LONDON – Clint Dempsey said that Fulham will find the form to score goals, declared his desire to play Champions League football, and talked candidly about the strength he derives from his family in an near-unprecedented long-form interview exclusively with FOX Soccer.
The Fulham striker and his family opened their home to FOX Soccer - a Christmas a gift to all his American fans. Clint and his brother Ryan told the previously untold story of how they became interested in the sport. His parents Debbie and Aubrey told us of the hardships the family endured to realize their son's dream. And the entire Dempsey family talked about holidays past and present - why this time of year is especially meaningful for them.
Clint is a laid-back and thoughtful man in private, someone whose main focus off the field is spending time with his wife and two young children in their suburban London home. It's an image that may come as a surprise to those who only see him as the intense and sometimes threatening competitor on the playing field.
Yet during our taping, Clint danced with his young daughter, Elyse, in the kitchen and seemed more concerned about his family's good cheer than buffing a tough guy image that has largely been created by the media. The more time you spend with the Dempseys, the harder it is not to come away with the sense that he and his family are a classic, tight-knit American clan that have leaned on one another for support through the years.
The Dempseys have endured many hardships on Clint's path to Fulham. His family grew up in a trailer park in Nacogdoches, Texas scraping and saving so he and Ryan could play the sport. "A lot of people at the time questioned why they were doing it," admits Clint. "It put a financial strain on the family and took away some of the time from my other brothers and sisters."
Added his mother Debbie: "We couldn't have done the same thing today, with the price of gas. It was three hour drives back and forth to Dallas."
Tragedy also struck the family: Clint and Ryan's sister, Jennifer, died of a fatal brain aneurysm at age 16, irrevocably altering their lives.
"After you lose a loved one early on, you realize how precious life is and how things can change in a moment," said Clint, displaying the tattoo that snakes around his left bicep that memorializes her. "That's why we try to get together as often as possible as a family.
"My parents always wanted all of us to succeed and follow our dreams," he added. "I hope I can be a parent like they were to us."
Making the leap to the big time has also been an adjustment: "There's more pressure on you game in and game out (than in MLS)," said Clint, "It's such a rollercoaster. If you go on a bad run of form [in the Premier League], after five or six games you can find your manager fired. That's something I didn't see in MLS.
"It's been tough, but it's been good. Having the support of my wife and my family has helped me persevere over here." He's needed some perseverance this season: Fulham were stunningly knocked out of the Europa League by a last-minute goal on the final day of the group stage and have endured an indifferent start to the season, sitting 11th, just five points off the relegation zone.
"We have a confidence in our team, I think we play a good style of football. We move the ball around well and create chances every game," said Clint. "The problem for us this season has been getting the goals. I think we're starting to that a bit better, but we've got a big run of games coming up in a short amount of time. Hopefully, we get some points picked up and take some of that pressure off."
Clint has five goals to date in the league and recently became the highest scoring American ever in the Premier League, passing Brian McBride. Records don't seem to mean much to him, but he conceded that this one was special. "To be put up there with Brian, someone I looked up to, is a great thing. He did a great job, and he was someone that when I came over and was going through a difficult time was giving me words of advice.
"You always want to leave something behind, but for me, the most important thing is to just better yourself this year and improve. You don't know how long careers are going to last, and I don't want to have regrets."
Watch the full interview and come back later this week as Clint discusses the national team, his thoughts on youth soccer and his hopes for the next World Cup.