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It's been emotional - Jermain Defoe leaves behind nothing but happy memories

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Sunderland have seen their fair share of highs and lows during the striking legend's time with us and it's a shame we couldn't give him the send off he deserves.

Crystal Palace v Sunderland - Premier League Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images

There’s not a great deal more I can say about Jermain Defoe’s time at Sunderland AFC that hasn’t already been said.

Although his final season has ended in despairing fashion, it does say everything about the England international that in years to come when we’re all old and grey, he’ll be remembered fondly as one of the best strikers to pull on the jersey.

He has earned his place as a Wearside legend.

We expected a lot of Jermain when he signed for the club back in January 2015, but despite the struggles that haunted his time here he still managed to go beyond even our high expectations whilst his attitude off the pitch has been second to none.

It is a great club and I've always enjoyed coming up here and playing against Sunderland because of the stadium and the supporters.

It is a great place to play and I'm really looking forward to it.

Although it’s normal to expect those type of remarks when a player joins a club, Jermain’s performances and demeanour off the pitch made sure they rang true. He loved Sunderland and we loved him. Ultimately, we both deserved so much more than how our relationship has ended.

Sunderland v Chelsea - Premier League
Defoe celebrates his winner over Chelsea. One of the best moments we’re ever likely to see at the Stadium of Light.
Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty images

A fantastic role model, he’s smashed in thirty-seven goals during his time at the club. His status is defined not just by his goals though, but also by his commitment to the cause and understanding of the region. He understands the club, the area and the fanbase in a way only the likes of Niall Quinn have done previously. He treasured his time here, even though it was tough.

When he spoke about the bond he felt with the fans he wasn’t simply playing to the camera. He showed it on the pitch in his two-and-a-half years here. We have shared some golden moments, but let’s not forget the survival clincher at the Emirates under Dick Advocaat. Forced so deep, he was at times almost playing at left back - he never shirked his responsibilities even when the Dutch manager admitted he didn’t trust Defoe in the lone-striker role he so craved.

There’s times when naturally people get frustrated but at this club it’s different. It’s unbelievable and they’re unbelievable people.

I think when you come here as a player and you experience that you just want more and more.

In his first full season he was crowned Player of the Year, although it’s easy to forget his situation around November time. Finding himself out of the starting eleven for reasons unknown, he knuckled down whilst others sulked. Jermain Defoe was determined to prove he could score the goals that would fire us to safety - and he did. His fifteen league goals helped provide a catalyst to an impressive end of season run as we survived the relegation trap door at the expense of Newcastle and Norwich. His emotions overtook him many times and he shed tears on more than one occasion - most notably during the home games to Newcastle and Chelsea.

Even in January of this year, when his signature was sought by clubs in far healthier positions, he never asked to leave. As we looked destined for relegation, he continued to wax lyrical about this club and the fanbase he had come to identify with so much.

Sunderland v Swansea City - Premier League
His relationship with young Bradley Lowery is something only a man like Jermain and a club like ours could blossom.
Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

His ability was there for all to see but the thing that made Jermain Defoe a Sunderland legend was his attitude towards that hallowed Wearside turf. He knew we, as fans, expected and deserved no less than 100% effort. The connection he has built with the fans because of that will likely never be forgotten, especially when we will look back on that unbreakable bond he has with one special fan in particular, Bradley Lowery. A connection that has brought me to tears more times than I’m maybe comfortable with.

In an era of footballer’s words being hollow he was a breath of fresh air. He simply understood how special Sunderland and our fans are - I’m just so sorry that we never provided him with the success his efforts deserved. A club where every player on the pitch is pulling their weight like he did, with the Stadium of Light crowd a deafening cauldron of noise, full of hope and expectation - that's the Sunderland I wish we could have given Jermain Defoe.

It will hurt seeing him in the colours of another team. It will certainly take some getting used to, but I’m sure we’d all love nothing more than to see him succeed and get on that plane to the World Cup in 2018. Who knows? We might be celebrating a promotion by that point.

You deserve the best Jermain. See you in Russia. Thanks for everything.