TFN’s Hugo Greenhalgh believes recent criticism aimed at Jermain Defoe is unfair…
“Live for today, plan for tomorrow, party tonight.”
Say what you like about the quality of the MLS, but the recent criticism aimed at Jermain Defoe for his move to Toronto FC seems somewhat unwarranted. The striker had been phased out at Tottenham, rarely used under Andre Villas-Boas except in the Europa League. He had fallen down the pecking order behind Roberto Soldado and more recently, a rejuvenated Emmanuel Adebayor. While a ‘little and large’ strike partnership in a 4-4-2 seems like the kind of idea that would have new manager Tim Sherwood licking his lips, it would appear that Defoe’s mind had already been made up. Money talks, as does the guarantee of first team football, but it would be crass to assume that Defoe’s move is purely avaricious.
There seems to be significant indignation that Defoe would rather play for Toronto than for another top-flight club in England. But is this ire really justified? Let’s think about which Premier League clubs Defoe would realistically start for. It’s fair to say he would be a squad player at the rest of the top ten, like he is at Spurs. In the bottom half we can assume that he could start at most, if not all. With the greatest respect to Aston Villa, Norwich, West Brom et al., what can they offer Jermain Defoe? At 31, he’s a player who probably wants a new challenge. Is the prospect of a half-season relegation battle really that desirable? Perhaps he could have been reunited with Harry Redknapp at QPR for similar money but this seems no more credible than moving to the MLS. Overall, there’s a semi-nationalistic air of pomposity that playing in the Premier League is the ‘be all and end all’, when it’s really not.
On the flipside, Toronto has many attractive factors that critics have been quick to write off. The fact that the club only began life in 2006 has been used as a stick to beat it. It would be churlish to think that Toronto has anywhere near the amount of history and tradition of an English club, but they should be judged on their ambition rather than their past. A fan base with a strong identity clearly exists – there are at least six recognised supporters groups – and it seems that the Defoe and Michael Bradley signings have caused a resurgence of interest.
Indeed, Toronto’s short history creates an opportunity for Defoe to turn himself into a club legend; as clichéd as it sounds, he will be a part of a new chapter for the Canadian side. This is exactly what the club want, but there is no reason why he can’t share their excitement. Establishing himself shouldn’t be too difficult either; previous Brits to have played there include Rohan Ricketts, Robbie Earnshaw and Danny Dichio, who scored the first goal in the club’s history.
The Dichio legacy shouldn’t be treated lightly either. Since retiring, he has become a permanent resident of Canada and is a Head Coach at the club’s academy, who have brought through a number of first team players of late. The club have also recently spent $19 million on new training facilities, while plans are afoot to expand their stadium, BMO Field, to meet demand to for new supporters. Contrary to what many would like to believe, MLS sides are more than just short-term gimmicks.
Furthermore, what the English press seem to have neglected is that Toronto is actually a fantastic place to be. The so-called ‘New York of Canada’ is consistently rated as one of the world’s most livable cities and is surely a more attractive option to Defoe than six months spent in Birmingham or Norwich. So many column inches are spent barracking English players for their shallow-mindedness and reluctance to play in other countries. When one actually does so, he should be applauded. The suggestion that Toronto native Drake made the call that convinced Defoe to come may have been little more than a clever PR stunt but if you indulge a player’s ego, who can blame him for wanting the move. He will already be a celebrity in the city before he has even kicked a football.
The final mistake of which Defoe is accused of making is “sacrificing” his World Cup place. However, this seems an overly simplistic reproach. He wouldn’t be doing his chances any better by seeing out the season on Spurs’ bench, nor would a handsome return at a lesser Premier League club guarantee anything either. Indeed, Grant Holt was snubbed for Euro 2012 despite outscoring Andy Carroll, Danny Welbeck and Defoe, who all went to the tournament. In all likelihood, Defoe probably knows his chances of going to Brazil are slim at best and reliant on more Englishmen joining Theo Walcott on the injury list. In essence, Defoe has nothing else to play for here.
Perhaps the player whose intentions really need questioning is Michael Bradley. At 26, five years Defoe’s junior, he was entering his peak years as a footballer. He had been sidelined at his club, AS Roma, and only made five starts this season, usurped by new signing Kevin Strootman in midfield. Yet Bradley is a perfectly competent player, with decent experience having played in Holland, Germany and England before coming to Italy. One suspects he had other European offers before settling on a middling MLS side. If anyone is surrendering their career a few years early, it is surely Bradley.
It’s easy to dismiss Defoe as another mercenary but perhaps he is due an Indian summer. He is cashing in at the end of his career, for sure, but some corners of the football press would do well to acknowledge that their sport is played beyond European shores.