Technically, Jermaine Defoe is the deadliest striker in Premier League history. His, low, powerful strike against Swansea last weekend made him the first player in history to score at least one goal against every current team in the Premier League.
In a career which has seen him grace the grounds of West Ham, Tottenham, Portmouth and Sunderland he’s has now scored 126 times – level with Robbie Keane – making him the 11th highest Premier League goalscorer of all time.
And his return from a brief sabbatical at Toronto FC has already seem him surpass Jose Altidore’s prolific stint of one goal in 42 games. It’s taken him just three games to achieve that, and Sunderland finally have a goal threat up front capable of influencing games.
For now, it all looks good. But long-term, this is actually an incredibly contentious deal when placed in the context of the financial constraints of the modern game.
Defoe and his agent have had an absolute field day on this one. At the age of 32, The Guardian reports he’s managed to seal a £70,000, three and a half year contract. This equates to about a £12.5m deal for a player who’s likely decline sharply in the very near future. Altidore had about £4.5m left on his contract, so ipso facto, this is essentially a staggered £8m deal that will run until 2018. Naturally no one will think twice about Altidore’s value given his traumatic tenure in England, but abstractly, he represents a £6m asset leaving.
Whatever way you look at it, Sunderland have invested a huge amount of money in an ageing Premier League player. And for now it’s absolutely fine – Defoe will give them the shot in the arm they need to maintain their Premier League status for another year.
But terms of the deal after this auspicious honeymoon period will be significantly more dangerous when his fitness will inevitably lapse. That’s not a direct criticism of Defoe himself, more just a general observation on any player entering this stage of his career.
Without any access to immediate financial figures, the picture up north in fiscal terms is perhaps slightly darker than many people realise. In the financial figures released this time last year, The Mirror reported that Sunderland made a loss £23m with attendance turnover down to £12.6m from £14m and conference and banqueting revenues halved.
Granted, the windfall from increased Premier League TV rights may help wipe out a portion of that debt, but ultimately Defoe is the kind of signing that a team in this financial predicament should be avoiding. What happens, if, in two years time, when the team plateaus to a similar place near the relegation zone and Defoe is injured for three months, out of form, and inadvertently sucking the club money dry? What if the club get relegated and those lucritvie TV streams of money run dry?
While that may be the worst-case scenario the point remains: was there nobody in the world, nobody active on the radar of the extensive Sunderland scouting network, who could offer a more financially viable alternative?
And what message does that send to Conor Wickham, the man who showed glimpses of potential at the end of last season, or Duncan Watmore, or any of the young players working hard to have their chance in the first team?
It sends a mixed, broken message to every player in the youth academy that chances will likely be limited in this Gus Poyet regime. Watmore and Wickham aren’t Harry Kane, but Mauricio Pochettino’s audacity to place faith in youth has paid unyielding dividends. The same can be said of Brendan Rodgers with a 17 year old Raheem Sterling and Jordan Ibe.
Sunderland should have looked to the future. Defoe’s arrival is more synonymous with Chelsea and Man City’s backward club cultures with regards to youth, and the polar opposite to Southampton’s extraordinary break-through into England’s elite.
There’s no doubting that Defoe offers a very viable short-term solution to a long-standing Sunderland problem. He’ll see them through for the next six months but after that it’s back to the drawing board for long-term progress. And for the financial ramifications that come with him, you can’t help but think there must have been some better alternatives to this expensive January outlay.