Not to step on Matthew and Shaun’s cleats and their upcoming Lando – Deuce debate, but the “two-face” comment from Antonio in the recent The Deuce Abides! post reminded me of a question TSG asked of both Alexi Lalas and John Harkes last month at ESPN.
The former USMNTers were asked (separately) whether they thought Clint Dempsey’s lackluster post Confederations Cups play for the national team versus his stellar EPL campaign was a result of the lack of quality on the US side when compared to Fulham. It should be noted that when the question was asked to John Harkes, a notorious Dempsey critic, he first responded “Do you really want me to answer that?” as chuckles spread throughout the room. Don’t worry, TSG pressed on.
Surprisingly, the former USMNT teammates gave two completely different answers. John Harkes first noted that from a “player’s perspective,” playing for club is completely different that for country. He then went on to lay most of the blame at the feet of Coach Bob Bradley. Said Harkes,
What is your role? How is that defined? That’s the manager…the manager of the team…Some of the best managers in the world get the best out of every player…they find a way…play to their strengths…you can’t undervalue the tactical alignment of certain players and how they complement each other on the field.
Say what you want about Harkes’ as a commentator in general, but it is hard to argue with the notion that the Dempsey’s seeming On-Off switch might have something to do with coaching and how he is involved in the game plan. Lest you be concerned that Harkes is getting soft on Dempsey he did make certain to point out that Deuce hurts the US on the defensive side of the ball. However, that also helps prove Harkes point that deploying Deuce on the wing doesn’t play to Dempsey’s strengths.
Moving onto Lalas, he first praised Dempsey’s skill and abilities in the box before he came through as the corner man for Bradley when answering the same question. Said Lalas,
Bob Bradley has a way that he wants to play. Rather than build the team around Clint Dempsey he said, “Look if you can’t play that way then there is a problem.” There is no denying his talent….the US team can’t really do that for people…just say do whatever you want…free form.
As you might expect, the answer probably lies somewhere in the middle here. Bradley could game-plan better to get Dempsey the ball in an area where he could be dangerous and Deuce could put forth a better effort regardless of where he takes the field. Dempsey reminds me of Shaquille O’Neal (of the early to mid 2000s) in the sense that you need to get him involved early on the offensive end or risk “losing him” on either end due to disinterest. Does this mean that the US attack needs to be built entirely around the Fulham man for the US to be successful in the World Cup? Let’s let Matthew and Shaun debate that one soon.
More from TSG on Dempsey:
The Deuce Abides (01/05/2010)
Do We Have More Insight on Clint? (12/17/2009)
Clint Dempsey Through Marvin Gaye’s Words (08/18/2009)
Primer: What’s Up With Clint? (08/15/2009)