First, let’s get something out of the way; Dempsey is a quality player. He is one of the few worthy of representing our country. He has a good touch, a good brain, and is highly valuable to his club. But World Class?
I know we want one of these badly, but people are reaching and trying to rationalize some way to place that label on one of our guys. It’s utter silliness, and borderline irresponsible.
While I’m not aware of an existing standard definition of world class (perhaps that’s something I should take on), I can say this: when a player has achieved that level, there seems to be a degree of consensus (across the entire globe) that is usually backed up with some of the heftiest price tags. These players are globally known, not just in name but in detail, and are regularly talked about – again GLO-BAL-LY. And there’s a reason why. They are SPECIAL! Clint Dempsey?
The other day this post labeled him as world class upon which I commented:
“Yeah, let’s be careful with the world class label please. To progress in the game, we need to have a solid grasp on where our team, coach, and players truly stand at the international level.”
to which they replied:
“Don’t think this is guilty of that problem, with all due respect. Ad hom attacks from other reader aside– the claim was that Dempsey is a “world class” player. To me, that means one of elite fifty or so players in the world. There’s absolutely no argument he isn’t in that category. Is he in the All-World 11– no ? Should he have been in the All EPL 11 this year- given that Fulham is relegated without him instead of finishing 8th…absolutely. We should have a firm grip– that also means recognizing when we do have something great.”
There’s so many things I could respond to here, but let’s stay on point and use their idea of world class. That is, “one of the elite fifty or so players in the world”.
Not only is there an argument against Dempsey being in that category, it’s easy not to include him.
Here’s a list of 30 EPL players alone. Which one of these guys is worse than Dempsey?
Van der Vart
Nigel De Jong
Tough right? If it’s not, then we have a much bigger problem.
Seriously though, which one of these guys does Dempsey displace?
Ok, now add to that the entire Real Madrid roster.
Whoopsy! What just happened? Is Dempsey out of the top 50 yet?
No? Ok, add the FC Barcelona roster.
Is he out now?
If not, we’ve got some serious delusions on our hands …
But oh well, let’s say we live in la-la land. Should I start looking at the rest of La Liga and players in the top 5 teams in Germany and Italy? How about Holland, Portugal, or France?
Is he better than all the other players in any Champions League squad?
Oh wait a second, I still haven’t looked into the badasses in Brazil and Argentina.
Look, Clint Dempsey had a great season, but to say “there’s absolutely no argument” that he’s among the top 50 in the world is ridiculous. He’s not even in the discussion.
Notice I didn’t bother placing Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez in the list above. Here’s a player who was first considered worthy of the Man United jersey, then goes on to become a scoring machine in his first season at barely 22 years of age – displacing Berbatov, the leagues top goal scorer from the starting 11 in both domestic and European competition. Wow!
All that, and “soccer people” would be hard pressed to place him in the top 50 at this point. Incredible season, incredible story, but let’s see what happens next year.
Think of it another way; if any of these guys on the list (and tons more across the globe) were American, imagine what would be said.
Let’s try an exercise.
Take one of the players you discarded from the list above. If you didn’t get rid of anybody, pick someone anyways.
Ok. You got him?
Now try to understand that player’s value. Consider the team that has contracted his services. Think of his trajectory, accomplishments, international recognition, etc … and if you are remotely capable of judging player quality, more power to you.
After you soak all that in, just try to imagine if that guy were American.
Holy crap, right? We’d be bursting with pride, the likes of which have never been experienced!
That’s how far off Dempsey is. The US does not have a world class player. Not yet …
Donovan and Dempsey, the best to survive our broken system, are good. They are a cut above what’s currently in our National Team pool and what’s in MLS. They are special AMERICAN players, but not special GLOBAL players.
p.s. The cited article also stated Steve Cherundolo is world class. I don’t know guys … do you see the inertia we’re up against here?
Amazing! This ignorant argument is only the tip of the iceberg of the problem in this country. WE ARE NOT AS GOODAS WE BELIEVE OURSELVES TO BE! Which is perhaps the biggest problem in this country since we do not accept any form of criticism and more importantly are satisfied with being being 17th in the worldor whatever the USMNT ranking may be by FIFA.
For example, I had a conversation over twitter with Soccer By Ives editor and chief. Holy crap he’s an idiot! Gary I want to share this conversation with you because it depicts the problem in this country and maybe you can share it on here somehow so it can illustrate the ignorance and stubbornness of people who REFUSE to help make this country an elite football one.
Gary Kleiban says
On your Soccer By Ives comment …
That site, like many others, is excellent for getting the latest news. Want to know about domestic scores, transfer rumors, the superdraft, or general US Soccer related stuff? Go there.
It’s when they try and judge player quality, coaching quality, tactics, or things of that nature, that it’s an abject fail.
Feel free to share your convo …
Nail on the head…. USA #1 ? We SUCK at soccer there should be a AA meeting that starts of admitting how bad we are. Knocked out twice by GHANA!!!! What other sport besides long distance running could Ghana defeat the USA.
Let’s send this to every U.S. Coach, Pundit, Blogger and especially our friend at YanksAmerica to understand what world class means! I remember people talking about Donovan and I was like wait went to Bayer doesn’t last, went to Bayern doesn’t last, goes to Everton 3 months does well runs back to U.S. When I was in Holland i was fighting every week against a guy from France, Africa, Brazil, etc for a spot. We need to inform our players that its a battle to just make it and then world class u better be the truth!
Gary Kleiban says
It’s tough man. We’re approaching 2 years here on 3four3 and I’m still not crystal clear on how best to go about part of our mission.
* Should I be the “soccer police” like in this post and a few others I’ve done?
* Should I keep it clean (ie PC), and let our growing number of readers do the policing?
I just don’t know. Maybe you guys can tell me.
Definitely option one. There are a lot of people (basically the entire US soccer press) playing “good cop”, what’s needed is someone speaking truth to power.
Dempsey and Donovan are good players and it’s good for the US to have risen to their level. But it’s doing US Soccer no favors to pretend that they are among the best of the best in the game around the world.
Gary Kleiban says
Thanks man. Deep within my bowels, that’s what’s fighting to get out!
It’s difficult, because I’m all too aware of the risks of not being PC.
But somebody has to be “that guy”, right?
Doug McLaulin says
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to make the case that Dempsey is one of the “greatest” players in the world, but I believe you can make a case that he is a top level player (somewhere between quality and world-class). Here are a few numbers.
Malouda – scored 13 goals with 4 assists in 10/11, 12 G with 8 assists in 09/10, 7 G with 5 assists in 08/09
Kalou – scored 10 goals with 3 assists in 10/11, 5 G with 3 assists in 09/10, 6G with 4 assists in 08/09
Maxi – scored 10 goals with 0 assists in 10/11, 1G with 3 assists in 09/10 out of 14 starts
Arshavin – scored 6 goals with 11 assists in 10/11, 10 G with 1 A in 09/10
Dempsey – scored 12 Goals with 3 assists in 10/11, 7 G with 3 assists in 09/10, 7 Goals with 2 assists in 08/09
I know it isn’t all about the numbers, but you have to give credit where it is do. I believe if given the opportunity at a bigger club he could produce. All the players you listed were mostly from the big 4. Dempsey is by far our best player from the USMNT.
Gary Kleiban says
I think I gave Dempsey ample credit. “He is a quality player.”
We all have our notions of player levels:
* world class
and a capacity for granularity within those levels, along with a notion of the gap between them.
Many times we look to numbers to justify our notions. The problem here is that numbers need good context, and that is where most are led astray. There’s a hundred ways to make them dance.
Dempsey is top 15 in goals in the “best league”. Therefore there’s no question he is a top 50 player in the world.
That’s the simplest of examples. But people can get as convoluted as they want.
Ha I don’t mind being the militant reader who starts debates because it brings about knowledge, even for me, so I’m always amped for a good debate so i think its great that ppl are getting serious about U.S. Development, the quality of U.S. Players, and where will be in the future.
Interesting article about euro u21’s (excited to see this tourney). Barca’s Thiago kind of lits a fire up england:
“The only players we’ve heard of are Jack Wilshere and Micah Richards – and they’re not even here.
“We have different styles of play. We are very technical and pass the ball more, whereas England are very direct.”
Marc Albrighton (U21 and Aston Villa English player):
“I don’t think many countries have got the passion and hard work that England possess.
“People have criticised our development, but when you’re growing up you just want to play football.
“You don’t want to be standing around doing little drills, you want to get a game going.”
Like you eluded to earlier Gary, England remind me of a glorified U.S. where, they some gems Rooney’s/Dempsey’s(not saying Dempsey is Rooney disclaimer) get through their broken system and everyone lauds their passion and hustle. And then Spain, Argentina, Brazil pass them off the park.
The thing i pay attention to is where do the world markets in terms of club soccer see where the talent is coming from. Argentina made $500 million on PLAYER TRANSFER FEES!! last year. Brazil is pretty much owned by 3rd party ownership deals. I still believe those 2 countries produce the best players in the world and how do they do that.
1. Street soccer (defines their game, style, and area they come from)(creates the individual Messi, Tevez, Robinho, Neymar) they play everyday against young and old and learn the game from playing a lot.
2. Great coaching/training that takes the street style that enhances their game to play possession based attacking soccer and the focus is to CREATE PLAYERS!
3. Desire to be the best in the world due to the fact a majority of the players come from less than desirable backgrounds, even though a rich or well off kid in Argentina or Brazil (Kaka) wants to still be a soccer star because that’s equilvalent to becoming a king!
I wrote all of that to say this all 3 of these factors according to me are what is largely missing in the states.
Point 1: Street soccer is not accepted in suburbs to an extent. Telling someone that there son should play 12-15 hours a week of street soccer/training is considered crazy (at least that’s what they told me, but i’ve fought it for 3 years and got some players being created now)
Point 2: Coaching at least what i see in the NOVA area consist of let’s not develop what we have, its recruit as many as we can with our we won state so clearly we know what we’re doing mentality. Example: Went to Holland and professional trainers/coaches were impressed with my team’s technical and tactical level, come to the U.S. lose a game to kickball kings parents ridicule don’t understand development at all, but they understand “RINGS”.
Point 3: Being African American coming from a single parent home where my mom worked 3 jobs to afford me to play soccer i was obsessed with the game. I train/coach players in the suburbs and i tend to see that lack of hunger to one day make to be the best. I want them to play/train more than me sometimes charging nothing just to be out there for street soccer and training 6-7 days a week. My players from Latin America light up when i say we can train 6-7 days, hence they are culturally geared for it. We have to reach this culture more effectively and a personal goal of mine is to “Wake up the hood”, get these young black african american players playing and make the game cool, and its not “golf or lacrosse” to them. In our community the game is not considered cool enough or dare i say it “Black Enough” for them to take it seriously.
Think about this we have the most kids in any sport playing soccer and the U.S. has not produced one world class superstar? Imagine that happening in basketball, won’t happen cause the next MJ only eight years old is practicing right now as i type.
Street soccer is an overrated factor in the development of Brazilian soccer. Teams are constantly scouting for new players and most players with promise are being professionally coached by the time they’re eight or nine.
That’s the big difference in player development in other countries. It’s completely in the hands of professionals, pretty much from day one.
Well i agree with your point about the training and professional coaches, street soccer to me is not overrated, it helps immensely in developing a player as well as training. Even Cruyff and Total football’s Rinus Michels states: “Street soccer is the most natural education that can be found”
Cruyff says this of Messi: The street taught us,” Cruyff added. “Messi grew up like this.” Barcelona’s clever little Argentine also drew an appreciative comment from Bergkamp. “Messi taught himself instead of a coach saying ‘run from cone to cone with the ball, do this, do that’.”
I would say the combination of both are essential in creating world class, once in a lifetime players to just good players, but i do know you have to have both in order to achieve your highest level. Even Ajax states the importance of street soccer in this article talking about Ajax, How a soccer star is made:
“But one element of the academy’s success is that the boys are not overplayed, so the hours at De Toekomst are all business. Through age 12, they train only three times a week and play one game on the weekend. “For the young ones, we think that’s enough,” Riekerink said when we talked in his office one day. “They have a private life, a family life. We don’t want to take that from them. When they are not with us, they play on the streets. They play with their friends. Sometimes that’s more important. They have the ball at their feet without anyone telling them what to do.”
Brazil just like Holland are considered the most technically gifted and skilful countries and i think its due to both using training/street soccer. If you look at the U.S. most of our kids are sign up kids don’t really know about playing the game on their own and this is sorely missing as well as great coaching.
The thing is most places have street soccer, but most places don’t produce players like Brazil and Holland do. The difference is that those two countries have clubs that are hungry to develop talent and have the infrastructure to do so.
Since Dempsey isn’t a world class player, who do you think Gary, has a chance to be our first? I don’t really follow our growing players besides what the USMNT and MLS telecasts tell me. From what I have seen from those, Agudelo seems like the only one with a chance as of right now, especially with Thierry Henry helping him out in New York.
Gary Kleiban says
I don’t think there’s anyone.
Luis Gil had potential. There might be a slim possibility, but he needs to get the hell out of MLS. I haven’t seen him in a while…
Agudelo has shown me he’s got something. But like Gil, he needs to leave our league pronto! It might already be too late.
When I see players like Lamela or Neymar, to name the most obvious, there isn’t a single American that’s close. I think we’re going to have to wait for our current 10 & 11 year olds.
One thing I wonder is why Howard doesnt get the credit Dempsey and Donovan get. Less glamorous position, maybe? In my opinion, he is the most important part of our team, without him our defense would be even worse than it already is. Maybe it is USA bias, but when it comes to goalies, I think he can hold his own against anyone. I would love so much to see what he could do playing for a top team in Europe.
Gary Kleiban says
Yeah, it’s the goal keeper thing.
But with Howard, I wouldn’t argue with somebody labeling him World Class.
What happened to Renken, or was he just overhyped?
Gary Kleiban says
Only saw him once – several years ago – during a youth national team camp.
He looked just like everybody else (ie nothing special). Then again, he was 2 years younger I believe.
… looks like he’s with Hoffenheim’s U19s. That’s likely a good thing.
I more or less take back my comment about Agudelo above. He seems like he can be good, but probably not Neymar good. At highest potential and finding a European team/club that suites his play well, he could be a superstar. Maybe, its a stretch. But as with every other young player we have, potential means absolutely nothing.
Sorry to beat a dead horse, but again the guy writing for yanks are coming says this about his cherundolo comment:
“Agree that Cherundolo comment was out of context. Don’t care what Klinsy thinks though– so-so skipper for Munich. Great talent himself– doesn’t mean he can identify it– see Cruyff, or Americans– see Isaiah Thomas.”
Almost went crazy but calmed a bit, so Cruyff who Guardiola regularly seeks advice from about the greatest team in our generation and Klinsmann who guided Germany to the semis in 06 are not qualified to identify world class talent!! !! but Demps and Cherundolo are by his estimation, I think i’m done, some are just lost….
“Donovan and Dempsey, the best to survive our broken system, are good. ”
It would be good to start a comprehensive series on fixing our broken system. We have loads of talent entering at the grassroots level and we proceed to screw it up from there out. A good question might be if our system was fixed would Donovan and Dempsey be a lot better? or would we be seeing a whole bunch of players completely overlooked by the current system?
IMHO, I think D&D would be marginally better, but its the players we are missing who would make the difference. We have an immense amount of talent who we throwaway and fail to effectively develop.
Gary Kleiban says
It would be good to build a comprehensive and laser-focused series.
It will come … promise.
You are right!! I agree that D&D would only be marginally better.
World class has an “x-factor” associated with it that I believe can not be manufactured by any system or coach.
D&D have an AMERICAN LEVEL x-factor. Specifically, they actually have a quality touch and good decision-making. So, within the known US pool of players, they shine brightly. That’s where your typical cubbyholed writer/pundit/whatever makes their mistake. Their extrapolation to the global scale is terribly flawed. Anyone with a truly broad perspective understands that a quality touch and good decision-making does not an x-factor make.
I’m assuming the USA-Panama game will get some attention, but I wanted to point out the role of refereeing. A lot of statistics have been published online regarding the world game including referee stats (fouls & card). The game last night had seven yellows and 15-18 fouls per team. This level of foul recognition is typically seen in Champions League play and exceeds the typical level of fouls called in Europe (save England). Team USA is certainly put at a disadvantage by this and perhaps it contributed to the defensive frailty in the match.
Look at the following article: http://goal.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/03/17/soccer-made-in-the-u-s-where-m-l-s-stand-soccermetrically-speaking/
Compared to every other “major” league it is far lower (EPL is next, the rest of Europe is higher). Clearly the USA likes a low number of fouls and cards, which favors a physical direct approach to the game. The Panama game was officiated differently than the USA desired. I am sure this contributed to the outcome.
The MLS/USSF has designed it this way, the referees are encouraged to overlook fouls to let the game flow (ala EPL). The flow is a major part of the game control model: http://www.ussoccer.com/News/Referee-Programs/2009/09/2009-Referee-Week-in-Review-Week-25.aspx
“The opportunity for a successful result from the application of “flow.” Remember: “Flow” is the ability of the referee to manage the game so that the ball is in play by eliminating unnecessary stoppages by correctly differentiating the trifling/minor/soft challenges from the careless/reckless fouls thereby ensuring the game has more rhythm.”
This particular concept was a central theme in the USSF guidance that helped to draw down the number of fouls called so that the game would not have stoppages. This is to the detriment of skillful play and encourages physical play that breaks up attacks. They succeeded as noted in this article:
If one looks at the skill level in the professional leagues, I would say it is clear that there is a fairly direct correlation between stricter refereeing and technical play. By the way, one of the biggest jokes in soccer is the “Fair Play League” which EPL teams often win only by the virtue of the permissive standards applied to EPL competition by FA referees.
Disclaimer – I did not see the game so the comment has a second hand nature to it.
All-I’ve been following this discussion for a few days and finally posted my thoughts over on the Yanks Are Coming article. Gary, I’ve been reading your site for a little while now and I’d just like to say how much I appreciate the blog and the commentary from many of the readers. Keep up the good work!
Gary Kleiban says
A warm welcome and thank you JPelham!
That’s one hell of a contribution you made over there. And the post you linked to is a fine piece as well.
Those of us who have been around the game for a while – especially in a multi-cultural way – have some grasp of the soccer evolution of other countries. We at least partially get what has gone right/wrong elsewhere. The US is making the same mistakes, which is ok to a point (it’s natural), but let’s not get stuck in limbo for decades. The only way I see our nascent and innocent “US Soccer media” pushing through towards the “right culture” is by educating them.
I guess we saw Dempsey as “world class” against Guadaloupe. He should have scored 5 goals in that game but he didn’t even get one of those easy chances to find the back of the net. Maybe he just had a bad game?!?
I think anybody categorized as “world class” would have scored at lease three of the five easy chances he had in that game. Dempsey world class? I think not.
Do not change a thing on your approach to your blog. I’d prefer clarity over agreement any day! I get accused of being negative all the time but like you I know this nation can produce a world beating national team if wholesale changes are made at all levels of US Soccer. This will only happen through frank discussion and less jingoism!
You by far have best soccer blog in the US and beyond.
I gotta agree with Bill. Even if we don’t always agree 100%.
Keep the critique sharp and aimed at the soccer establishment because they are the ones in the way of success. As my increasingly frustrated 14 year old son noted this weekend, the USA has much more talent than we see ever see. Our system simply suffocates it by continually pushing the same brain-dead approach to the game from the U-littles to the USMNT. There are a few bright spots at each level, but the game is dominated by kick-n-run, athletes who play soccer, instead of skill-brains by soccer players who are athletes.
Your blog is great! Keep on firing with both barrels.
Gary Kleiban says
@Bill & BillR
Will do my best without completely destroying my current & potential future network in the process.
There’s sooooo much I want to share!
The “best player” to survive our broken system is not Dempsey or Donovan. It’s Tim Howard. Unfortunately, goalies are to soccer what kickers are to football. It’s as if they don’t exist. Did a single goalkeeper make your top 50?
Is Tim Howard one of the top 10 goalies in the world? I should think so. That would make him world class.
Gary Kleiban says
Thank you Mark.
It’s quite possible Tim Howard is a ‘world class’ keeper, but there are reasons why I don’t focus on that here.
1. I’ve said on many occasions I don’t feel qualified to judge keepers at the nuanced level. That is an entirely different position.
2. The grave issue in the US are field players, not keepers.
Not to say that keeper’s aren’t important, but throw any average MLS goalkeeper on Barcelona, and they probably are still the best team on the planet, replace any of Xavi, Iniesta, or Messi with an average MLS field player, and they probably aren’t. Goalkeepers are important but I think you can squeak by without a world class keeper, you can’t squeak by without world class players though.
i’ve been saying this in my circles for a while now and am glad to see you guys saying the same thing. globally elite, top-flight american players are currently not in existence. the question is will they ever exist unless there is a major shakeup in american soccer development…or do we just wait for gradual change that may or may not have any long-term steering in mind.
Gary Kleiban says
Welcome taqee! Consider 3four3 your home then!
Until the fossils of US Soccer (ie the Bruce Arena generation) at all levels get out of the picture, our potential can not be fulfilled!
I don’t know if you’ve seen this kid, Junior Flores, play. If you haven’t, try to catch one of his games. I saw him in Florida with the U17 national team in December and I was very much impressed.
Keep an eye on him. He is on the current U17 national team roster. He is special. If the establishment doesn’t destroy him, I’ll bet money he will be one of the “best” players the US has ever produced. True quality, at least in the games that I saw. He does all the little things right. He reminded me of a quicker, but of course less mature, Xavi. You know I don’t give out those compliments lightly. I’d be interested in your take if you’ve seen him. Somehow you have to see him live though so you can see his movements off the ball too. I think he’s only 15 too!!
Gary Kleiban says
Thanks for the tip Raffy.
I’ll keep an eye out for when the U17s play again. But you’re right, it’s far better watching in person. I’ll report back.
Yes, he’s definitely quality, and it was so nice to see a US team that was actually built around that type of player, and played the style they did. The current U-17 team is worth watching, and hopefully a sign that we are beginning to move in the right direction.
Back to Dempsey though. He’s turning in another solid year – 20 goals in the EPL is not out of the question. Still not world class, but he definitely has a quality about him that is very rare among U.S. players.
Gary Kleiban says
Very nice player that Dempsey.
It would be really cool if a higher tier club purchased him. I’d like to see how it would translate to his performance.
I’m sure he’d like to play Champions League.
First we need more soccer parks in our neighborhoods where this new generation has easy access too.That’s not easy then throw on top our system for licensing coaches.It’s well structured but it feels extremely robotic.Working with 3four3 has been really influential to me because it is helping me find an identity and it seems to me I can progress on a daily and weekly basis deending on how hard I want to work.If we cant fix our coaching then the quality of teams or players will remain at a standstill.LA Galaxy is probably the best team in the US.What does that say about our progress I think that’s even harder to swallow than the Dempsey argument.And I’m a Galaxy fan but I have to be realistic about where we are at right now.