An American ‘marriage of convenience’ at Tottenham?

Clint Dempsey, Tottenham Hotspur

If ever there was a good barometer for a player’s general respect in this league, perhaps you need to look no further than the fall out from Clint Dempsey’s summer transfer from Fulham to Tottenham Hotspur.

While the American had been linked with a move away from Craven Cottage this past summer, neither Dempsey, his new manager Andre Villas-Boas nor the associated media, appeared to give away any inkling that a move to White Hart Lane was ever in the offing. His subsequent deadline day move to N17 felt something of a marriage of convenience, rather than a victorious end to a hard fought transfer chase.

But with 17 league goals to his name last season, an imperious work rate and an ability to perform consistently in a number of positions, fans received Dempsey’s signature with a warmth that belied his somewhat muted arrival. And from what we’ve seen so far, the American has done exactly what he says on the tin.

Since making his debut for the Lilywhites in the 3-1 win away to Reading, Dempsey, has hustled, harried and even buried the winner for Spurs’ first win at Manchester United in 23 years. But although he’s performed adequately enough since his arrival, is he really a player that fits the needs of this Tottenham Hotspur team?

Because as efficient and as effective as Dempsey may be, it still feels difficult to see where he really fits in within the confines of how Andre Villas-Boas wishes to play. The reality, as harsh as it may seem, was that Dempsey was brought in, as something of a back up to a multitude of other deals that Tottenham didn’t manage to complete on time. The lack of touted speculation and the deadline day timing of the deal, are no coincidence.

And it shows, too. You can’t shake the feeling that Dempsey was brought in the hope that he’d click into the AVB jigsaw, rather than looking at the necessary facts. Because if you were going to construct a shortlist at the beginning of the window of players that would effectively play in the Portuguese’s 4-2-3-1 set-up, the chances are that Dempsey probably wouldn’t be making it very high up. Yet nonetheless, now he’s here, Villas-Boas is making a very good go at trying to eek out the best from him.

The problem with a player like Dempsey, is that it seems extremely cynical to critique a player who hasn’t been playing all that badly. Of course, the American turned in arguably his worst performance since his time at White Hart Lane in the 4-2 defeat to Chelsea. But then again, that statement rings true for a vast majority of his Spurs teammates as well.

Indeed, judging him after five games is hardly offering a fair representation within a team that is still by virtue, still in transition, although watching Dempsey certainly offers some interesting evaluations. He’s been predominantly deployed in the central position of Villas-Boas’ attacking three, behind the lone front man, which has so far been Jermain Defoe. And he’s not done too badly at all.

Keen to join in the build up play with a few neat, if not frenetic touches, Dempsey’s looked an intelligent player since arriving in N17. His solitary goal in a Tottenham shirt may well be the easiest he puts away all season, but he showed a decent bit of nous to carry on his run and take the gamble when Bale took his shot for the third goal at Old Trafford. You don’t get 17 Premier League goals in one ter without a degree of footballing intellect.

Although it feels significant that what was arguably Dempsey’s best personal showing in a Spurs shirt so far, came in the 2-1 win over Queens Park Rangers last month. After a lackadaisical first 45 against Mark Hughes’s side, Andre Villas-Boas switched his side to a 4-4-2, with Dempsey supporting Jermain Defoe and the difference in quality was palpable. Dempsey looked dangerous, offering a genuine goal threat and wielding what felt like far more of an influence than what we’ve seen in his other outings so far.

The distinct problem is of course, that Andre Villas-Boas doesn’t set his team out in a way designed to suit Dempsey. Spurs’ new number two might have scored a lot of goals for Fulham last season, but it’s worth noting that Martin Jol focused his side’s play around him. The American is by no means a poor choice in the central role of Villas-Boas’ attacking unit, but he his game isn’t hugely suited to playing that role, either.

An intelligent player he may be, but he’s not someone who you can perhaps look to directing the play through as an attacking focal point. Again, short, sharp touches, clever late runs into the box and neat attacking bursts are Dempsey’s game. Play to these strengths and you can milk goals out of him. But looking to Dempsey to create the link between the frontman and the rest of the side is asking a lot and although he’s performing the job admirably, it doesn’t feel organic. At home especially, this certainly isn’t helping to the side’s sometimes-labored efforts going forward.

Playing in that role with Defoe in front of you can’t be particularly easy and despite his goal scoring prowess, the more esteemed all round play of Emmanuel Adebayor, could offer a better foil for Dempsey. He has time on his side to grow into his new position.

Clint Dempsey is a proven commodity in the Premier League and his versatility and reliability, are real assets to Andre Villas-Boas; he gives the Portuguese a number of options and an element of variety in the final third.

But for however admirable his merits are and for however effective he may prove to be, you can’t shake the feeling that he’s a component of compromise, as opposed to one of change.

How do you feel about Clint Dempsey’s place in this Tottenham side? The right man for the position or an awkward piece in the jigsaw? Let me know what you think on Twitter: follow @samuel_antrobus to talk all things Tottenham. 


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