Interview by Ridge Mahoney
Former Scottish international and New England Revs' coach Steve Nicol took some time away from his work with ESPN to talk about Clint Dempsey's return to MLS that reportedly will pay him the largest salary, $8 million, in league history. Nicol coached Dempsey with the Revs during his first three pro seasons.
SOCCER AMERICA: The writing has been on the wall for months that Clint Dempsey would leave Tottenham, but did you have any inkling he’d be coming back to MLS?
STEVE NICOL: No, I was surprised, to be honest. If he was going to leave Tottenham, he wouldn’t have had any trouble staying in the Premier League. But it’s a unique situation. He’s coming back to MLS, and the contract is an incredible contract that you can’t just turn down.
He’s 30 years old so this is his last meaningful contract, and he wouldn’t get anywhere near the equivalent in the Premier League. If he’s not moving up the chain, because anybody above Spurs isn’t buying Clint, and when you have some time to think about it, it’s a good move.
SA: We had discussed about a month ago the moves Spurs had made to rebuild their attack by signingPaulinhoand pursuingChristian Benteke, who decided to stay with Aston Villa. They must feel that Paulinho, strikerRoberto Soldado, and wingerNacer Chadlifit their system better than did Clint.
STEVE NICOL: When you and I spoke, we said Clint can play underneath the striker, he can play wide on that left-hand side. So they go and sign Soldado and they sign Chadli as well, which obviously changed the picture as far as Clint was concerned. I’m sure that’s one of the reasons he’s moving on.
Clint doesn’t want to sit on the bench, Clint wants to play. I’m just surprised at the type of contract and [that] it’s Seattle.
SA: One facet of the deal is Dempsey will go on loan during the winter so he won’t miss several months of competitive play leading up to the 2014 World Cup. But will his game suffer by leaving the Premier League for MLS?
STEVE NICOL: If you look at Landon Donovan, has it affected his performance playing in the World Cup going on loan for a couple of months in the Premier League or Germany or wherever? I don’t see why it would affect Clint’s.
The U.S. is going to qualify, that’s not a question. Whether the players are in Europe or MLS or somewhere else, that’s a different ballgame than who they’re going to face in the World Cup. That will be the proving, won’t it?
SA: Seattle is well-stocked with attackers, with Eddie Johnson, Obafemi Martins, Mauro Rosales, etc. You scouted Dempsey in college and coached him with New England. What’s the best role for him in the Seattle system?
STEVE NICOL: Clint’s game has always been about getting into the box and scoring goals. Whichever way you play, you don’t get a player like him and not put him in the most advantageous way possible. They just have to find a way to get him in the middle of the field and he’ll put the ball in the net. That’s what he does best.
SA: The Sounders still need to make up ground to reach the playoffs, yet there’s talk that this move should make them favorites to reach MLS Cup.
STEVE NICOL: It’s not quite that straightforward. There’s no guarantees in football no matter what the name is on the back of the jersey. You need the other 10 to be on the same page as you. It’s not as simple as just going out and spending money. Getting a good player on the field is just part of it, and the rest of it is looking after your asset and make sure you get the best out of it.
He’s going to be head and shoulders above 99 percent of the league, but the team has to figure out a way to get the best out of him. If you do that it will trickle down and eventually everybody will benefit. It’s not quite as easy as everybody thinks, that you buy a player and it changes the whole season. It takes a lot more than that.