Clint Dempsey turned 30 last week.
Whenever an athlete reaches the three-oh, tongues begin to wag with questions about his inevitable decline. Age is inexorable and eventually every athlete must succumb to the ravages of time.
Now that he's on the downside of the hill, will Clint Dempsey pull his shorts up over his waist and pass his remaining soccer days yelling at the young turks to get off his lawn?
Or, are Deuce's best days ahead of him?
Deuce is playing in the EPL with a deep and talented midfield, alongside the hottest front-line player in the world not named Messi, on a team still in the hunt for a Europa League title.
One could argue that now that he's reached these lofty heights, he has nowhere to go but down.
On the other hand, next year he could be playing in the two highest-level competitions in the known universe: the UEFA Champions League and the FIFA World Cup.
Nothing to sneeze at there.
With those potential golden goals within reach, will Clint be able to rise to the challenge?
Why not? His age is actually the point at which men reach that combination of peak athleticism combined with experience. If anything, it would seem that Deuce's best days are ahead of him.
The age of 30 is an arbitrary number to indicate that an athlete is about to decline. It does tend to fit our perceptions, however, that most professional athletes are somewhere in their 20s.
Still, there are many examples of elite soccer players well past the expiration date.
Ryan Giggs was 37 when he won the Golden Foot award.
Francesco Totti is 36 and actually scoring goals at a better rate (10 goals in 25 matches, .4 goals per game) than he did when he was 28 (13 goals in 40 matches, .325 goals per game).
Jürgen Klinsmann played for Bayern Munich between the ages of 31-34. He scored 31 goals in 65 matches during that time (.48 goals per game).
One study pegs the end of peak fitness for elite attacking soccer players at 31.
There is really no reason to think that Deuce will suddenly decline physically, and if he continues to take care of himself there is no reason to think he can't duplicate the post-30 success of Totti or Klinsmann.
Ok, so a couple of Übermensch pulled off the ageless wonder trick. But is Dempsey on a similar track?
Let's look at the numbers.
|Season||Games Played||Goals Scored||Goals per Game|
At first glance you might note that Dempsey's scoring rate rose steadily until last season and then dropped off this season. Clear evidence of a decline!
But let's think about this in context. Dempsey's 27 goals across all competitions in 2011-2012 set an American record. It would be a bit unfair to assume that he would continue that kind of pace at any age.
Next, look at his numbers for this season. His .375 strike rate is the second-best of his career, and it's coming in a season when he started out in transfer purgatory then joined a more talented team with one of the hottest goal scorers in EPL history.
Surely, playing alongside Gareth Bale as well as other notable goal scorers like Jermaine Defoe and Gylfi Sigurdsson should be expected to reduce the number of goal-scoring chances Dempsey is likely to have.
Let's not forget that the season isn't over yet. Spurs have nine more EPL games on the schedule and a possible handful of Europa League games. Deuce will get another handful of games in World Cup qualifying.
That's another 19 games. Not only could Dempsey still break last year's scoring mark, but he's on pace to set an all-time high for appearances.
With possible Champions League and World Cup games on next season's itinerary, it is far too early to think that Dempsey is ready to be fitted for a walker.
Clint's new BFF is rightly considered one of the top players in the world. His midfield partners all have the class to play for any team in the world.
Whenever a player, in any sport, is surrounded by that kind of talent, he can't help but be a better player.
Consider how many times a seemingly great player changes teams and just tanks. The sages all nod their heads and say, "Well yes, you see, he was only that good because of the talent around him."
Dempsey didn't take a step down when he moved to Tottenham, he took a giant leap up the food chain. And yet there he sits, posting some of the best numbers of his career even though the soccer illuminati believe he doesn't quite fit in at Spurs.
How could he fit in any better? Score more goals than Gareth Bale? Single-handedly take Spurs to the Europa League final as he did with Fulham? Maybe he should adopt Brad Friedel's English accent.
As long as he is surrounded by the kind of talent that Spurs seem willing to bring in, Dempsey will continue to enjoy success at the highest levels.
Dempsey's role with Spurs was certainly evident in their Europa League second leg tie against Inter Milan. Leading the series 3-0, Spurs squeaked through to the quarterfinals with an extra-time away goal losing 1-4.
The Spurs were without Gareth Bale who was suspended for yellow-card accumulation. Their midfield did well in possession but they clearly lacked that creative pass, run or dribble at which Clint Dempsey excels.
The Spurs sorely needed Dempsey's flair and creativity and almost crashed out ignominiously from the Europa League without him.
One thing is certain, no athlete can continue to play 50-plus matches a year and expect to stay healthy. The human body needs time to recover from physical exertion, and if Dempsey keeps playing at a 50-game pace it will break him down regardless of his age.
But that won't happen.
One advantage to being on a more talented team is that you are not called upon to play every game. I'm sure Deuce would play every game if Villas-Boas let him, but AVB and the Spurs' management didn't just fall off the fish-and-chips cart.
Next season could potentially be another 50-game season, though it is more likely that Dempsey will try to get some recovery time during the season so that he is fit for the 2014 World Cup and in top form for Spurs' UEFA competitions. This means fewer league cup games and fewer friendlies for the U.S. national team.
After the summer of 2014 don't be surprised if Clint takes a break from national team duty, perhaps a couple of years, before his competitive streak pulls him back to make a run at 2018 World Cup qualifying.
That's right, 2018.
Dempsey has the Alamo-defender attitude of his native state. He’s a fighter.
Dempsey played youth soccer for the Dallas Texans, one of the only U.S. youth clubs to win trophies at the international level. From the very beginning Clint understood the uphill battle Americans face abroad.
Deuce never wavered as he forced his way onto a relegation-threatened Fulham side, saving them from the drop with one of those dramatic team-saving goals he became famous for.
When Clint finally got his transfer to an elite club he didn't whine about being out of shape. He came into the U.S. national team and ran two full games to get match fit and help the Nats over a minor qualifying hiccup.
Clint Dempsey wants to play every minute of every game. And one thing is certain, you won’t see Deuce ducking out for a sabbatical.