If this season was supposed to be the antithesis to the stuttering nature of the previous campaign for Jermain Defoe at Tottenham Hotspur, then we’re perhaps left with as many questions as answers as the season winds down this month.
Universally adored by the White Hart Lane faithful and still able to produce moments of scintillating magic, the constants that have always adorned Defoe’s game have been as present this term as they have any other. And most importantly, so have the slew of goals, too.
This season has seen the England man knock away a respectable 15 goals in all competitions this term as he’s looked to confound the doubters that saw no place for him under Andre Villas-Boas’ new outlook at the club.
Far from fading into the periphery and out of the club all together, Defoe has of course experienced a startling change of fortunes under Villas-Boas, after a season on the fringes under Harry Redknapp.
Whereas last season saw the former-West Ham man accumulate a frustrating 11 starts in the Premier League under the now QPR manager, he’s wielded both the trust and backing of Villas-Boas this term, racking up 26 starts and counting in the top-flight this season. Not bad at all for a man who seemingly possessed no future under the Portuguese at the start of the campaign.
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Yet while Defoe has managed to adapt where many of his contemporaries – stand up Mr. Darren Bent – have failed, for as delighted as the N17 crowd have been to see one of their heroes experience yet another renaissance at the club, the 30-year-old’s campaign hasn’t been without its negatives.
Certainly, if this term has underlined the glowing credentials that underline Jermain Defoe’s game, then it’s also thrown up the same issues that have perpetually undermined it.
Given the atrocious season that Emmanuel Adebayor has endured this season, dwelling upon the negatives of Defoe’s skillset hasn’t been a particularly popular aspect amongst many quarters of the Spurs support. Defoe isn’t without his doubters at White Hart Lane, but if there has been a traditional susceptibility to wear the rose-tinted glasses when viewing his performances, Adebayor’s woes have most definitely seen them adorned a little more frequently this year.
But if this season was Defoe’s big opportunity to really lay down a marker down at the club and look to really push on at the peak of his powers in a Tottenham shirt, then the results have been something of a mixed bag.
The 25-goal season that many had down as a given for Defoe should he be given a string of starts hasn’t been quite as forthcoming as perhaps some had expected and although assumptions are always dangerous in this game, this season has perhaps put a real dent in the notion that he has what it takes to carry the burden of a top-four side’s goal threat.
A faulty argument some might suggest, give Defoe’s presence in the fourth-placed finishing sides of both last season and 2010. But while it’s important not to devalue the goals he scored during both of those seasons, it’s perhaps just as important to analyze just why he continues to live with such question marks hanging over his credentials.
After a series of devastating displays at the start of the season, it’s been suggested by some that Villas-Boas’ deployment of the England-man has begun to have something of an adverse effect on him as the goals have dried up in the New Year and beyond. But this isn’t the first time that we’ve seen Defoe struggle to go the distance goalscoring wise.
The 2009/10 season was Defoe’s goalscoring zenith at the club, as he notched up a superb 18 league goals to fire Spurs into the top-four for the first time in the Premier League era. But following the turn of the year that season, Defoe’s goalscoring heroics came to something resembling a grinding halt and far from catalysing his side to success, only four league goals came from January until the end of the season.
And as we’re witnessing this season, while his goalscoring gifts remain a priceless asset, that attribute alone isn’t enough to hide some of his wider failings.
If Tottenham are to progress forward as a club, they need a man for all occasions – someone who can hold the ball up, bring others into play and offer a presence in front of goal over the entire course of the season and perhaps most importantly, a presence in the game over an entire 90 minutes.
Jermain Defoe has done an outstanding job of altering his game to fit within a style of play that ultimately does not play to his strengths, but for as well as he’s done to adapt, it’s simply not enough to serve as a first choice option for another season.
Does this mean he has to be consigned to the scrap heap or even sold this summer? Not by any stretch of the imagination and his ability to create something out of nothing – personified beautifully during his goal off the bench against Manchester City recently – is a gift that Spurs would be foolish to sell.
But if he does stay, Defoe must accept his role as a wider squad player. With his 31st birthday on the horizon this October, the Beckton-born forward isn’t going to find a higher level to ply his trade upon.
First-team football might not be a banker for him next season, but he still has an important role to play at Tottenham Hotspur. It might just be time for supporters to accept that such a role might not be quite as close to the forefront as some would ideally prefer.
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