I wrote elsewhere, recently, about my World Cup ambivalence — not with the games themselves so much as with the sense of distance from all of it. This is kind of a classic overindulgent CSTB essay topic for me, but I’m working on it. Not, obviously, by attempting to write less self-centered or self-referential or self-indulgent leads (baby steps) but by trying to shed the self-conscious n00bery that’s kept me on the wall when it comes to The Rest of the World’s Football and actually trying to enjoy the World Cup. And it’s easy enough to do this, when the games are on. And also generally easy when there are nice emo-literary treatments of soccer’s deep cultural importance out there to read.
And cheering the US team honestly isn’t that hard for me, either, although it’d be easier if they were the Dutch team, or played like the Dutch. But as likable as the US team by and large is, I’ve found myself oddly and seemingly instinctively not liking Clint Dempsey all that much. (I found his Lego iteration far more appealing) It’s not that he’s a bad player — I don’t know the game well enough to speak to that, and what I perceive as a lack of maximum effort or mistakes is probably more a reflection of my ignorance as a viewer than any failing on his part. But I was relieved/surprised to discover, courtesy of ESPN The Magazine, that I’m not the only one with some Dempsey-related issues. The guy’s apparently beloved by Fulham fans, and it can’t totally be an accident that he’s one of just two Americans to score in two World Cups. But American fans, even ones who go more on soccer-related criteria and less on “he just kind of looks sort of dickish and has tribal tats” standards than I, are apparently not totally sold on the dude.
Luke Cyphers, in the classic ESPN The Magazine style, doesn’t necessarily make a case for or against Dempsey one way or another. But the quotes that he elicits from Dempsey suggest a guy whose confidence level and resistance to insight might have something to do with his lack of popularity. What I’m saying is that, insight-wise, Dempsey makes Kobe Bryant look like Jean-Paul Sartre. In what might be the greatest journalistic undertaking of my career, I’ve compiled all the quotes Dempsey delivers in Cyphers’ piece, and they’re below. Not every athlete can be Heath Bell, I know that — both when it comes to rambly jokiness and self-effacement and willingness to grope SNY’s Ted Berg — and I also know it doesn’t really matter what an athlete’s personality is. But, well:
– “I don’t want to get into how I’m perceived there versus here in the U.S. But I’m respected in Europe for what I do week in and week out on the highest level.”
– “In big games, I always come through.”
– “It was good for my first goal to mean so much,” says Dempsey [who went to Fulham from the New England Revolution of the MLS on a $5 million transfer and scored a goal that saved Fulham from relegation] “I paid back the club for my transfer fee. I wasn’t in debt to them.”
– “I pride myself on stepping up on big occasions.”
– “People who aren’t educated about the game are going to take whatever a commentator has to say as the complete truth. And that’s not always the case. That’s just their opinion.”
– “I was top three in the whole tournament in distance covered,” he says. “You can question my effectiveness, but you can’t question my heart and my effort.”
– “I’m respected by my teammates. And I’m respected by my coaches. That’s why they keep me on the field. The criticism comes with the money we get paid.”
– “Off the pitch, the best thing about [playing in the Premier League] is more money in your account. You go to Europe for the competition, for the soccer and for more financial stability for your family.”
– “I’m from nowhere, man.” [Regarding growing up in Nacogdoches, TX]
– “It was like a nightmare,” Dempsey says [of his sister’s untimely death at age 16]. “Every day you’d wake up and say, ‘Did that really happen?’… I know no matter how bad things get, things could always be worse. And no matter how great they can go, they can always be better. That keeps you grounded.” [I feel kind of bad about including this, but, you know, every quote]
– “I feel like I’m effective no matter where I am on the field.”
– “I enjoy playing up top, because the closer you are to goal, the more chances you’re going to get, and one of my favorite parts of the game is scoring goals.”
– “You start to think that fate’s on your side. There’s a chance to do something unbelievable.”
– “You can be the face [of US soccer] or not be the face. You get only so many opportunities in major competitions, and you’ve got to take advantage of them. I gotta stand up and be counted in this World Cup.”
Boring questions leading to boring answers? Maybe. But while I wish the guy all good luck in the Cup, I’ll pass on his autobiography.