One thing that has never been in question about Jermaine Defoe is his undoubted ability. Since West Ham United nicked him off of Charlton Athletic as a 15 year old, Defoe has scored goals. Be it for AFC Bournemouth on loan, West Ham United, Portsmouth, both spells at Tottenham and England, Defoe scored. Yet, there was always something missing, some final piece of the jigsaw that hadn’t fallen in to place. Was it application? Was it work rate? Did he want it enough?
During his first spell at Tottenham, Defoe was always one of my favourites, the kind of player that gets you out of your seat. With a vicious shot and pace to burn, Defoe was a player that demanded your attention. Yet, as is often the case with terrace favourites, some managers couldn’t work him out. Five managers in four seasons battled with the conundrum of Defoe’s vast talent and none of them could fully unlock it.
They didn’t know how best to use him and ultimately Juande Ramos thought he was surplus to requirements. Thankfully for Tottenham fans, Defoe’s mutual respect for Redknapp meant that when his former mentor went to White Hart Lane, it seemed only a matter of time before he rejoined. Yet the return didn’t work out as planned, Defoe broke his foot and had only just returned to the squad in April when his half brother, Jade, was tragically killed.
It was a traumatic time for Defoe, and he has since spoke of the added determination he has had since the tragedy in regards to his life and his football. When situations like that occur to people, it’s difficult to deal with, yet Defoe has gained strength from the way he handled himself and how he has re-evaluated his lifestyle. A summer spent bulking up his upper body strength, coupled with the extended break through injury has seen Defoe appears like a man reborn this season.
Sharper, stronger and certainly more clinical in front of goal, it’s no exaggeration to say he could have had nine yesterday if it wasn’t for Chris Kirkland. By becoming one of only 3 players in Premiership history to score 5 goals in a game and the only one to score them all in one half, Defoe has laid a marker down for his true talent. In 11 Premiership matches, he now has 11 goals and he missed two league games due to suspension.He is on a different level to the striker that Spurs sold in January 2008, and Redknapp has finally got the tools at his disposal to bring out the very best in him.
He’s also forced his way in to Fabio Capello’s plans, desperate to make up for missing out on the 2006 World Cup squad, when Eriksson unfortunately risked everything on injured players and took a striker that never even got a minute of action. Looking back, I still don’t understand the decision to only take 4 strikers to Germany, two who had hardly played in the final 3 months of the previous season.
Defoe was on standby if either Rooney or Owen failed to prove their fitness and cruelly missed out. When Owen crawled off the pitch after rupturing his cruciate ligament against Sweden, Eriksson must have sworn and Defoe must have felt like crying. England’s chances went at that moment. Eriksson paid the price for picking teams based on reputation rather than form and fitness. It is a mistake that will not happen again under Fabio Capello.
Defoe now stands on the cusp of a season that can define a player, for both club and country. Tottenham are still in the top 4 and regardless of the result on Saturday at Villa Park, will stay there, but as he pointed out after the game, the five goal haul will mean nothing if Spurs fail to get something against Aston Villa. Of course, he’s right and Tottenham need to show that that the undoubted potential to be true challengers can finally come to fruition. England still haven’t found the perfect partner for Wayne Rooney up front either.
Defoe must be in with a shout of cementing a place in the 23 man squad for South Africa, but one of the benefits of the Capello regime is that truthfully, none of us can honestly pick the squad as Capello has confounded the pundits time after time so far. That must spur every player on.
For both to have a successful 2010, Defoe needs to finally rid himself of the nearly man tag once and for all. So far, so good and long may it continue for club and country.