Friday, September 28, 2012
Defoe out to be the main man
The moment of judgement is fast approaching for Tottenham striker Jermain Defoe and we are about to find out whether his legacy will be cast in gold after all.
As the final whistle blew on what was ultimately an anti-climactic Premier League season for Spurs last May, Defoe must have suspected the lap of honour performed by manager Harry Redknapp and his players at White Hart Lane was also his farewell march as a Spurs player.
At the age of 29, Defoe's existence as a back-up striker had stretched his patience to breaking point, with his fourth-choice striker classification behind anyone Redknapp could find to play instead leaving the darling of the Spurs faithful in little doubt that his future lay elsewhere.
He hardly helped his cause by fluffing his lines when given rare starts in the end of season defeats against Everton, Norwich and QPR, with those three failures ultimately ending Tottenham's dreams of a top three finish. It seemed that when the striker who had long suffered from a debilitating addiction to getting caught offside started for Tottenham, despair was the inevitable outcome.
However, the summer transfer most predicted for Defoe was postponed when Redknapp beat him to the exit door and the little hit-man is using that fortunate career break in the grand manner, as he hit a rich vein of form that has established himself as the first-choice striker under new boss Andre Villas-Boas.
Four goals for his club and a couple more for England add up to a thrilling start to this campaign for Defoe.
"I am not surprised by Jermain's form because his record of scoring goals even when he was not being picked regularly is incredible," stated Villas-Boas at his Thursday press briefing, as he poured praise on his red-hot striker ahead of Saturday's game against Manchester United at Old Trafford.
"For me, I think it is important that Jermain is getting continuous opportunities in the team as he didn't always have this in the past. Yet even then, his levels of motivation and commitment to do well were impressive, so he has earned this chance now.
"We made it clear to Jermain and his agent in the summer that we wanted him to stay at this club and this is why we resolved his contract renewal. Now we are very happy with what he is doing and I'm sure the success he is having will have an impact on the way he feels about himself and his position at this club.
"Jermain is looking extremely happy on the training pitch and that's natural because goals are so important for a striker and he already has four in the Premier League. He is not far off being the division's top scorer, but it is not just his goals that have made him immense for us as he has been creating so much for the team as well."
The plaudits may be justifiably flowing in Defoe's direction right now, but his biggest tests are yet to come as the new Jermain needs to confirm he is so much more than a temporary reincarnation of the striker who has rarely delivered the goods against the very best.
A glance at Defoe's career statistics confirm he has long been a predatory marksman against the lesser lights of the Premier League or lower league clubs in cup competitions, with his end of season goal tally in recent campaigns boosted by strikes against football giants such as Shamrock Rovers, Stevenage and Peterborough.
In essence, Defoe's critics accuse him of being a flat track bully whose figures are boosted by goals that count for little in the final analysis and the record books go some way to backing up that damning opinion when you delve a little deeper.
Defoe boasts a woeful record against sides that have finished the season in the top four of the Premier League and that is especially true on enemy territory, where he has been unable to make any kind of consistent mark since 2004. Remarkably, he took 34 games to score his away first goal against a side that went on to finish in a Champions League position, with his strike in a losing effort against Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium last January breaking that duck.
So if this rebooted Defoe is to emerge as the real deal this season, he needs to deliver in games such as the one he is preparing for this Saturday at Old Trafford and it may be that his unexpected success in Villas-Boas's 4-2-3-1 formation will belatedly unlock the full array of his talents.
"It takes some time for me to adapt to playing as the only striker in the team, but I'm enjoying it," stated Defoe. "The service I am getting from the players behind me is good, so hopefully we can get it to work for us.
"We are all adapting to what the manager wants and it takes a bit of time when someone new comes in and has different ideas. Hopefully people appreciate we are making progress now and there is a feeling around the training ground that everyone is raring to go. I include myself in that, obviously. Everyone knows how much I love Tottenham and I just want to do well for this club."
Defoe's status as an international squad regular over the last eight years has been helped by the reality that he finds himself in a barren era for England strikers, yet this polarising figure looks set to be given his best chance yet of shedding his image as one of the game's nearly men.
The striker who will celebrate his 30th birthday next weekend boasts a trophy cabinet as bare as it was when he turned professional with West Ham back in 1999, so this is the season when he needs cement a place in the game's record books as a winner at last.
Many a top manager over the last decade has refused to believe in his ability against the very best, but Villas-Boas looks set to buck that trend and hand this goal scoring enigma the sort of responsibility he has rarely been entrusted with before.
If Defoe is to be indelibly immortalised as a genuine top class striker at last, his moment to strike has to be now.
ALL TIME PREMIER LEAGUE LEADING SCORERS
Alan Shearer - 260
Andy Cole - 187
Thierry Henry - 176
Robbie Fowler - 163
Frank Lampard - 152
Les Ferdinand/Michael Owen - 149
Teddy Sheringham - 147
Wayne Rooney - 144
Jimmy Floyd Hasselbank - 127
Robbie Keane - 126
Nicolas Anelka/ Dwight Yorke 123
Jermain Defoe - 116