Jermain Defoe might not harness Ledley King levels of idolization, although it’s fair to say he’s been one of the most popular players in and around White Hart Lane since his initial move from West Ham in 2004. As a fantastic goal scorer, a hard worker and a man who’s never had a bad word to say about the club, Defoe retains a really quite fond place in the hearts of many in N17.
But sometimes in football, faith and allegiance has more than a tendency to detach itself from reality. And whilst the Spurs fans relationship with Defoe is something of a marriage built on adulation, the coaching staff’s has too often felt like a marriage of convenience. There have been whispers that Defoe may be set to receive a new contract offer at Tottenham. The truth is though, however nice that contract may seem in principal, it’s not one that Defoe should be taking.
Because if the England striker really wants to leave his mark on the Premier League and he truly wants to continue harboring an international career, then he may have to depart White Hart Lane. With his 30th birthday approaching two months tomorrow, his next contract will be his last big one. Signing on the dotted line for Andre Villas-Boas’ brave new era may or may not bring success- but the chances are it won’t bring first-team football.
As Defoe netted for Spurs in their pre-season win over Watford in Sunday’s victory, it felt as if a bit of striking decorum had eased over White Hart Lane. Like several seasons gone by, the site of Defoe running riot in Spurs’ warm up games has hardly heralded cause for concern. A top goal scorer netting for his side in a top team; what’s there to worry about that?
For Spurs supporters of course, scratching under the surface reveals a rather heavily documented, but still equally concerning issue up front. Defoe is their only recognized striker at the club. His rival? A talented, but unproven 19-year-old in Harry Kane, who’s yet to play in the Premier League. Not too much competition for the England international, then.
Although things are going to change before the transfer window shuts. Regardless of how late Tottenham will leave it, and the other implications that brings, they will bring in at least one other centre forward. Whoever that is/they are, they’re competing with Defoe for one spot up front.
The Andre Villas-Boas system only caters for one striker. In his slick 4-2-3-1 set-up (of 4-3-3 at Porto), there is only ever one, out-and-out striker on the pitch. And ominously for Defoe, the style of that striker is pretty unconducive with how he likes to ply his trade. AVB likes the bigger, more mobile and adept frontman. Radamel Falcao, Didier Drogba and Fernando Torres (however much that may be ridiculed) all have more varied games than Defoe. They can hold the ball up, interweave with link up play and bring a physical presence to the fore. Being a great goalscorer isn’t enough in a 4-2-3-1- you have to have a more eclectic striking game.
For Jermain Defoe, that spells trouble. Defoe is a great striker, but he is something of a specialist one at that. If you set your game up around him, you could get 20 league goals plus out of him. His game is built around running at defenders, latching onto through balls and causing chaos, with the odd bit of poaching thrown in.
But whilst that style can see Defoe prosper immensely, there’s perhaps only so far that can take the team as a whole. Darren Bent doesn’t play in too much of a dissimilar style. But there’s no coincidence that the teams in which he always offers such a great goal return, always hit a glass ceiling in the league.
Defoe is perhaps the more naturally talented footballer than Darren Bent, but that point still stands. Whoever it is that Spurs bring in, you’d probably put a large amount of money on them starting in front of Defoe. It feels hard to see how that will change immensely during the season.
The problem for Defoe is that Spurs simply play better as a unit when he’s out the team. He can however, still play his part for Tottenham- just not necessarily in a role that will get him into the England team.
Tottenham Hotspur must have a Plan B and you can trace the problems of this as long ago as the back-end of 2010. Where as it was first Crouch and Van der Vaart, last term the first choice pairing was Adebayor and Van der Vaart. But whilst Spurs played better in the 4-4-1-1 set-up, the only way out for the Lilywhite’s under Redknapp seemed to be by whacking Defoe up front for the final moments and hoping for the best. He was underutilized last season and still got 17 goals in all competitions. He is a valuable asset and someone who can genuinely create something out of nothing.
But is that going to be enough for Defoe? The striker is beginning to enter some of the most critical years of his career. He should be now at his peak and as he enters his 30s in October, playing first team football must now be the most important thing. If that’s what he truly craves, then a prolonged stay at Tottenham is only a stay of execution.
It could be argued that even if Defoe craved a departure from White Hart Lane, Daniel Levy might not sanction it. Spurs are at risk of leaving themselves in a hole, such is their current dithering in the transfer market for various reasons. They’re not going to let the only recognized striker they have left on the books leave with less than a fortnight to go before the season starts.
Short of signing for Arsenal, Jermain Defoe is always going to be thought of fondly at White Hart Lane. Spurs won’t want to let him go and he could still have an important role to play at the club. The question is whether that role is one that’s going to be enough to satisfy Defoe- and the answer isn’t necessarily one anyone may want to hear.
How do you see Jermain Defoe’s role at the club next season? A genuine future or no more than a bit-part fixture? Let me know how you see it going on Twitter: for all the Spurs talk, follow @samuel_antrobus and bat me your views.