A tribute to Jermain Defoe

Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
Dom Le Roy

I don’t know if Jermain Defoe’s new paymasters will allow him to take any part in the game against Dnipro on Thursday but my guess would be probably not, and thus that cameo against Everton of three weekends ago is likely to remain his final appearance in a Spurs shirt. That ten minutes didn’t capture much of the character of his Tottenham career. There were no careless offsides, no shooting when other players were better positioned and no penalty placed too wide of the goal or too near the keeper. I do him an injustice of course. His real motif was a turn on the edge of the area and curled thunderbolt past a despairing keeper, a move and outcome we’ve seen many a time.

143 goals in 364 appearances puts him at number 5 in our all time goalscoring list and of course he sits top of the pile of Spurs hitmen in Europe; it’s a record to respect and one I hope he’s proud of. His penalty against Sherriff Tiraspol was what put him ahead of Chivers and was his last goal in UEFA competition. His final domestic strike was the sharp finish in January that made the three points certain against Palace – the thought occurs that perhaps Jason Puncheon was subconsciously paying homage to JD in that game when he launched his spot kick into orbit.

Defoe started his career at Charlton where as a teenager he managed to cheese off the locals by not hesitating when a bigger club (the Hamsters, it’s all relative after all) came knocking, an irony completely lost on those in the Chicken Run when he jumped ship to come to us in 2004. As a youth and reserve player at West Ham he gained a reputation amongst the locals for his clinical attitude in front of goal but his name started being bandied around more widely when he scored in 11 consecutive league and FA Cup games whilst on loan at Bournemouth during 00/01. He soon forced his way into the first team at his mother club but when Glenn Roeder took the Hammers down he was one of the first to let on that his ambitions involved more than yoyo-ing between divisions and being booed off by the likes of James Corden and Ray Winstone.

He began 2003/04 in what was then Division One but moved to WHL in January, his footballing spiritual home for the remainder of his career despite his exile to Portsmouth for most of 2008. The move to Harry Redknapp and the south coast occurred between that season’s Carling Cup semi-finals and final. He came on in the second leg battering of Arsenal in the semi but by the time Woodgate’s ‘header’ crossed the line at Wembley he was leading the line at Pompey. He thus missed out on the one piece of silverware we’ve won since he made his debut.

Juande Ramos’s star began its descent almost as the final whistle blew in that final and as we all know, the team’s shambolic start to 2008/09 led to Harry being appointed and Defoe returning to the fold in the January transfer window. He started prolifically but then sustained an ankle injury just before the end of January that put him out for most of the rest of the season and forced the panic repurchase of Robbie Keane, I don’t suppose we can really blame him for that though.

121 of Defoe’s appearances in a lilywhite shirt came as sub and if he regrets one thing about his Spurs career it may be that he was never able to convince any of the managers he played under that he was the answer to all their striking prayers. His body size was always against him, especially so in the current day where athleticism and strength is so important in a defender. Everyone who played against him regularly at the top level learnt that if you stop him turning on the edge of the area you’ve probably won the battle. Teams in lower divisions, in Europe (and probably in the US and Canada too) were slower to learn the lesson and have suffered accordingly.

A few more JD numbers – the 5 goals in one half versus Wigan was probably as good a display of finishing as you’re ever likely to see; with 22 he’s scored more goals as a sub than any other Premier League player; three hat tricks before the end of January in the 2009/10 season showed him at his peak. He’s also scored 19 goals in 55 appearances for England including a winner in the last World Cup against Slovenia – he’s unlikely to add to his national total though I personally expect him to get a hatful in the MLS so you never know, Woy might spring a surprise. Counterbalancing these positives are the lack of goals against the bigger teams and his unfortunate 6 missed penalties, you can’t fault his appetite from 12 yards, just his technique.

My favourite Defoe goal was probably his first against West Ham last season at White Hart Lane when he fought for the ball near the halfway line and on the sideline. He won it, carried it to edge of area and belted a screamer past the keeper’s near post, and all in front of his harshest critics in the away section of the Park Lane. My favourite story about Defoe is the (probably apocryphal) one about having a new kitchen built for his then girlfriend. Her design included no less than six ovens in the one kitchen. My favourite Defoe moment though could be thought of as untypical of him – his perfectly weighted through ball on the evening of 14th April 2010 that led to Bale sidefooting past Almunia and putting us two up against the Gooners. It was, as I say, perfect.

Other memorable or noteworthy points include his biting of West Ham’s Mascherano, his lazy run and goal against Arsenal, his purchase of a WHL executive box (which he kept when he went to Portsmouth by the way) and the fact that his name rhymes with the Y-word. Baddiel will be pleased to see the back of him at least. “Jermain Defoe, plays for Toronto” almost scans but not quite.

He’s a man who’s been extremely unlucky in his family life with a number of untimely deaths of relations hitting the news. Whether these events have influenced his decision to put so much work into his charity, The Jermain Defoe Foundation I don’t know.

Overall he seems like a good egg and a man who has always done his best, appreciated how lucky he was to play for Spurs and also appreciated the support of the fans. Add that to his 143 goals and in many ways, we couldn’t have asked for more.

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  1. Definitely a good servant for Spurs overall but, as I've harped on about in several articles, he was not the same player after he returned to us from Portsmouth and pundits who, even this season, criticised whichever of our many managers was at the helm for not having our most 'natural goalscorer' in our starting line-up, were, in my view, thinking of his performances first time around. Then, he was energetic and direct, invariably getting shots on target and scoring or at least working the goalkeeper. More recently, it's been more of a case of mishit shots, frustrating offsides and penalty misses, as you correctly point out. Agree about the Wigan game – I was lucky enough to be at the lane that day and he was electric. Maybe all those family problems you mention understandably affected his form. I wish him well for the future.


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