Jermain Defoe hit five goals yesterday in Spurs’ demolition – the word doesn’t seem strong enough, at times – of Wigan Athletic, but has he done enough to merit a place in Fabio Capello’s World Cup squad next summer?
Many pundits and people in the game, including ‘Arry (who would of course be a neutral observer in such matters), have rushed to declare Defoe as the ‘best finisher in England’ and a certainty for this forthcoming squad. There is compelling contemporary evidence for this: no-one has scored five goals in a Premier League game since Alan Shearer in 1999; Defoe is having the best season of his career to date; he’s even started scoring for England, and is by all accounts flourishing under Redknapp this season, leading the country’s goalscoring charts with eleven. Among his rivals for what surely is one spot, Michael Owen is struggling to score and play regularly for Manchester United; and Darren Bent has seemingly done himself few favours with his ineffective performance in Doha. As of now in late November, Jermain Defoe, according to many, can start either cancelling his summer plans or moving them thousands of miles closer to Johannesburg.
However, can Defoe really start to count his chickens? If Defoe is in the form of his life at the moment, what does that say about his earlier career? His most productive season so far has merited only 14 league goals, below that of Bent’s best of 18, in a weaker Charlton Athletic team, while Defoe’s goals this season – in the ‘form of his life’ – have come mostly (8/11) in two games against Hull City and Wigan Athletic. Compare this to Bent, who has scored against each of the Big Four this season, as well as away to three of the aforementioned four last season. Defoe’s lively performance (relatively speaking) against Brazil, compared to Bent, came at a point where England were chasing the game, thus throwing more balls forward and comitting more teammates in support of the main striker; whereas Bent spent an hour chasing and hunting, crowded out by Brazilian defenders and without a midfield teammate within 40 yards. Can Bent be discounted because of a poor midfield performance? Bent has proved at Charlton that he can operate very effectively as a lone striker, and as his height and power compares favourably with Defoe, he could well prove a more effective all-round option.
Perhaps therefore, it could be argued that while Defoe’s sparkling current form gives him an advantage at the moment – with such pace and agility he is the the perfect foil for current partner Peter Crouch – he could be pushed to the sidelines before South Africa. When Luka Modric comes back from injury, perhaps Harry will feel it necessary to drop a less powerful striker to accomodate Modric, Niko Krancjar and Aaron Lennon in the same team, forcing Defoe back onto the bench. One thing that goes against Defoe is Spurs’ squad depth, meaning more competition for places and fewer appearances compared to Bent, who seemingly only needs to perform at a level above Frazier Campbell to stay in the Sunderland team. Defoe seems to hold all the aces at the moment, but in the home straight, Darren Bent’s (possible) sheer volume of goals, increased playing time and ability to play up front on his own (service pending, see his Charlton Athletic performances) could end up leaving Defoe with a busted flush. Oh yeah, and Michael Owen may just find some form, too.