As always, it pays to take all off-season transfer rumors with a grain of salt. But one rumor within the realm of possibility suggest a move of pure genius by the Rossoneri.
Yahoo Sports is reporting that Fulham star and American national team member Clint Dempsey has been targeted by AC Milan for a potential transfer bid. The club reportedly has been impressed with Dempsey’s play in England and South Africa, enough so to pay roughly $12 million to add him to their roster. His match-winning goal in Fulham’s defeat of Juventus in the Europa League also proved to Milan scouts that he could play against Serie A’s best.
Dempsey has been successful in his three year stint with Fulham. Last season he scored seven goals in 29 Premier League matches, and his Juventus goal has been referred to as the most famous goal in Fulham history. Internationally, Dempsey’s profile has never been higher, scoring the “Hand of Clod” goal against England and drawing the match-tying penalty kick in the U.S.’s loss to Ghana in this year’s World Cup. With Roy Hodgson leaving Fulham for Liverpool, now is a good time for him to leave.
But within the context of AC Milan’s actions the past two years does it become clear how genius a signing of Clint Dempsey would be. From a tactical perspective, Dempsey’s move to AC Milan would simply add him to a list of high-profile strikers the club already possesses. He would battle up-front for playing time with Ronaldinho, Borriello, Pato, and maybe Huntelaar. The midfield is equally crowded, but for a team that underachieved last year Dempsey could compete for time.
But the significance is that Dempsey is not just another striker, he is an American soccer star. Remember that AC Milan last year signed Oguchi Onyewu, the injured American defender who is playing “for free” this year because of his injury. A healthy “Gooch” is a valuable addition to the defensively challenged AC Milan, but more importantly he is also very popular among US soccer fans. A Dempsey signing would mean two American stars on the pitch for AC Milan, increasing the clubs already high visibility among American fans.
American soccer fans, especially those converted by the last two World Cups, are looking for international squads to pull for and follow when the World Cup ends. I suspect many will gravitate to teams with American stars – witness American fans of Everton. Maybe this is not AC Milan’s primary reason for signing two Americans (they are very talented after all) but the ability to market two of the country’s most popular players could lead to tapping a new market. Imagine the potential sales of Dempsey AC Milan jerseys.
Also factor in AC Milan’s travel schedule. This year the club played a friendly in a near-sold out RFK Stadium against a dreadful DC United team, as well a May 30 friendly in Chicago. Last season the club teamed up with Chelsea, Inter Milan, and Club America to play in the World Football Challenge, which allowed the Rossoneri to play in Atlanta, Baltimore, and Foxborough. While it may be coincidence, the US friendlies combined with the signing of two American stars shows a strategy of tapping into a rich American soccer market. And the strategy is a good one that could make one of the world’s richest soccer clubs even richer.