    With Spurs, the most talented team he has ever been a part of, Clint is simply not as high on the food chain as he used to was. US fans should not be overly concerned; this is likely will help cut down on wear and tear and help extend his career.

    There is about half a season to go, plenty of opportunity for Clint to make his case.

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