An all American hero

July 3, 2009

Clint_Dempsey_celeb_779981aHe conquered European champions Spain with two delicate touches of his right foot, then came within a whisper of masterminding the downfall of world football’s Goliath – mighty, magnificent Brazil – in the final of the Confederations Cup. So who is this footballing Adonis? Argentina’s beloved Leo Messi? Italy’s striking prodigy and former Manchester United youngster Giuseppe Rossi? No, it was a United States and Fulham midfielder as humble as American pie – Clint Dempsey.

His name might sound like something out of a spaghetti western, but Dempsey’s goal and assist against a Spanish side unbeaten in 35 games belatedly announced the 26-year-old’s arrival on the international stage. His opener against Brazil in the final then sealed his new found fame. The USA may have gone on the surrender their 2-0 lead, but Dempsey can rightly lay claim to being one of the tournament’s real discoveries. And, arguably, its best player (although officially he was pipped to the post by Brazil’s Kaká and Luís Fabiano).

If you think back to the 2002 World Cup, you’ll remember that Senegal’s incredible journey to the semi-finals prompted then Liverpool manager Gérard Houllier to pluck El Hadji Diouf and Salif Diao from obscurity and inflict them upon the Premiership. Now the Confederations Cup is no World Cup. Before that 2002 World Cup, Japan surprised everyone by reaching the final of the 2001 Confederation Cup on home soil, with Hidetoshi Nakata the star. But far from being headhunted by one of Europe’s top clubs, he was ditched by AS Roma and ended up at Bolton before retiring in 2006. Actually, in that respect the ultimate conclusions of his and El Hadji Diouf’s careers have not been so different.

So what next for Dempsey? Reports today have seen him linked with Everton, and he could definitely do a job operating on the opposite flank to Mikel Arteta at Goodison Park. But having watched him play for Fulham at Cravan Cottage a couple of times last season, I actually think the American is capable of performing on a bigger stage. If nothing else, his goals against Spain and Brazil have proved he has a big game mentality – and against Spain in particular, he really inspired the American team and spearheaded their shock result.

Perhaps Liverpool can be convinced to take another post-international tournament punt to bring in Dempsey. Certainly, at £4 million, he would be a fairly economical alternative to Valencia‘s David Silva – on the bench when the American embarrassed his team mates in South Africa. Failing that, I have no doubt that Roy Hodgson would be over the moon to keep a giant killer on his books as he looks to propel Fulham through their inaugural Europa League campaign.

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Oops, he did it Cygan

January 27, 2009

_42036994_cygan_gettyYou can count the number of bad transfer moves Arsène Wenger has made at Arsenal on one hand. Even if you have been in a freak avocado stone accident and lost three fingers and a thumb.

The name Pascal Cygan must still make Wenger flinch. The great French coach could probably justify the exorbitant fee spent on José Antonio Reyes as a long-term investment that never quite panned out. There are a bunch of people in the City who would doubtless understand and probably now have the time to listen. But the €3 million he spent on his cumbersome compatriot would look dodgy even on the books of Lehmann Brothers.

In Wenger’s defence, Cygan has always disguised his flaws well – behind awards, including France’s Etoile d’Or for his “consistent” performances at Lille, and behind trophies, inexplicably including a Premiership title in 2003-4. It wasn’t until you actually saw him try to run, or kick a football, or turn in a small space, that his failings as a player became apparent.

This weekend, another coach was left red in the cheeks by a Cygan masterclass in defending. Villareal‘s eminent Chilean coach Manuel Pellegrini, who has used Cygan sparingly during his three years at the club – just 42 times, in fact – paid the ultimate price for selecting the former Arsenal man against Osasuna this Saturday. With Pellegrini’s side leading 1-0 thanks to a fine first-half goal from former Manchester United man Giuseppe Rossi, Cygan fluffed a routine clearance in his own six-yard box to allow rival player Dady to seal an away draw for La Liga‘s bottom club.

You can watch the highlights from the game here, including Rossi’s sublimely taken goal. Cygan is in yellow – apparently when he left Arsenal Wenger insisted he never be allowed to wear red again. The memories were just a bit too painful.