Dempsey, Dalglish and a striker in crisis

Updated: January 31, 2012, 9:21 AM ET
By Ian Darke |

[+] EnlargeClint Dempsey
Glyn Kirk/AFP/Getty ImagesClint Dempsey could give Manchester United the creative spark it so desperately needs.

As Manchester United seeks to find a creative spark for its title challenge, I wonder if the idea of signing American star Clint Dempsey ever occurred to Sir Alex Ferguson. There might be a few who would sneer that the Texan, while very useful, is "not a United player." But with the likes of Wesley Sneijder and Bastian Schweinsteiger out of reach for now, it might have been an inspired piece of business in the winter transfer window.

Dempsey, who was already a key player at Fulham, has definitely moved to another level this season. Two hat tricks in three games against Charlton in the FA Cup and Newcastle in the Premier League took his tally to 15 for the season, but there is more to it than that.

Encouraged to be a team leader by coach Jurgen Klinsmann for the U.S., Dempsey is doing the same at Craven Cottage. Where he previously was basically a wide man who drifted inside to cause damage, he now serves more like what the Europeans call a "No. 10"-style playmaker, making late runs to score a stack of goals. Of course, Fulham would be in no hurry to sell, but a fee of around 8 million pounds might have changed its mind.

One thing is certain: If Dempsey continues in this sort of form, Fulham will be hard-pressed to hold on to him this summer.

Kenny Dalglish pulled off a masterstroke by publicly hammering his players after Liverpool's pathetic display at Bolton recently. He questioned their preparation and attitude and warned that a few "might not be at the club much longer" if they turned in performances like that.

[+] EnlargeKenny Dalglish
Alex Livesey/Getty ImagesKenny Dalglish rescued Liverpool from possible relegation in 2011, but he was unable to push the team to a top-four finish this season.

What was interesting to reporters was that Dalglish, perhaps more than any other manager, has never been one to hand the media juicy quotes like that when a shrug of the shoulder and a dead-bat response will do. His general approach to dealing with questioners was summed up earlier this season when asked at a news conference for the secret of Liverpool's revival. "There is no secret," Dalglish said. "And even if there was, I wouldn't be telling you lot what it was."

In keeping with old Boot Room traditions at Anfield, Dalglish does not usually believe in washing the club's dirty linen in public. So his calculated gamble in berating his players on TV, radio and in newsprint at Bolton was a radical change of course designed to provoke a response from his underperforming stars. It worked. Liverpool edged out Manchester City to reach the league cup final at Wembley then knocked Manchester United out of the FA Cup to complete its best week in years.

Suddenly, a season that was in danger of disintegration is once more full of hope. And King Kenny, recently under fire for his paranoid stance in the Luis Suarez affair, is restored to his throne in the eyes of the Kop.

Watching Fernando Torres trying so hard to break his scoring drought for Chelsea has become car-crash TV. You just can't take your eyes off him. Rival fans chant "What a waste of money" or sing sarcastic songs offering to take him on loan.

Torres has not scored in his past 16 appearances; his last Premier League goal was four months ago against Swansea.

During the striker's early crisis at Stamford Bridge, I was among those who believed he would eventually prove his worth. After all, here was a man who had hit 62 goals in 102 league appearances at Liverpool, the sort of phenomenal strike rate only an ace finisher could achieve.

So far he has three goals in 31 Premier League games for Chelsea.

A year on from his $80 million move, the growing belief is that injuries and perhaps burnout have cost the Spaniard his old explosiveness and confidence. Perhaps all those years as a youngster carrying the Atletico Madrid attack have taken their toll. Torres is working very hard for the team, but of course that is not what Chelsea paid the big bucks for.

The fans' vocal support of their troubled striker at the Bridge is touching, but by now even they must be starting to think that the one-time goal machine might be beyond repair.

What a start back in England for Gary Smith, the man who took the Colorado Rapids to the 2010 MLS title. Smith has just become manager of third-tier team Stevenage and began with an FA Cup win over Notts County. The draw for the fifth round? Stevenage versus Spurs. Who is writing Gary's scripts?

Ian Darke is a commentator for ESPN. You can reach him on Twitter at

Darke, who called games for the network during the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, is ESPN lead soccer voice in the United States. He has covered the Barclays Premier League and the Champions League since 1982, and has one of the world's most recognizable soccer voices.