While the sacking of Andre Villas-Boas is the Tottenham story making the most noise in England at the moment, another important development at Spurs is the potential move of Jermain Defoe to Major League Soccer’s struggling side Toronto FC. Toronto, managed by former Defoe teammate and long-time English Premier League defender Ryan Nelson, is set to make the 31 year-old Spurs striker the highest paid player in the history of top flight football in North America.
The simple question then begs itself — why Jermain Defoe?
The answers are more varied than one might think. Toronto is the most cosmopolitan and diverse city in North America. And while European soccer has become more popular around the continent of North America, its beachhead is in Toronto. This means a footballer like Defoe, perhaps anonymous to many casual or new-found fans of the game, will be well known in Toronto.
No player in Premier League history has scored more goals coming off the bench than Defoe. Not Teddy Sheringham, not Ole Gunnar Solskjær, not Edin Dzeko. In fact Defoe is still scoring goals with great regularity when given the chance to play regularly.
Toronto FC has a robust supporter’s base but have yet to qualify for the MLS Playoffs. For the first five years of the franchise’s existence, TFC had higher average ticket prices than all but the top English clubs. Following another failed season in 2012, the organization rolled back ticket prices but more empty red seats are being seen at BMO Field on a weekly basis during the MLS season. While MLS counts tickets distributed as attendance, Toronto FC no longer meets the eye test for crowd numbers. What was a full stadium for many years is now a partially empty one even if the attendance on paper is similar.
A player like Defoe, an exciting goal scoring Englishman, can serve TFC in four different ways if he signs.
1. Defoe would score goals, something Toronto FC badly needs to finally break out of the doldrums.
2. As an Englishman and a Premier League star, Defoe appeals to the cosmopolitan nature of Toronto and its fan base.
3. Ticket prices, while lower than previously, remain very high for TFC. Defoe’s signing unlike those of previous failed DPs will show the organization is finally attempting to win and reinvest the ticket revenue in the playing squad.
4. Spurs and West Ham both have lots of long-term support in the Toronto area. Defoe logically connects directly with this supporter base, many of whom have yet to embrace TFC.
I do not see a whole lot of downside to the Defoe signing for Toronto. What I do however wonder is if his England career is over should he sign to MLS. With promising young starlets like Danny Sturridge, Jay Rodrgiuez and Danny Welbeck recently breaking into the England setup, perhaps Defoe wasn’t headed to Brazil anyway. But if he signs to MLS, that would all but seal his fate with Roy Hodgson, one must assume.
For Major League Soccer, the possible signing of Defoe could be great news, signaling a willingness to spend money in the transfer market and bring players who, while not world-class, have a following in the markets they are moving to.
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