Ever since he quietly announced his retirement in the middle of the 2018 season with a simple Instagram post, Clint Dempsey has mostly receded from public life. Aside from popping up randomly on social media, we’ve barely heard a word from him about why he retired when he did, his legacy or what he plans to do with the rest of his life.
That he showed up for a nearly hour-long interview on a podcast hosted by former United States national teammates Oguchi Onyewu and DaMarcus Beasley was notable by itself. That he was so forthcoming about what motivated him, his mindset at the time he retired and even some of the more notorious stories surrounding his off-field persona was downright remarkable for someone who was so reclusive during his playing career. The entire interview is definitely worth a listen.
Here are some of the highlights:
On his post-retirement life
“Making babies, huntin’, fishin’, golfin’, being an uber driver for these kids. ... Stepping on an ant bed is what my life’s like.”
He said his kids all play soccer in North Carolina and he was especially bullish on his 5-year-old son’s potential, but it doesn’t sound like he’ll be coaching any of their teams: “I don’t know about coaching. I can’t deal with the parents.”
On why he retired
“I got burned out. Dealing with those two heart procedures ... it wasn’t life threatening but it was career threatening. I felt like I couldn’t go at 100 percent. I don’t know if it was mentally or if it was just what my body was telling me.
“It was like my body was stuck in a certain gear. You couldn’t push it as hard as I could before. It almost felt like being on a bicycle and you can’t put it in the next gear. Having that, dealing with the politics, dealing with your body getting older and more difficult to bounce back and the grind of it; it wasn’t as enjoyable. It was good to take a step back and do things that I enjoy doing ... playing for club and country you don’t have much time to enjoy things outside the game. To keep going and operating at that high level you have to be all in.”
“It was smooth in the sense that i had a look at myself in the mirror when i was having the [heart] procedure done. Was I going to be able to bounce back? And then I had to have it again so it was always lingering. The second-to-last year I had a productive season … but having looked at it then, it was all bonus year, icing on the cake. When it was time to step away … you know me, I’ve never been someone who has to tell everyone I’m ready to step away, have a last hurrah. It’s being real, thanks for everything but I don’t need any fake love. I appreciate the people who rode with me during it — I remember y’all, we had a great time, but I never felt like I needed to do this last go around and soak it all in. It was fun, I enjoyed it, the memories speak for themselves.”
He essentially admitted that failing to qualify for the World Cup took away a good deal of his motivation: “We didn’t qualify for World Cup, so there wasn’t as much to play for. No offense to MLS and people trying to [win MLS Cup], the World Cup ... that’s the biggest stage possible. When we didn’t qualify, it was like ‘Dang, what’s out there? What’s left to chase?’ You still want to finish strong, but you know when you have a big fight, when you have something that gets you up and keeps you motivated, I think it’s tough.
“Why take a spot from someone who’s young and hungry? We’ve done it.”
On playing with Oba
Dempsey put Obafemi Martins at the top of his list of best-ever teammates: “Playing with Oba was like pickup. I knew what he was going to do, he knew what I was going to do, we understood to be successful we both had to be on. ... You know there’s pressure to succeed if you’re a DP. You have to deliver. We had that conversation. ‘For this to work, we’re going to have do this, we’re going to have to make it happen and show everybody what’s up.’ After that conversation, it’s like we’re all gonna eat. They asked me, ‘who’s the MVP?’ Oba. ‘Who needs to get it?’ Oba. We all have to eat. He rides for me, I ride for him. When you have it like that, that’s when things are going.”