"... I’m really excited about the new season and the prospect of another campaign in Europe. We have made some good signings and are now stronger and better equipped to compete in all competitions ..."
Jermain Colin Defoe said that. He’s not talking about Sunderland, obviously. That quote was from July 2007, when Martin Jol’s Tottenham Hotspur challenged for the UEFA Cup, and Defoe himself was set to produce another high-haul of goals for the season. Flash-forward nine years, to 2016, and the only competition Defoe need concentrate his form on is survival in the Premier League.
Fortunately, it’s a league he’s bloody good at scoring in.
Jermain Defoe was in demand as early as 1999, when he was just 16 years old, and Harry Redknapp pinched the striker for West Ham United on a bargain fee from Charlton Athletic. It took only one loan stint at AFC Bournemouth in 2000 for the teenager to prove his value, with 18 goals in 29 matches for the ‘Cherries’, and an immediate call-up to Howard Wilkinson’s England U21 team.
For the 2001/2002 Premier League season, Hammers chief, Glenn Roeder, instilled the young Defoe as West Ham United’s impact striker; a sub for Paolo Di Canio whose energy and pace ran rampant against weary defences. That inevitably changed, and Defoe fast became the club’s starting centre forward. He netted the club-best 10 goals in 35 starts that season, and 8 in 38 during Roeder’s ill-fated 2002/2003 relegation year.
By January 2004, Defoe’s 11 goals in 19 apps was too good for the First Division; and Tottenham Hotspur caretaker manager/Sporting Director, David Pleat, took the half-risky £7.88m dice roll. Back in the Premier League, Defoe was partnered with Robbie Keane and Gustavo Poyet, and snapped up another 7 goals in 15 matches for the ‘Lilywhites’. This in-form campaign earned him his senior England debut under Sven-Göran Eriksson in March 2004. He was just 21 years old.
Defoe’s first four-year-stint at White Hart Lane took him through the managerial upheavals of Martin Jol, Jacques Santini and Juande Ramos; into FA Cup Quarter-Finals, League Cup Semi-Finals, and UEFA Cup Quarter-Finals.
Defoe played consistently enough given his competition was Dimitar Berbatov and Robbie Keane. In all competitions, it was 52 goals over 4 seasons for Defoe at Spurs; and in January 2008, the familiar face of Harry Redknapp plumped £6.98m for the 25 year old. Defoe was off to Portsmouth FC.
It’s easy to forget that the striker was ever at Fratton Park for the twelve months he was. It went something like this: 26 goals between January 2008 and January 2009; some good shifts for Pompey’s UEFA Cup run; met Peter Crouch, and went back to Tottenham.
The helluva-good partnership between Defoe and Crouch was brought to White Hart Lane by Harry Redknapp (again), when Defoe returned to his former club for £12.30m in January 2009. The striker, despite a winter/spring injury layoff, netted 14 goals in the second half of the 2008/2009 season, before beginning what was unquestionably the best season of his career.
Under Redknapp’s management, combined with his perceived ‘peak age’ of 27 years old, Defoe out-performed himself in the 2009/2010 season. On average, he conjured a goal every 141 minutes, and simply tormented defenders and goal-keepers alike. Boaz Myhill had a rough afternoon when Defoe hat-tricked Hull City in August 2009, while Roberto Martínez’ defence collapsed against the striker’s 5-goal slaughter against Wigan Athletic in November. Defoe ended the season on 24 goals in all competitions, and was the Premier League’s sixth highest goal scorer.
Then the forward was called up for Fabio Capello’s Darren Bent-less England squad for the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
We know how that ended. Having scored against Slovenia, Defoe was one of the very few to emerge with any credibility at all that summer.
The striker never did replicate his 09/10 form for Spurs. Much of Defoe’s remaining years at White Hart Lane were spent in rotation with Peter Crouch, Roman Pavlyuchenko and Emmanuel Adebayor. He was still prolific; netting another 51 goals for the club until his February 2014 departure, but he arguably found his best form in the club’s international competitions.
In fact, his goal haul on the international stage is pretty damn good. Between UEFA Cup, Europa League and Champions League appearances; Defoe has 25 goals in 38 matches. And his opposition has spread the continent: FC Dinamo Bucureşti, Sevilla FC, Anorthosis Famagusta FC, Getafe CF, Vitória SC, VfL Wolfsburg, BSC Young Boys, FC Twente, Heart of Midlothian FC, Shamrock Rovers, NK Maribor, Panathinaikos FC, FC Internazionale Milano, FC Dinamo Tbilisi, Tromsø IL, FC Anzhi Makhachkala, and FC Sheriff Tiraspol. He scores where he wants.
However; the odd injury, increasingly frequent goal droughts, and Spurs’ efficient development of young talent, caught Defoe surplus to requirements. That his average minute-per-goal ratio dropped from 117 minutes to 219 minutes between 2011 and 2013, and with just three league starts in the 2013/2014 season, meant a move away was inevitable – but to Major League Soccer?
The MLS is a league that is genuinely improving in its competitiveness, regardless of the ‘declining-player’ stigma attached to it. That said; Defoe’s £5.48m move to Toronto FC in February 2014 would prove just how far he was from the twilight of his career. Within 13 matches, the striker had netted 11 goals; and later contributed to both goals in Toronto’s 2-1 win over Vancouver Whitecaps in the Canadian Championship Semi-Finals in May.
At 32 years old, it appeared Defoe could still compete at Premier League level. And so, in January 2015, Sunderland AFC structured their entire winter transfer window around recruiting the striker to the Stadium of Light.
By May, Defoe was 4 goals up; striking against Burnley, Swansea City, Everton, and an absolute screamer against Newcastle United that was so good it brought him to tears; and all for the fee of a bumbling, nowt-form Jozy Altidore. Astonishing.
So that’s how he’s been, but how’s he doing now? Well, his 11 Premier League goals this season is good for Sunderland, and great for Defoe. That’s as many or more than he scored in league seasons ending 2001, 2002, 2003, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2013! He need only score just one more goal for this to be the second-best league haul of his career. Wages well spent.
Admittedly, he’s not without (minor) criticism. That knack for going several games at a time without a goal is an irritable trait of Defoe. He’s done it more than once for Sunderland. But that’s common for a striker whose best form comes from his own momentum, in short bouts of braces and hat-tricks. And hey, that’s not a complaint – it’s what makes him a match-winner.
Then there’s a couple of interesting stats that show just how good a striker Jermain Defoe truly is. Firstly, on average, Defoe scores every 166 minutes this season. That’s the seventh-best rate in the league, and is a good return when you consider Harry Kane’s average rate is every 151 minutes, and that Kane and Jamie Vardy have hit nearly-double the 51 shots Defoe has fired this season. In fact, Defoe has taken fewer shots than twenty-three other players, behind the likes of Bafétimbi Gomis, Wayne Rooney and Aleksander Mitrović.
But, there’s more – accurate shooting. As of today, Defoe tallies the tenth most accurate shots in the Premier League with 26. However, looking at the nine players to register more accurate shots than him, their conversion of shots-to-accurate-shots reads like this: Gylfi Sigurðsson and Romelu Lukaku have over 35% accuracy; Sergio Agüero and Olivier Giroud have over 40% accuracy; and Odion Ighalo, Riyad Mahrez, Christian Eriksen, Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy each have between 46-47% accuracy. Then there’s Jermain Defoe: 51% shooting accuracy.
So if you’re looking for the overall most accurate striker in the Premier League, he’s on Wearside.
And hallelujah that he is! If you were told, in January 2014, that Jermain Defoe would score the same percentage of goals-per-appearance for Sunderland as he did at Tottenham Hotspur (38% of appearances on average), you’d never have doubted his recruitment (though, as a swap for Jozy Altidore, not many did anyway). Sunderland took the chance, and the forward has delivered. Literally, Defoe is as good for Sunderland over the last year as he was during his entire two-stint career at Tottenham Hotspur. There’s no debate about it: the 5"7 striker is Sam Allardyce’s biggest gun in this relegation fight.
Jermaine Defoe has carved a legacy worthy of high acclaim in the Premier League. It is not a legacy to the standard of Thierry Henry or Wayne Rooney, but rather a legacy of longevity. Defoe has been ever-present in English football for nearly twenty years, and is as consistent a goal-scorer at 33 years old, as he was at 23 years old.
It is a shame for Defoe that a career of over 230 goals spanning over 580 matches has not been rewarded with the silverware it warrants. However, his striker’s instincts are proving to be the difference between league survival and relegation for Sunderland. Looking at his team-mates’ poor goal contribution, Sunderland’s fate is balanced upon the reliable boots of Defoe himself.
As for beyond this season, there’s every likelihood that Defoe will see out his career on Wearside, if the club remains in England’s top tier. He’ll be 35 years old when his contract expires in June 2018. Hopefully, the next two years of his contract can be a mutually enjoyable experience for Defoe and supporters alike. Without the threat of relegation, Sunderland may even be able to appreciate having the luxury of a goal-scorer like Defoe, rather than having to depend on him, as it has been over the last year. It would be a well-earned reward for the striker – should his form eventually fade out – to be allowed to play in the Premier League without such added pressure.
For now, supporters can continue to be assured that Jermain Defoe is fighting Sunderland’s corner as not just a competent goal-scorer, but one of the best in recent history. Last season we needed him. This season we depend on him.
Hopefully, next season, we can just enjoy watching him.