Defoe left stranded as the ship prepares to set sail

He scored 30 goals in 59 games and looked a certainty for the World Cup, but then it all started to go wrong. Jason Burt reports
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The Independent Football

It's Fratton Park on the opening day of the season. The match is turgid. On 64 minutes there is a shard of class, a hopeful punt forward. Jermain Defoe is on to it - but is pushed wide. The angle is desperately acute. But, in a seamless movement, bang, the net bulges. Two-nil. Game over and Tottenham Hotspur's leading goalscorer is up and running.

It was Defoe's 50th Premiership appearance for Spurs and his 30th goal in 59 games for the club he joined in January 2004 for £7m from West Ham. For the injured Robbie Keane a place in the Spurs first team seems far away. Indeed, on the last day of the transfer window talks are held with Everton about a sale - if Spurs can bring in Cristiano Lucarelli. Both deals fall through.

Before that, and five days after Portsmouth, Defoe makes a rare start for England. He is picked ahead of Michael Owen for the friendly in Denmark, surely a sign that Defoe will fill the void when Owen is suspended for the World Cup qualifier against Wales.

Except he does not. That disastrous night in Copenhagen sees Defoe withdrawn at half-time - for Owen. In Cardiff, Sven Goran Eriksson prefers to change formation, moving to a doomed 4-5-1. Defoe is on the bench. He is not trusted.

It did not go unnoticed - and not least among his peers. "What pissed me off was when Eriksson played him against Denmark, took him off at half-time and didn't play him against Wales and suddenly people are saying, 'Ah, Jermain Defoe has lost his chance'," said one England international who, understandably, preferred not to be named. The player knows Defoe well and claimed it took the 23-year-old some time to "get his head round" what happened.

Defoe missed just one of Spurs' first 13 games. He scored three times. He tried to change his game, getting more involved to prove he could figure for England. It blunted his predatory instinct. Without his goals he does not warrant inclusion. It became a vicious circle. Defoe's goals dried up. From one in every two games he has scored four in 25 appearances - less than one in five - a woeful return.

Something had to give for Martin Jol, the Spurs head coach, who felt his theory that Defoe and Keane cannot play together was confirmed by the embarrassing Carling Cup exit at Grimsby. "I think Jermain did OK when he was in the team, but he didn't score for a couple of games and I had Robbie Keane on the bench," Jol explained. "Every time when I played them together last year we did not have good results."

They changed roles. Suddenly Defoe was among the substitutes, complaining, as he did after the recent match against Liverpool. Again Jol reacted. With Mido - who fits the bill of a target man in Spurs' style of play - away at the African Nations' Cup, Defoe started against Aston Villa. Again it did not happen.

It meant that there he was, his face buried deep into his jacket, watching as Spurs made heavy work of stretching Fulham on Tuesday. Grzegorz Rasiak was up front.

Defoe did come on and, on 82 minutes, registered his side's first shot on target after a crisp turn. After the defeat Jol was, again, questioned as to what it all means for a player who had appeared an irrepressible fixture not so long ago. His reply was clipped. "If he had scored once or twice last week against Villa he would have given me a push," Jol said. "But he didn't do that. If you play against teams like Fulham you need a bit of presence. But Jermain is fine, believe me."

It is hard to believe that Defoe really is fine - not least because this is a World Cup year and suddenly he is slipping down the pecking order. Owen and Wayne Rooney will start but Peter Crouch has pushed on and Darren Bent is a serious contender.

Jol remains adamant that Defoe will be selected - and will play more games for Spurs from now on. "He's too good to be on the bench," Jol said. "I still have confidence and belief in him - maybe more than he does." His words also puncture the accepted wisdom that Defoe has unflagging self-belief - he has not - and is still trying to rebuild his confidence after his early season bruising at the hands of Eriksson.

Time and tide Defoe's decline

* 3 Dec 05 v Sunderland (h) Won 3-2; substitute (came on after 73 minutes)

* 12 Dec 05 v Portsmouth (h) Won 3-1; sub (68); goal

* 18 Dec 05 Middlesbro' (a) Drew 3-3; sub (90)

* 26 Dec 05 Birmingham (h) Won 2-0; sub (57); goal

* 28 Dec 05 West Brom (a) Lost 2-0; started

* 31 Dec 05 Newcastle (h) Won 2-0; sub (78)

* 04 Jan 06 Man City (a) Won 2-0; sub (83)

* 08 Jan 06 Leicester City (a) Lost 3-2; sub (69)

* 14 Jan 06 Liverpool (a) Lost 1-0; sub (66)

* 21 Jan 06 Aston Villa (h) Drew 0-0; started (replaced after 75 minutes)

* 31 Jan 06 Fulham (a) Lost 1-0; sub (69)