||ESPNsoccernet: Euro 2012
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Defoe: Spurs key to England success
Jermain Defoe's place in Fabio Capello's England plans may be far from assured, but the striker believes his team-mates at Tottenham have already shown they deserve to be integral members of Capello's squad for next summer's European Championships.
It's a status Defoe has often longed for, yet continues to elude him.
The 29-year-old has played a credible 46 times for his country during his career yet, in a quirk that ably illustrates his fluctuating role, has never once completed the full 90 minutes. Yet in recent months he has seen two of his Spurs team-mates, Scott Parker and Kyle Walker, elevate themselves into discussions about their place in the starting XI.
Defoe, having seen how Parker has revitalised the White Hart Lane dressing room since joining in the summer, believes the former West Ham captain should be the first name on Capello's teamsheet when next summer's European Championships finally arrive.
"Scott Parker is a natural leader, someone I believe we should have had years ago," Defoe told ESPN, while attending the inaugural EFF Charity Cup. "Even before the game, the things he says ... he's a born winner.
"When he plays the game it's like he's possessed. [He] just wants to win games and he gets everyone going. He's done well for us - a massive signing."
While Parker, along with Emmanuel Adebayor, was Harry Redknapp's most notable signing of the summer - proving instrumental in the club's early-season title-chasing form - the return of Kyle Walker after a loan spell at Aston Villa has also proven a revelation for the club. The right-back has instantly solved what had threatened to be a troublesome position at White Hart Lane.
Now challenging Glen Johnson for a starting role with the national team, Defoe is happy to press the 21-year-old's case. After making his debut against Spain in November before winning man of the match honours on his first full start against Sweden, it's Walker's fearlessness - a quality England have been accused of lacking in recent years - that Defoe believes would add to the team.
"[He's] unbelievable. I've got to big up my Tottenham mates anyway," Defoe acknowledges. "A young lad who's come into the team, but he's got pace and power - for me he's got everything to be England right-back for the next ten years.
"He's still young, he's still got a lot to learn - but he's been unbelievable for us at the club.
"Someone like Kyle Walker is never fazed anyway - he's confident, he knows he's a good player. [He's] a natural athlete who I think could do well at [international] level."
Tottenham have made a great start to the current Premier League campaign - with Sunday's controversial loss to Stoke City their first since opening with understandable defeats to the two Manchester clubs - and Defoe thinks that is another lesson for England.
He believes avoiding the likes of Spain and Germany in the group stages is an advantage, giving the squad a chance to build some momentum against France, Sweden and Ukraine before they meet the top teams later in the competition.
"At that level it's always going to be difficult, no matter who you play," he notes. "I think it's just a case of getting off to a good start and see where you go from there. But I'm quite confident we'll get out of the group.
"To win a major tournament you have to face the top teams at some point, but if you avoid those at the beginning then you can win games and build confidence. I think the key is just to get off to a good start."
England beat world champions Spain at Wembley during their most recent international week, so should any team hold fears for Capello's men? Defoe thinks the result at Wembley will have given the whole setup a new-found confidence: "Knowing that you can go into a game like that and win. It wasn't like Spain played a weaker team, they had their top boys out. So I think confidence-wise it's good for the players having that win for the players and the manager is great for the boys."
His task now is to get back among that group. Defoe hasn't been included in an international squad since September's qualifier against Wales, and hasn't made an appearance since a half-hour cameo against Ghana in March. While Parker and Walker become increasingly relevant at international level, Defoe still has plenty of work to do - especially as young upstarts including Daniel Sturridge and Danny Welbeck offer Capello different options to Defoe's perceived poacher's threat.
Defoe (who averages a goal every 124 minutes for England) doesn't believe that means he should be counted out, however, even if Capello is keeping his cards close to his chest.
"It's difficult," he acknowledges. "I understand it's difficult for the manager to go around and explain to every player why there are or aren't in the squad. It's a case of doing my job for Tottenham, scoring goals and playing well.
"I think it helps if you've been to a tournament before. It's different when you are there, with the pressure and expectation. Players that have been there and played in a tournament know what it is about."
Defoe has a chequered history when it comes to international tournaments, finally appearing (and, against Slovenia, making a decisive impact) at the 2010 World Cup after missing out on the final cut in agonising fashion for both Euro 2004 and the 2006 World Cup in Germany (where he was the fall-guy for Theo Walcott's ill-fated inclusion).
With Team GB set to enter a team at the London 2012 Olympics next summer, Defoe could be a candidate to fill one of the three over-age berths in the prospective squad (although David Beckham seems almost guaranteed to in that trio). Defoe is clear, however, that being an Olympian would be no compensation for a third bout of major tournament heart-break.
"I don't know ... it would be a dream," Defoe starts when asked about London 2012, temporarily lapsing into the safe banalities loved by footballers, before correcting himself, "but I have to go to the Euros. I have to go.
"Going to a major tournament, having that buzz - it's hard to put into words. It's a dream to go there, and to play. It's the biggest thing you can achieve in your career and to go again would be a dream."
Jermain Defoe was speaking at the first ever EFF Charity Cup, in support of charities including Cancer Research and Help for Heroes.
Jermain Defoe on Euro 2012 ambitions