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Opinion: ‘The Defoe deal was heart over head!’

Sometimes the best dreams are the ones that never come true, says Jack Shields.

Photo by Chris Vaughan - CameraSport via Getty Images

A few months is a long time in football.

In mid-January, Sunderland were on the cusp of the automatic promotion places. We had Lee Johnson at the helm and the thought of Jermain Defoe coming back was just a pie-in-the-sky type dream for most of a red and white persuasion.

Fast-forward to late March and Johnson is gone, we are clinging onto a play off place and Defoe has come – and very much gone.

It’s all a bit sad really.

Not just for our supporters who dreamt of Defoe firing the goals to seal promotion but also for the player himself. A stellar career that included over 150 Premier League goals, participation in the Champions League and scoring at the World Cup for England.

I keep mulling over whether or not it was the right decision and I have to say, I think we all made a mistake.

In life, we tend to cling onto a sense of nostalgia and gain comfort from looking back to happier times that have gone on before - particularly when we are at a low ebb.

You look back on fond memories and try and re-create them as much as you possibly can.

After four consecutive seasons in League One, the years we had in the Premier League with an icon like Defoe shine even brighter when you’re losing 6-0 to Bolton Wanderers on a cold January day.

When you factor in the touching way he connected with Bradley Lowery, it further cemented his place as a nailed-on Sunderland legend.

Bradley Lowery Birthday Party Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

But, ultimately, football has to have a sense of realism.

You have to understand that things change and not let nostalgia cloud your visions for in the future. Unfortunately, I think we’ve failed to do that with the Defoe deal.

We were miserable and needed a lift and pinned all of our hopes on Defoe being the catalyst for the revival.

It was always going to be difficult.

Defoe had never played at this level before on any major scale. Of course, he had a loan spell at Bournemouth in his early career but it’s different to playing regular League One football. The league is physical and can take it out of even the strongest, fittest player.

There was also his lack of minutes. Defoe had played a paltry amount of football this season before his contract was terminated at Rangers. Even last season at Ibrox, while Defoe played, he wasn’t a regular starter.

Then there’s his age. He will be 40 later this year and even for an athlete with the lean physique of Defoe, time waits for no man. Sooner or later, the many years of matches and the slog of training were going to catch up with him. In the games in which he game on he looked short of pace, his finishing had declined and his movement and contribution were noticeably lesser compared to what we’d expected.

There was also the style of play.

In a team that plays with one up top, where would he fit in? Our striker is always going to be Ross Stewart. It meant we had to shoe-horn Defoe into a position and change our whole set-up and formation to a certain extent. That would surely impact the team’s flow and direction.

Sunderland Unveil New Signing Jermain Defoe
Just a PR stunt?
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

You have to wonder if it was simply done to get the fans back on side.

The PR between the Sunderland hierarchy and the supporters has been rock-bottom over the past few months and maybe they saw it as a chance to improve things while also bringing a highly experienced player into a youthful squad.

But then that also raises further questions about the recruitment model and the ownership.

Why deliberately target young players and base the whole recruitment around it and then go against it for a sentimental veteran striker at the end of his career?

Criticism for Kristjaan Speakman will definitely increase and there will understandably be growing calls for more clarity on the running of the football club.

However, those are questions for a different day.

It shouldn’t change Defoe’s popularity among Sunderland fans. He was still an icon of our club and will be up there with the most memorable players of yesteryear.

It’s maybe a lesson for us all though. Sometimes the best dreams are the ones that never come true.


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