Clint Dempsey has, by some quite extraordinary distance, played his way through his most prolific campaign in football and has come out of the other end as a player cherished by his club and also desired by many, far more affluent, others. He's displayed, this year, an ability to coax the very best of his talents into the open and parade them for all to see. The American is Fulham's top scorer, with 23 goals to match his number 23 shirt, and 6 Premier League assists, just, simply, to exemplify his rather compelling case.
No surprises, then, when Liverpool chairman, Tom Werner, expressed his admiration for the midfielder in what was a very poorly disguised invitation to ply his trade on Merseyside. "Any team would be lucky to have Clint Dempsey playing on their squad," were his words, and truthful and flattering though they were, they were not appreciated in SW6. However, you get the feeling that Dempsey is too good for Anfield now and that is the measurement of just how far this player has come.
It may well seem as though Dempsey's journey into the limelight was one formed brashly and forcefully over the course of this season but, in reality, the signs have been present ever since he turned up in England. In his first season, he consigned himself into the history books by scoring the goal that would, ultimately, save Fulham from relegation, against Liverpool, in quite emphatic fashion.
When the Europa League came along in 2010, we were grateful for his moments of unique mastery, but he aided our progression in many greater ways than his splendidly timed and wonderfully executed strike over a hapless Antonio Chimenti of Juventus. It was a fine strike, plucked from the very depth of his ever deepening powers, of such damning importance, but he had done more than that and gone wholly unnoticed. He scored three goals in Europe that year and came out of a season of 47 matches seemingly unperturbed.
Under Hughes, his pedigree only grew and now, in his finest year to date, he has come to embody, for want of a better word, perfection. Not perfection, necessarily, in the way in which he plays this game, or in the way in which he has chalked up goals in this campaign as though they were essential to his very own survival, but in his mentality and in his unerring capability of turning up at exactly the right moment at exactly the right time. There is no coincidence with this player, though - it is hard work.
His captain, Danny Murphy, put it quite consummately in a post match interview after Fulham had earned a respectable draw with Chelsea, in which Dempsey had yet again proven the difference between mediocrity and success: "It's not luck, it's his work ethic. I've never trained with anyone like this man." And that's where the gratitude and the love for Dempsey stems from - it's not because he is such an uncommonly gifted footballer, but because he is prepared to dedicate everything he has to football and reap its rich rewards. That's why I would not begrudge him a move to something bigger, better and ultimately more fulfilling, but there is no doubting the harm it would do Fulham FC.
He has become so increasingly vital at Craven Cottage that it has now reached a point where, without him, the outlook is nothing more than depressing. He is so blessed with such an array of cardinal talents and, from his midfield position, has blitzed this league as though it were mere fun and games. Frank Lampard, one of few midfielders famed for his goalscoring talents, has scored seven fewer goals than our very own Texan bomb and hasn't been nearly as influential in his team's advancement. Higher praise can be sought elsewhere but there is no time to seek each and every appraisal Dempsey has received this year.
The worry has to be, of course, that he will depart and that there will be no other player like him out there but, unfortunately, the worry is all but a certainty anyway. We at least know that there is no one in the same ilk as Dempsey who could do such a stunning job, and do so with such a humbling compassion and grace. The chances of him leaving, too, seems to increase as every hour passes as Arsene Wenger, supposedly, plans for a season with this American at the foreground and Kenny Dalglish, allegedly, attempts to extract yet more money from his increasingly rattled superiors to fund Dempsey's purchase.
We must, then, prepare for life without Dempsey but the prognosis will forever be saddening for, despite all the legends that have passed through the Cottage corridors in the many years of the past, he will be one of those that is most sorely missed and is most fondly remembered.