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Black Cats Analects: Last Call For Defoe

Jermain Defoe has been doing the national media rounds in the last couple of weeks - appearing on the likes of Skysports and talkSPORT - and the big question he has been asked continuously is "you're in such good form - why can't you get into the England squad?"

England Training Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Let’s be clear here - this is not another propaganda recital insisting an England call-up for Jermain Defoe. That has been done to death near everywhere, and we don’t do demands here.

Methodically-prepared suggestions, however, we can definitely do.

But let’s face it; no matter who of any of us say that we don’t want it, it’s a good feeling to see one of our own players do well for the national team. As soon as the match-day commentator refers to our club or any reference to the word ‘Sunderland’, that makes us think of Wearside in a positive way, and that makes us happy. And people like being happy.

In the interest of fairness, however, there needs to be a mutually beneficial balance of realism as it relates to the England squad. It would be great for Jermain Defoe to earn that extra call-up, sure. But what good would this really do for England?

Besides the part where Defoe is the leading national goal scorer in the Premier League, has an eight-goal haul that carries a weighty 53% of his club’s league total, and is statistically as good a goal-scorer today as he was during his perceived ‘prime’ years over half a decade ago.

If England call-ups were entirely founded on meritocracy then, yes, Jermain Defoe more than deserves his place in the 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers. After all, it’s logical enough: if the thirty-something natural goal scorer is out-performing other strikers from the service of a poorer club squad, then he should be given the opportunity to do the same when surrounded by ‘better’ players in the national team. See: thirty-five year old, Aritz Aduriz.

However!

There isn’t a better example of England’s paralleling progression and regression than the major tournament qualifiers. The sorry truth is England produces players too good for nations that don’t qualify but not good enough against nations that do, and the qualification rounds tend to mask this. The bottom line is it would take a botched cock-up of monumental proportion for Gareth Southgate to miss out on qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

And, unfortunately, he does not need Jermain Defoe to get through those qualifiers.

The setup for England, as it stands, lingers on this attempted encouragement for young talent to be developed and elevated into the national team by summer 2018. Some of the established names playing today may be surplus to requirement two years from now, but one who we can expect to see is Harry Kane.

Kane is inevitably going to be the first team striker for England forevermore, whereas other young centre forwards (e.g., Marcus Rashford) require exposure to the national setup in order to develop. These youthful players are part of a bigger picture at England; one that Gareth Southgate advocates, and one that requires for young players to be as consistent in two years from now as they are today.

Can we expect Jermain Defoe to be as consistent two years from now as he is today? That’s up in the air, especially since most people had him written off the day he left for Major League Soccer.

And that’s already just two debates that argue against granting Defoe one more England cap: the national team is pushing for a youth-implemented ideology that our striker is not a part of, and England’s qualifying fixtures are so winnable that Defoe is not even needed to ensure this happens.

But, that said, the leading English goal scorer in the Premier League is still Jermain Defoe, just as the statistics covering centre forwards this season all point to the most in-form guy being Jermain Defoe, and if you were to ask ‘which striker is winning matches for his team the most?’, the answer is Jermain Defoe.

So right now, we have a situation where we shouldn’t be asking why Jermain Defoe should play for England again because, really, Southgate would have nothing to lose by doing it.

Again, England will qualify for the 2018 World Cup. It is inevitable. Harry Kane will start for England. That is also inevitable. The young, untested and unproven alternatives, such as Marcus Rashford, will (and should) play ahead of a striker in his mid-thirties. Their development is far too important to be ignored and these are the players that should be prioritised leading up to the finals of a major international tournament.

However, so long as Jermain Defoe is performing at the level he currently is, he should be considered as a last resort call-up to be used from the bench. The man is blatantly in the form of his career and any national team would do well to take advantage of that. After all, there will be occasions when England may just need an experienced goal scorer; whether it be to ease the pressure on the starting strikers for a quarter-hour, or to be the ‘plan c’ against a stubborn defence. The last thing Gareth Southgate needs is a missed opportunity somewhere, as thousands of Sunderland fans roll their eyes, mumbling “Defoe would’ve buried that.”

Put it this way. When it comes to Defoe playing for England – why not?