Most said he was past it. A lot said he was just coming back for one last Premier League pay day. Many said that it was worst possible signing Sunderland could make. Almost a year and half after arriving on Wearside, Jermain Defoe has proved them all wrong. He's still got it.
To take it all back to where it began, Jermain Defoe was bored. Being such a talented striker, he loves scoring goals but Toronto was not enough of a challenge for him. Despite his advancing years, he was still way above such a level and that's why he was itching to come back to the Premier League. Not for the money, but to prove to everyone, and to himself, that he was still capable of doing it at the very top level. So when Jozy Alitdore decided it was time for him to head back to his home continent, it was pure serendipity.
We swapped Jermain Defoe for Jozy Altidore. We swapped one of the best strikers in Premier League history for one of the worst. Never forget how brilliant a deal that was. Even though many pundits where quick to point out Defoe's high wages, that would be pittance if Sunderland managed to survive. With Defoe scoring four vital goals, The Lads retained their Premier League status. It wasn't just the goals though, that didn't surprise anyone, it was his tireless work rate that raised eyebrows and further endeared him to the fans. In the somewhat fortuitous 2-0 win away to Everton, Defoe played most of the game almost as a wing back as the team endured wave after wave of Everton attack. Defoe wasn't just here to get goals, he was here to work. He cared. His work was rewarded when he got his thigh onto the end of a cross for Sunderland's second goal.
It would have been easy for Defoe to rest on his laurels at the start of this season. Dick Advocaat said he wasn't capable of playing as a central striker and when Sam Allardyce arrived, he initially agreed. The former Spurs man started some games on the bench during Allardyce's early games and he could have sulked and accepted the position he was in. Everyone knew what he'd done in the past, I'm sure they wouldn't think any less of him if he became a bit part player at this stage in his career. That's not good enough for a player such as Jermain Defoe though. It spurred him on further.
After coming off the bench against Newcastle, Defoe never looked back. He first worked hard alongside Steven Fletcher, as Sam Allardyce experimented with a 3-5-2 formation but when injuries forced alterations could the manager really drop his most dangerous striker? Of course not and that proved to be the correct call as Defoe scored five goals in four league games in January. All as the lone striker. Not bad for a lad who's past it.
The hugely important goals haven't dried up in the second half of the season either. A last minute equaliser at Anfield, putting us ahead in the Tyne-Wear derby and a nerve settling second goal in the relegation six pointer against Norwich. There was also the match against Southampton, where he was surprisingly dropped from the starting line up but, yet again, it just made him more eager to prove himself. Coming off the bench, Defoe put us ahead and instead of giving moody, muted celebration he went wild in front of the fans and with his team mates. It was as if he was saying "Drop me? Well this is what you're missing out on." What a reaction and what an example to set.
Without Jermain Defoe, we could well be already relegated along with Aston Villa. Even if we do end up plummeting through the trap door, he can hold his head up high. I don't think he will though because we've seen how much it means to him playing for Sunderland. Rather than be pleased with his contribution, he'll probably think that he could have done more, such is the attitude of a talent so close to perfection.
Defoe will owe us nothing though, he'll be remembered fondly by supporters no matter what. Supporters who, since Kevin Phillips, haven't known a striker of such quality that they can take to their hearts. There were flirtations with Darren Bent and Asamoah Gyan but money meant more to them than adoration. In Defoe's case though, proving yourself is far more important than money. If it was about cash, he could have stayed in Toronto putting goals past teams who consider Bradley Wright Phillips their greatest ever player. If it was just a last pay day, you wouldn't start sobbing when you score an absolute screamer in the Wear-Tyne derby. That moment alone encapsulates him and set the tone for his Sunderland career. It's moments like that and his penchant for bagging important goals that you could make an argument that it'll be Sunderland fans that hold him in the highest regard, rather than any of his former clubs.
The pundits now use him as their main reason if they think we'll stay up. They've changed their tune and Defoe has forced them to eat humble pie. The striker took home the Sunderland Supporters Association Player Of The Year Award this week and it's fully deserved. His career may be getting nearer it's end but there's no sign of his desire dwindling.