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Jermain Defoe, Super Kev & A Sunderland Legacy

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Jermain Defoe deserves to be spoken about in the same lofty manner as Kevin Phillips, writes Dan Parker.

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In the light of Jermain Defoe’s England snub, and because I know he is a regular reader of Roker Report (Hi Jermain), I wanted him to know how much we still value him even if Roy Hodgson doesn’t. And let’s be clear, it was a snub.

Marcus Rashford is an exciting prospect and may well end up being a vital part of the England squad in future. However, the question that needs to be asked is: would Rashford have been given this opportunity if he had been playing for Sunderland and Defoe had been scoring 18 goals for Manchester United? If you answer yes to that question, you probably rate Billy Jones as a decent full-back.

It speaks volumes of my admiration for Jermain Defoe that I am even comparing him to Kevin Phillips. I grew up watching Ronaldo (the original), Zidane, Totti, and Kevin Phillips – and it was Super Kev that made me fall in love with football. Because he played in red and white. Because he was ours.

Phillips is still the only English footballer to have won the European golden boot. That is an incredible achievement for a player who only received eight international caps. Like Defoe, he was often overlooked by England, although the competition he faced for the number nine role was more hotly contested back then. His strike rate for us was better than one goal every two games and, again, it should be stressed that such a record is phenomenal given the club’s relative stature in the Premier League.

If Phillips is the main reason we finished seventh in the Premier League two seasons in a row, Jermain Defoe is the reason we are still a Premier League club. The importance and influence of both players on the club’s fortunes should not be under-estimated.

When we swapped Jozy Altidore for Jermain Defoe, the club took a calculated gamble on an ageing Defoe. The gamble wasn’t that Defoe was a better player than Altidore (who injured himself taking – and missing – a penalty last weekend by the way), but was because literally anyone is better than Jozy Altidore. I would take Lilian Laslandes, a 44 year old Lilian Laslandes, over that cart-horse. The gamble was that Defoe’s goals could fire us to safety towards the end of last season and, if not, we were stuck with a thirty-two year old forward on huge wages in the Championship.

The gamble has paid off spectacularly and that swap deal rivals the £575,000 the club spent on Super Kev. Without Jermain Defoe, we would have been relegated this season. He has allowed us to have the platform to build a side in Big Sam’s image. Call me crazy but we may actually win a game in the Premier League in August or September thanks to Defoe. You can tell I’m dreaming big.

Yann M’Vila had an exceptional start to the season and Jan Kirchoff dominated every single game he played in over the last few months. However, it is only Jermain Defoe who represented consistency throughout the season. He is the striker we have been crying out for since Super Kev left. When he gets the ball, even with his back to goal, there is a tangible sense that ripples through the crowd that something is about to happen.

Some may say that Darren Bent helped bridge the gap between these two club legends and that he continued the legacy of Sunderland’s prolific striker. And these people may have logic on their side. But the man is a slug and a traitor. And deserves none of our respect.

In many ways, Sunderland are the only ones to benefit from Defoe’s England snub. We will get a 33-year old – who will only become more susceptible to injuries over the coming seasons – fully fit and raring to go when he returns to pre-season this summer. He can afford to put his beautiful feet up, relax, go on holiday, and eat all the Ambrosia custard he wants. And he can do so knowing that he kept us in the Premier League.

Defoe has only been a Sunderland player for eighteen months and yet he deserves to be compared with the very best. He may never quite reach the Everest-esque heights of Super Kev at Sunderland but that shouldn’t stop him being a club legend in his own right.

I often go back and play my old copy of Championship Manager 00/01 just so I can return to and indulge in Super Kev’s peak years, a moment frozen in time thanks to my trusty, if slightly knackered Xbox. Even in virtual reality, he scores 25+ goals season after season. Maybe in the future, when Football Manager 2016 is considered retro, I will do the same for Defoe. There can be no higher praise.