While Tottenham fans stare in wonder as new-boy Christian Eriksen sets White Hart Lane alight, spare a thought for Jermain Defoe.
The diminutive forward’s gleaming record speaks for itself: 135 goals for Spurs; 19 for England; 19 for both club and country last season. Yet the big-money acquisition of Roberto Soldado – and an influx of even more attacking talent since – has seen Tottenham’s sixth-highest goalscorer in history relegated to a firm second-choice.
It has been a sudden fall. A fall that looks unlikely to be reversed – but through no fault of Defoe’s own.
Indeed, the 30-year-old has done all he can to stake a first-team claim at Spurs: the front man has consistently performed year on year for the north London club. His only crime has been falling short of the natural talent that the likes of Soldado, Eriksen, Paulinho, Nacer Chadli, Erik Lamela and more have brought to White Hart Lane this season. But with the prospect of a place at next year’s World Cup in Brazil looming for Defoe, this season is not the time to settle for a place on the bench.
Andre Villas-Boas’ tactical vision clearly has no emphasis on the presence of the England man in Tottenham’s starting XI, so why did Defoe not seek a move away from White Hart Lane this summer?
Better wages and club stature are one thing – but a place at what might be his final major international tournament is quite another. At 30, Defoe does not represent England’s youngest option but Rickie Lambert – one year older at 31 – has made it into the England squad based on club form. Defoe, therefore, is missing out on the chance to produce that same club form, the chance to take part in a run of games that is desperately needed.
It might be perfectly reasonable to suggest that the agile front man is not Tottenham’s best attacking option – but there would be plenty of teams that would require his services in the Premier League. Stoke City, Sunderland, and Norwich City, for instance, all struggled for goals last season, while the same sides, along with West Ham and the newly-promoted teams are already notoriously short up front this time around.
These sides would be able to provide Defoe with the perfect platform to showcase his talents once more. So many in the Premier League see plenty of the ball in midfield yet have little to work with in terms of a strikeforce. How any one of them would benefit from a poacher like Defoe in front of goal.
The case for a move away from Spurs, then, could not be greater. Defoe has pace, runs between the lines and is a deadly finisher: with regular match practice, the 30-year-old would no doubt return to his best, offering plenty for both club and
country. At Tottenham, Defoe will stagnate.
The England man has made no starts in four games in the Premier League so far this term and has been restricted to mere Europa League action against Dinamo Tbilisi. That Defoe scored two perfectly-taken goals against the Kazakhstani side seems to have done nothing for his case to return as a regular starter at White Hart Lane.
Other Premier League strikers, however, are faring much more prominently at their clubs. And many of these forwards are arguably no better than Defoe in his current state – let alone his prime. Take Fraizer Campbell, who has already scored twice for Cardiff, Darrent Bent for Fulham and Lambert for Southampton. Even Marouane Chamakh has scored for Crystal Palace. Are any of these front men really a cut above Defoe?
Little has been made of the 30-year-old’s future due to his declaration of happiness at Spurs. Yet Defoe is simply fighting a losing battle if he believes he will break into Villas Boas’ side once more. Emmanuel Adebayor recently announced his intention to become Tottenham’s number one striker – he has since been made to train with the reserves.
A move away from the capital is thus an option that would benefit all parties. And with Tottenham looking to recoup as much money as possible to compensate for their summer spend (even with the sale of Gareth Bale), this summer gone was the perfect chance.
If Defoe felt emotionally attached to the north London club, he could have sought a season-long loan move elsewhere before returning on top form to prove himself at Tottenham. A move away in January, meanwhile, will only mean a wasted half-season, where both Defoe’s form and fitness will have suffered.
After all, the ultimate goal for the 30-year-old this season will surely be to make it to Brazil next summer. How he will do so by not playing is anyone’s guess.
In England’s qualifier against Ukraine most recently, a fully-firing Defoe would not just have started but presented a significant threat to the opposition defence. As it was, Roy Hodgson opted to play Lambert, providing somewhat of an anti-climax.
By the same token, England will undoubtedly benefit from having an in-form Defoe at the World Cup this summer: the 30-year-old has the skill, nous and experience to offer the Three Lions a different option up front. And with England’s current injury record, it is an option that would be very welcome.
Either way, it is a great shame to see such a capable and prolific marksman spending the twilight of an illustrious career on the bench. Especially when his abilities could be just what a number of different Premier League clubs need to turn their fortunes around.