At the rate things are going, Michael Jackson won't be the only one with a statue of his likeness perched outside Craven Cottage in London.
The calendar has yet to hit February, and already Clint Dempsey has already turned in not just the greatest season of his career, but perhaps the greatest season any American field player has ever had playing for a club in Europe. Being able to do so in a matter of five months while playing at a middling top-flight club like Fulham makes it all the more eye-opening and impressive.
Appropriately named U.S. Soccer's 2011 Male Athlete of the Year for the second time in his career on Friday, Dempsey put forth his greatest feat as a professional the following day, recording the first hat trick by an American in the Premier League. The three goals bumped his total to 15 goals in all competitions (and counting), and Dempsey trails just Arsenal's Robin van Persie, Manchester United's Wayne Rooney and Manchester City's Sergio Aguero in that category among Premier League players.
He has two hat tricks in three weeks after notching the first one of his career against Charlton in the FA Cup on Jan. 7, and he has already surpassed his personal-best total of 13 goals in all competitions that he set last year -- with about four months to spare in the 2011-12 campaign.
After accounting for a Deuce of hat tricks and breaking former Fulham star Brian McBride's all-time record for goals in the Premiership by an American (a running tally that is currently at 42), there are just two more things Dempsey needs to do to polish off his special season: Break the record of 12 Premier League goals scored by an American that he set last season (he currently has nine), and find a way to a UEFA Champions League club this summer to add another layer -- not to mention the potential for silverware -- to his growing legend.
Dempsey has given Fulham everything he possibly can in his five years at the club save for a top-four finish, one that will never happen anytime soon considering the spending disparity between the likes of the Manchester and free-spending London clubs and the lower-tier Premier League teams. From literally saving Fulham from relegation with a goal against Liverpool in his first season in 2007, to helping carry the club to a deep run in the UEFA Europa League in 2010, to setting his own personal milestones, there is not a whole lot left for the fan favorite to accomplish.
Dempsey, who turns 29 in March and is under contract with Fulham until the end of the 2012-13 season, has spoken of his desire to compete in the Champions League, and his transfer value is reaching its peak. His loyalty, work ethic, hard-nosed attitude and level of production have rewarded Fulham with a heck of a return on its $4 million investment when the club purchased him from MLS' New England Revolution. It is only fitting that the powers-that-be at Craven Cottage repay the club icon that sports a Texas twang with a well-deserved transfer to a team that has a need for his services and is poised for Europe's grandest stage later this year.
And maybe even a statue someday down the road.
Aside from Dempsey and his record-setting exploits, here is how the Americans playing abroad -- including goal-scorer Maurice Edu and those returning to action following the Bundesliga winter break -- fared over the past week (season statistics encompass all competitions):