What to do with Jermain Defoe?

Jermain Defoe, Tottenham HotspurThere is a renewed sense of optimism at White Hart Lane this summer after the club appointed Andre Villas-Boas to take over the reins. The new manager has set his sights high, with early talk dominated by the future possibility of a title tilt. With that in mind, the club need to look at pressing ahead with the restructuring of the playing staff, moving on some of the more experienced fringe members of the squad, with Jermain Defoe prime among them.

The 34 year-old Portuguese manager arrives at the club looking to rebuild his burgeoning reputation after having it damaged by the fiasco at Stamford Bridge last term, where he was cruelly sacked for merely doing the job that he was appointed to do in the first place, but ahead of schedule.

Despite that setback at Chelsea, the club clearly have a forward-thinking manager at the helm now as opposed to a media lackey in Harry Redknapp – he comes with a set style of play, an ethos and system that he likes to use, with 4-3-3 predominantly his formation of choice at both Chelsea and Porto, but does Defoe fit into such a system?

If you were going on strength in depth, there is of course an argument for keeping Defoe around. In just 25 league games last year, during which he started just 11 as he fell out of favour with Redknapp, he still managed to bag 11 goals, which is a tidy return considering his relative lack of action, but he usually works best in a partnership and with somebody up alongside him.

Gylfi Sigurdsson or Rafael van der Vaart look likely to fill in the slot at the tip of the midfield trio over the course of the coming campaign and the role does dictate the pressing need to get closer to the lone central forward, but Defoe lacks the one-touch ability and hold up play usually required for the position that Emmanuel Adebayor is more than comfortable with. Daniel Sturridge excelled under Villas-Boas out wide on the right despite fancying himself in a more central role, but it looks as if Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon will occupy both these roles on the flanks and yet again, Defoe’s face doesn’t quite fit.

There also has to be some concerns about Defoe’s consistency over the course of a long campaign. Taking into account the three seasons between 2008-09 and 2010-11 season, Defoe scored 37 goals. In 2008-9 they came against Burnley, Wigan, Newcastle and Manchester City (before they were the club they are today).

In 2009/10 his goals were against the following sides – Chelsea (1), Blackburn (1), Wigan (1), Bolton (1), Leeds (3), Birmingham (1), Peterborough (1), West Ham (1), Manchester City (1), Everton (1), Wigan (5), Portsmouth (1), Preston (1), Manchester United (1), West Ham (1), Hull City (3). Of his 24 goals that campaign, he scored 11 of them in just 3 games against the likes of world-beaters Wigan, Leeds and Hull.

Before striking a double in the league against Wolves in 2010-11, during a campaign beset by injury and suspension troubles, he went 17 games without a goal, a run that stretched over the course of two seasons. The myth often propagated by Redknapp was that Defoe was lazily referred to as a 25 goal a season striker – at  no point has he ever scored 25 goals in a season – he has only scored over 20 goals across all competitions twice; once in 2003/4 (9 of which came in the early rounds of the Carling and FA Cups) and in 2009/10, 11 of which came in the three aforementioned games above. That’s simply not good enough to earn himself a starting role under the new boss.

Retaining Defoe as an impact player off the bench clearly carries some merit, as his record last term will surely testify to, but whether that would be enough for the player remains to be seen and he seemed to be getting itchy feet towards the end of last season with his reduced role, later stating that he thought about leaving the club during the January transfer window.

At 29 years of age, he is in danger of falling off the international scene unless he can secure regular guaranteed first-team football soon, after already falling behind the likes of Danny Welbeck and Andy Carroll in the pecking order under new boss Roy Hodgson. This can’t be looked at solely from the fan’s perspective of ‘well he’s a good player so let’s keep him’, there’s far more to look at when judging an issue like this.

He served a purpose before, helping the club get the point where they are now, but both the club and player are faced with a genuinely tough decision over the next few weeks – he doesn’t quite fit into the new system and isn’t good enough to warrant regular selection, while at this point in his career, that is what Defoe requires above all else.

Any move has to be predicated on getting a replacement into the club first, but with the club shopping around the calibre of Santi Cazorla, Oscar and Joao Moutinho, the club’s aspirations clearly outstrip the abilities of the player in question. It’s a new era, an exciting one at that, and Defoe should be thanked for his service and edged politely towards the exit door. That’s not a slight on the player, more a dawning realisation of where the club are and what they want to achieve going forward.

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