Clint Dempsey signs with Tottenham

It was a move no one saw coming: US star Clint Dempsey on Friday completed a shocking transfer to London giants Tottenham Hotspur to cap a frantic day of activity as the English window closed.

Dempsey was not the only American to move Friday: Oguchi Onyewu was loaned to Malaga by his Portuguese club Sporting; Carlos Bocanegra was loaned to Racing Santander by Rangers; Maurice Edu finalized his move to join Geoff Cameron at Stoke City, and Southampton swooped for U-20 keeper Cody Cropper.

But Dempsey’s move was easily the most high-profile — and the most tangled. Dempsey spent the day whipsawed between despair and delight as four clubs vied for his services. The fact is, Spurs pulled off a massive coup in acquiring America’s best field player for a scant transfer fee of just $9.6 million.

It’s a good bit of business for Fulham, who bought Dempsey in 2007 from the New England Revolution for $2.4 million and saw him go on to set the goal-scoring record at the club. Dempsey had a career year last season with 21 goals across all competitions.

But that success also meant that Dempsey had outgrown Craven Cottage’s tenants. Dempsey made no secret of his desire to move to a bigger club and play Champions League football before his career was over. At 29, he also knew this was his final chance to make such a move.

Dempsey will not play Champions League football yet — Spurs are in the Europa League this season. That said, Tottenham have the capability to challenge for a top-four slot where Fulham do not. Indeed, Spurs would be in this year’s Champions League had Chelsea not shocked Bayern Munich, thus removing fourth-place finisher Tottenham from the playoff slot.

Dempsey’s transfer was unusually tangled and at times, contentious. Liverpool had been closely linked with the player, and at one point an incorrect story of the Texan’s transfer to the club was posted on a website related to Fenway Sports Group, which owns and operates Fulham. The Cottagers would ultimately file a complaint about Liverpool, who admitted making an inquiry for Dempsey’s availability but did not file a formal offer until Friday.

In the interim, Dempsey was accused of not wanting to play by Fulham; he was both banished from first team training and fined by manager Martin Jol. Dempsey has told people privately that he said no such thing, tweeting at one point that the “truth will come out soon.”

But the saga led to Dempsey being excluded from Fulham’s first two league games and raised the uncomfortable prospect that he might not play in first-team games at all.

The transfer itself was no less circuitous.

Friday morning began with Aston Villa having a reported $8 million deal accepted only for Dempsey to turn down the offer, holding out for a dream slot at Liverpool. But Liverpool apparently made a bid for Dempsey to Fulham that was markedly less than Villa’s: a reported $6.5 million. Fulham was not amused, and that opened the door for Tottenham. Spurs made a late-day bid and secured the American’s services in the final hour of the window.

Dempsey joins American Brad Friedel and his former Fulham teammate Moussa Dembele on a Spurs side in transition. The manager, Andre Villas-Boas, is also new and has presided over a frantic housecleaning.

Rafael van der Vaart and Luka Modric both departed the club, but Spurs added some significant talent: Hugo Lloris will challenge Friedel for the No. 1 slot; Gylfi Sigurdsson and Jan Vertonghen strengthen the midfield and defense and Emmanuel Adebayor returns to the club from Manchester City.

At press time, there also was hope that Spurs would be able to complete the transfer of Joao Moutinho from Porto for a massive $36 million fee.

The 29-year-old American had a career year last season with Fulham, ending with a total of 21 goals across all play and becoming the first American to score 50 goals in his Premier League career. Dempsey is also one of the USA’s most potent attackers, and he will now be in an even brighter spotlight on what is one of England’s true marquee teams.

It might not have been the move Dempsey expected or wanted — but it is the one he got, and it’s not half-bad. And tonight, amid a lot of finger-pointing from their fans, Liverpool may very well be ruing the man who got away.