Defoe exit makes sense for Spurs

Posted by John Crace

The worst kept secret at White Hart Lane is out. Jermain Defoe is off to MLS side Toronto FC at the end of February for a fee reported to be in the region of six million pounds. It's a deal that suits both parties. At the age of 31 and unable to get regular first team football at Spurs, Defoe has accepted that the best of his career is over.

He isn't in the reckoning for a place in Roy Hodgson's England World Cup squad, so the chance of a good final pay day -- Toronto are believed to be paying him 68,000 pounds per week, with that potentially rising to 90,000 pounds per week, for a four year contract -- with regular first team football as the attractive offer. For Spurs chairman, Daniel Levy, six million pounds for an ageing striker is good business.

- Report: Tottenham agree to Defoe deal

Defoe first came to Spurs from West Ham in 2004, making 177 appearances and scoring 64 goals before moving to Portsmouth in 2008. He returned to White Hart Lane the following year, making a further 185 appearances and scoring 78 goals. Earlier this season, his penalty against FC Sheriff in the Europa League took his tally of goals scored in European competitions to 23, breaking the club record held by Martin Chivers.

In recent seasons, Defoe has struggled to command regular first team football, with successive managers seeing him more as an impact substitute. Though his goals to minutes played ratio was one of the best in the league, some maintained he was too much of a flat track bully; a player who could score at will against lesser teams, but who was too easily nullified by top-class opposition. Initially, this seemed a harsh assessment of his talent; this season it did begin to carry some truth. Whether it was age catching up with him or an erosion of confidence, the pace and touch with which Defoe used to create space for himself seemed to have gone missing. Even against quite ordinary Premier League sides, he couldn't buy a goal.

The problem that Spurs have given themselves with Defoe's transfer is that the rest of the Spurs strike force is also struggling to buy goals. And given that Spurs are unlikely to be able to find a top-class replacement for Defoe in the January window -- even assuming Levy was prepared to pay over the odds for one -- they will have to make do with what they have for the last two and a half months of the season.

What they have is Emmanuel Adebayor, Roberto Soldado and Harry Kane. Adebayor has been among the goals since new manager Tim Sherwood brought him back into the fold shortly before Christmas, but relying on him to retain both interest and fitness for the next five months is a bit of a long shot.

Against Arsenal in last weekend's FA Cup tie, Adebayor was already showing signs of fatigue. Ideally, Sherwood would want to rest the striker to allow him to regain strength and match fitness. Unfortunately, Adebayor is key to the attack. The whole 4-4-2 system is predicated on Adebayor playing up front and holding up the ball; without him, the formation is unworkable. There's no one in the squad who can play in Adebayor's place.

Soldado is also a long way from being the striker Spurs need. Alvaro Negredo, whom Manchester City bought in the summer from Sevilla for about half the fee Spurs paid Valencia for Soldado has so far looked twice the player. At times, Soldado has almost looked the part; his penalty taking has been nerveless and some of his passing exquisite, but his radar for goals from open play has gone missing.

On the few occasions he does shoot, he consistently misses the target. While it's reasonable to assume, Soldado is the real deal and that his confidence will return some day, there's no way of knowing just when that someday will be. Sherwood clearly hoped that by keeping Defoe on the bench and making it clear Soldado was his number one choice, the Spaniard would find his scoring feet. That has not happened. And with Defoe's transfer, Spurs are now committed to playing Soldado regardless of how many goals he doesn't score.

The one relative unknown is Kane. We know that Sherwood rates him; what no one knows is whether the youngster has what it takes to succeed at the Premiership. He showed against Manchester United that he has a strong physical presence and that he can make a nuisance of himself with defenders. It's yet to be seen if he can also has the skill and power to score goals. And if either Adebayor or Soldado get injured, then it's Kane on whom the club will be relying to get them.

On paper, Saturday's game against Crystal Palace should be a gimme for Spurs. Indeed, if the team plays to its potential, then it should be. But Palace, under new manager Tony Pulis, are no pushover and Spurs have consistently struggled all season to break down teams who come to White Hart Lane with the sole ambition of putting 10 men behind the ball and hoping to sneak a goal on the break.

So if Spurs are to win, Sherwood needs to show he can be more tactically flexible when required and the team needs to show more intensity, creativity and pace. With Soldado likely to be facing a late fitness test, Defoe could even get a final outing in the starting XI. If he does, it would be a fitting way for the fans to say goodbye to one of the club's longest-serving players. It would be even more fitting, if Defoe repaid the fans with a goal or two.


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