Fulham star Clint Dempsey has heard all the rumors. All the talk about the big clubs lining up bids for him, it doesn't come as much of a surprise considering the dream season Dempsey just had for Fulham. It also doesn't make it any less frustrating for Dempsey.
Not because Dempsey doesn't want to be linked with big clubs, but because seeing rumors instead of actual transfer offers was something he already endured last year.
"I don't get caught up in that because until somebody is putting down some money it doesn't matter," Dempsey said in an exclusive interview with FOX Soccer. "If teams are really interested, they need to put their money with their mouth is and make an offer."
Dempsey won't go so far as to outright say he wants to leave Fulham, but you don't need to be a code breaker to read between the lines. He has one year left on his current deal with the Cottagers. He just had the season of his life and stated his desire to play in the UEFA Champions League.
"After every year I want to keep getting better, and I want to take on bigger challenges, and playing in the Champions League is something I want to do," Dempsey said. "It was something I wanted a year ago but it didn't work out that way. It's something I still want."
Dempsey scored 23 goals for Fulham, including 17 in the Premier League. Clubs such as Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool have eyed his services. The same thing happened a season ago, when Dempsey scored 12 goals and became linked in the media to potential moves to Arsenal and Paris St. Germain.
The big question at this point is whether a top European club will pay Fulham's asking price for the 29-year-old player. Fulham manager, Martin Jol, has stated the Cottagers won't sell Dempsey, but it would be tough to keep him if he wants to leave, and if the Premier League's bigger spenders step up.
For his part, Dempsey just shrugs off the absurd notion that, at 29, he is either "old" or on the downslope of his career.
"I feel good, and I don't think I played this last season like someone who is old," Dempsey said. "And look at players like (Paul) Scholes and (Ryan) Giggs, who are still playing at high levels into their 30s. I feel good and feel like I've got more good years in me."
What often goes forgotten about Dempsey is that he began his pro career later than most top European players. He was 21 as a rookie with the New England Revolution and had played just 81 combined professional games by the time he was 24. By comparison, Fulham teammate Moussa Dembele, is 24 now and has played just two dozen fewer professional games than Dempsey.
"There's something to be said for that, Dempsey said. "I haven't played as many games and my body hasn't been through as much as other 29-year olds playing in England. I definitely don't feel old. I feel like I'm getting better.
"I would have liked to start playing professionally earlier," Dempsey added. "But I think that's been a blessing in disguise and made me appreciate things more, and made me more hungry and I don't think I've shown any signs of slowing up."
The US national team will be counting on Dempsey to keep getting better as the squad's best player and attacking focal point. Jurgen Klinsmann looks poised to slot Dempsey in as a second forward position, getting the leading American goal-scorer in Premier League history closer to goal; a role he has already produced results at, most recently with the winning goal in the US national team's historic 1-0 victory against Italy on Feb. 29. "That's always been a place I like to play," Dempsey said. "I feel like I can be the most effective in that kind of role and Jurgen has put me there and with the way some of the guys on this team are playing for their club teams, it's going to be good to see what we can do."
Dempsey is currently sidelined with a minor groin injury that is keeping him out of action during the current US national team training camp, but he should be ready for action when the United States begins World Cup qualifying against Antigua & Barbuda on June 8.
The current squad looks to be a strong one, with a good nucleus of veterans and some promising newcomers, but Dempsey isn't ready to say the current national team is stronger than past installments.
"We won't know that until we've done something, until we've played the games and shown what this group is about," Dempsey said. "We do have a lot of veterans so I still think we're a good team, but we won't know just how good until we start playing games that matter."
The upcoming stretch of five matches for the United States should keep Dempsey busy before July, when the transfer season gets into full swing, and when the offers for Dempsey would be expected to start rolling in.
Dempsey won't come out and say he has played his last game for Fulham, but it isn't difficult to tell what his plans are when asked about the possibility of playing out the final year of his Fulham contract at Craven Cottage.
"There are things I want to do in my career," Dempsey said. "And I'm going to do what it takes to make those things happen."