"What is this, a murder trial?" Tottenham Hotspur's caretaker manager, David Pleat, protested midway through the press conference turned inquisition as he introduced the £7m signing Jermain Defoe yesterday morning.
Many West Ham United fans, witnessing their club's demise, may have said it was. They have been screaming claret and blue murder for months. Certainly, the richly talented 21-year-old - it is not to be forgotten that he is so young - faced a forensic barrage over his perceived lack of loyalty and, according to his now former chairman, Terence Brown, lack of marbles, as he explained the reasons for his protracted departure.
It even came down to specifying at what precise hour did he receive the phone call telling him that his services were finally required at White Hart Lane. Whether it was 6pm or 7pm on Sunday, it was almost nine months too late for the young striker, who had put in his ill-conceived transfer request the day after West Ham were relegated last May.
"It was the wrong decision to do that but, to be honest, I've put it behind me and got on with things," Defoe said with determined candour. "At the time it was wrong and I've said that a few times. I've said sorry." But the request was not withdrawn and Defoe made it clear - as West Ham had done - that, with 18 months of his contract to go, he had no intention of signing a new deal and remaining a Hammer. "I'm a very ambitious person," Defoe said. "I want to play at the top level and achieve things. I'm still 21 and I just want to go on."
Defoe was left salivating watching former team-mates - Glen Johnson, Joe Cole and, of course, Frédéric Kanouté, with whom he will link up at Spurs - playing above him. "The First Division is different but I don't think I was jealous," said Defoe, who grew up as an Arsenal fan and privately, perhaps, hoped that was where his future lay. "But sitting at home on a Saturday evening watching them, I wanted to be there as well."
Pleat made it plain just what a talent he feels Defoe is. "Tottenham has a history of top goalscorers - Jimmy Greaves, Clive Allen, Gary Lineker. Real poachers," he said. "And his record for a 21-year-old is quite exceptional."
The decision to buy Defoe - with Bobby Zamora going in the opposite direction - was taken after losing to Fulham at the weekend, although Spurs have pondered the move for some time. Pleat explained: "We forced 15 corners, which was the most anyone forced in the Premier League on Saturday, and we couldn't get a goal. In those tight games you need that striker who can poach - with the stealth, the speed, the ability to take a half-chance out of nothing. Those are the qualities this player has and we require."
Defoe's arrival has raised doubts over the future of Robbie Keane, which Pleat moved quickly to quash. "He's really enjoying his football. He's very bright-eyed and has probably been training a couple of hours round the back somewhere. He knows he has to put down some roots because he's had some quick moves in his career. We're enjoying his contribution and have no intention of selling him." So how will he assimilate his new signing, who will wear the number 18 shirt? "There are all sorts of permutations and it's something we'll solve," Pleat said, although he admitted that his squad still lacked a "Dave Mackay, a leader, which every club in the country lacks ... well, we lack".
Reinforcements will arrive in the summer - with a new manager, of course. Was he consulted on the Defoe deal? "I'm consulting all the new managers," Pleat said, in reference to continued speculation. "And I'm also consulting my wife."
Charlton are set to receive £1m from the transfer of their former schoolboy striker, whom they sold to West Ham for £1.4m in 1999 on the basis of receiving an extra 15 per cent of any fee above that amount.
Defoe said he had conferred with his family before agreeing his move. "I'm relieved as I didn't really expect anything to happen," he said. "I was sitting at home and looking forward to the Bradford game next Saturday for West Ham, if selected. So it was all a shock really."
What also came as a shock was the criticism last year from his employer claiming "his head wasn't right" following his disrupted season. "It hurt me because, I'm young," Defoe admitted. "Something like that isn't nice but I try not to think about it. I had my family around me and they supported me and just said 'Get on with it'. At times it has been difficult and I just had to get my head down. But every time I played for West Ham I worked really hard for the team and the fans know that."
They also know that they have - again - lost a talent. Or as Pleat put it, "a wonderful, poaching goalscorer". Who has been poached.Reuse content