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Exclusive: Jermain Defoe on his Rangers dream, West Ham exit and leaving Spurs twice

This exclusive interview with Jermain Defoe is in conjunction with On The Ball, available to download on Apple and Google Play now!

Very few players split opinion between Tottenham and West Ham fans like Jermain Defoe does.

For the former, he is a goalscoring hero having scored almost 150 goals across two very successful spells in North London. For the latter, he’s a player who is perceived to have betrayed his roots by trying to leave at a time when the Hammers needed him most.

But regardless of all that, the striker has enjoyed a hugely successful career, in which he has scored for every club he’s played for and is currently on a mission to help Rangers win their first SPL title since 2011.

For young football fans, he’s a role model both on and off the pitch. If his goalscoring exploits for both club and country weren’t inspirational enough, his charitable work away from the pitch certainly is.

On the pitch, it’s no secret that making it in football is the dream of millions of kids around the world and it’s even less of a secret that it’s one of the most difficult industries to be successful in.

To make it, you need dedication, sacrifice, hard work and perseverance, and even then it still might not enough to earn a pro-contract. However, there is a new app that is designed to help footballers of all ages to gain an edge both on and off the pitch.

On The Ball is the world’s best football training platform and offers users of all ages and abilities access to tailored training programs created by Premier League players, to help teach real skills and training techniques. With over 1,000 training videos demonstrated by some of the biggest names in the game, users literally have everything they need in one place in order to improve their fitness, skills and technique whenever they need it.

Jermain Defoe is a huge supporter of the On The Ball App and he spoke exclusively to Football FanCast to talk us through what he loves most about the platform and, of course, some of the biggest talking points of his career to date.

What do you love about the On The Ball App?

“If I was a kid now I would be excited about the app. There’s like a thousand drills on there, so to be able to download something to my phone and be able to use it to develop my skills would have been so useful. The people behind it are players who have played at the highest level, they’ve played in the Premier League and for their countries.

“I would have been all over it. Drills on dribbling, passing, fitness, it’s an unbelievable idea, to be honest! Kids, even coaches, of all ages and abilities will definitely benefit from it for sure.”

Where did your hunger and commitment to make it come from when you were growing up?

“Football has always been a real passion of mine, even from a very young age. It came from my family as well, though. I always knew the importance of working hard growing up, my Mum used to always drill into me that if I was ever going to achieve anything then I had to work hard to get it.

“Growing up, my Nan and Grandad came over from the Caribbean and worked really hard. My grandad worked in the meat factory and my Nan worked in the sugar factory. My mum was a single parent before my sister came along. So everything I saw around me was people grafting.

“I used to always tell my Mum that I wanted to be a professional footballer. Ever since I could walk and talk, I wanted to play football. My Mum supported me with that but always told me that I had to work hard, that I had to always work harder than the person next to me. That’s the sort of mentality I had growing up.”

Despite that commitment, fighting the temptation to take your foot off the gas and do what your mates were doing must’ve been difficult…

“Yeah, of course. When you’re young, sometimes parents say things that you don’t fully understand and obviously there were times I just wanted to go out with my mates.

“We lived on an estate and from my bedroom window, I could see my friends at night just chilling with girls, drinking and stuff like that. Even if I didn’t want to get involved in all that stuff, I just wanted to be out there having a bit of banter.

“But to be fair, I always listened and I thought, at the end of the day, if I want to fulfill all my dreams and goals, I’m just going to listen to my Mum and see where it takes me.”

At West Ham, things didn’t end in the way that you would’ve wanted and you ended up leaving on a sour note. What happened there?

“When I signed for West Ham, there was a lot of pressure at the time because they had to pay Charlton something like £1.6million because apparently they’d made an illegal approach for me. I was only 16-years-old, so there was a lot of pressure there.

“I made my debut at 17, scored in the cup, and everything started going so well. I loved it at West Ham and a lot of my family were West Ham fans.

“So everything was going so well and we all know what the fans are like with young players coming through, they love you.

“But then my agent at the time advised me to hand in a transfer request. I was naive and never had to deal with anything like that before. I was young and didn’t really know about transfer requests.

“The backlash was just crazy! I obviously stayed until January before Tottenham came in for me and then I was thinking, ‘Tottenham are a massive football club,’ and I wanted to go.”

You picked up three red cards in quick succession before that January move which, knowing how your career has gone, was very out of character. Was that out of frustration that you weren’t sold in the summer?

“Obviously you look at that and think it’s so out of character. Looking from a West Ham fans’ point of view, I understand why they might think I was doing it on purpose but if you really knew me, you’d know all I want to do is score goals and play every game, so why would I want to miss football matches?

“At the time I felt like I was a target for players I played against and the referees. That’s how I felt. People were trying to wind me up and referees weren’t really protecting me because I was in the spotlight after what had happened with the transfer request.

“So I had so much anger and I was so frustrated with the whole transfer request situation. I didn’t really know what was going on.”

Rumour has it that you nearly returned to West Ham years later?

“Yeah, I nearly went back to West Ham. I spoke to Mark Noble on the phone and he explained that the club wanted me back, that they needed someone to score goals, but at the time I said I wasn’t going to leave Sunderland because they had done a lot for me and I had a special relationship with the fans, but I didn’t rule it out for the future.

“Obviously it didn’t happen but the West Ham fans, despite all the stick they used to give me when I was at Spurs, were buzzing. Some of the positive messages I was getting on social media made me think that despite all that stick they gave me, they would’ve welcomed me back.”

After four years at Spurs you left for Portsmouth. How did that come about?

“It was a hard decision for me to make. I loved it at Spurs. But we had a change of manager, Juande Ramos came in. He had different ideas.

“One day in training he said something to me, I said something back, and then he told me that if I wasn’t happy I could leave. Even the players couldn’t believe he’d said it to me.

“So I phoned my agent and told him what the manager said. Ramos spoke to Daniel Levy about it and the chairman was like: ‘Are you joking? That is not happening!’

“The next game I was given the armband to be captain! It was strange.

“So it was a footballing decision in the end. I spoke to Harry Redknapp, who was at Portsmouth at the time, and he just said: “JD, come and play for me.” I love Harry, everyone knows I love Harry, and he never used to complicate things. All he said to me was ‘focus on scoring goals, that’s it.’

“At the time Pompey had an unbelievable team. Sol Campbell, Sylvain Distin, David James, Sulley Muntari, Milan Baros, Niko Kranjcar, Hermann Hreidarsson. The team was unbelievable, so I was happy I was going to them.

“Redknapp was the manager, they call him my Dad in football, so it was perfect for me. But it was so hard to leave Tottenham. I just felt like I had no choice. I just couldn’t play for Juande Ramos.”

You soon returned to Tottenham after a short spell at Portsmouth, but there was also an offer from Juventus on the table…

“When Redknapp left Portsmouth for Tottenham I was just sitting there waiting for the phone to ring. Eventually, he called me and told me he wanted to bring me back.

“I was waiting for days for a deal to happen but during that time I had a phone call from a different agent who had a close relationship with Italian clubs, and he told me that if the Tottenham deal doesn’t get done ASAP then he was going to take me to Juventus because they wanted me.

“I had no problem with that because Juventus is a massive football club, a giant, but deep down I just wanted to go back to Tottenham. I felt like I had unfinished business there.

“I felt the love there, not just from the fans but from the people working at the club. The people that worked in the canteen, the laundry girls, I had a close relationship with everyone at Tottenham and I didn’t want to leave in the first place.

“To get the opportunity to go back was my number one priority but if it didn’t happen then obviously Juventus were waiting.”

And then a move to the MLS followed. How did that come about and why did you only last 11 months before coming back?

“When Toronto first came in for me there was no way I wanted it to happen. I had just signed a new contract with Tottenham and at the time I just thought I was going to end my career there.

“But then I spoke to Tim Leiweke, who was responsible for bringing David Beckham to LA Galaxy, and then spoke to Daniel Levy about it.

“If it was another Premier League club interested in me then Levy wouldn’t have let me go but he said that as it was an unbelievable opportunity for me and my family, he wouldn’t stand in my way if I wanted to see if I could get a deal done.

“When I was there I could get Premier League games on the TV at home and I used to sit there and miss the Premier League, naturally. Harry called me again and told me QPR wanted to sign me and stuff like that.

“But then I had a hernia and needed to travel back to London to see a specialist. After that, I was doing some rehab in the south of France when I got a text from Gus Poyet, who was Sunderland manager at the time. He told me he wanted to sign me and build a team around me.

“Obviously I knew Gus, I played with him at Tottenham, and it was an opportunity for me to come back to the Premier League and score goals.

“But even then it was difficult because Toronto weren’t having it, they didn’t want me to go. I didn’t want to let them down because they had worked so hard to bet me there, but I just wanted to be back in the best league in the world.”

Throughout your career you’ve played in some top derbies – where does the Old Firm rank?

“It’s the best. It’s unbelievable. I appreciate all the derbies I’ve played in but when I spoke to Graeme Souness before I signed for Rangers, he told me it’s the best football match in the world.

“But you have to experience what it’s like, it’s a special game. When we beat them 2-0 at home, the atmosphere was incredible. I was looking around, almost in a trance, looking at the crowd bouncing, it gave me goosebumps. It really was amazing.”

Do you think Rangers have what it takes to win the SPL title again within the next couple of years?

“I said it when I signed, I believe it’s only a matter of time before it happens. Celtic fans give me a bit of banter about it on social media but I do genuinely believe it’s only a matter of time.

“For one, Rangers fans are special. They travel everywhere. And then when I look at the coaching staff, the manager and his presence, and the whole team, the club has everything it needs to be successful. Everything, even down to the food we’re eating at the training ground.

“The squad is so strong. We do 11v11 in training and we all wonder afterward what team the manager is going to pick at the weekend because he can literally pick two different teams. Having that keeps everyone on their toes, which is good.

“If we win the league again that’s 55 titles. It’ll be a special one and to be a part of something like that would be mad.”

It would also stop Celtic winning 10 titles in a row…

“I’m not even focused on that. I’m just focused on being a part of Rangers history. When you walk down the tunnel and on to the pitch at Ibrox you can see the names of great players on a board and I say to the players, if we can be on that board one day then we’ve done something special.

“When you’re on that board you know that even after you leave, you’re always welcome back. So to see my name on that board one day would be unbelievable.”

What’s Steven Gerrard like as a manager?

“He’s amazing. It cannot be easy going from being a player to a manager. It’s not easy!

“Imagine trying to keep 25 players happy. You pick your best XI but then you’ve got to keep the others happy at all times as well. It’s literally impossible.

“The way he is honest with the players, he always tells us that if we’ve got a problem then his office door is open. The way he handles the press is amazing because it is not easy up there.

“And the team he’s got around him. We’ve got an identity and we know how we want to play and that’s something that’s been worked on in pre-season. Everyone knows their roles and responsibilities.

“And even now, with the current situation, we’ve got something where we can go and look at the sessions that we’ve had during training or with tactical sessions, just so it all stays fresh in our minds.

“We’ve got everything under Steven Gerrard at Rangers to be successful and when it happens, it’ll be a dream come true.”

You’ve recently signed a one-year contract extension at Rangers – what happens after that? Is retirement an option yet?

“I got a message from a Rangers fan today saying, ‘you better play until you’re 40!’

“I still feel sharp and fit. People ask me how I do it, even players from my generation ask me how I’m still fit and playing at the top level. I don’t ever miss a training session. I train every single day. I look after myself as well as I can.

“I’m doing my coaching badges at the moment because, at the back end of your career, you’ll always think about what you want to do next, whether it’s becoming a coach or a manager.”

Does management appeal to you?

“I don’t know yet. I’m just going to do my badges and then see what happens. At the end of the day, if you love football and you’ve got an opportunity to stay in the game and give something back then why not?”

To be a better player or coach, improve your fitness and develop your ball skills with On The Ball, download the App on Apple and Google Play now!

Article title: Exclusive: Jermain Defoe on his Rangers dream, West Ham exit and leaving Spurs twice

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