Never has one player split opinion amongst supporters quite like the Tottenham Hotspur striker Jermain Defoe, who has this week finalised the details of a move to Toronto FC. Loved by some for his 143 goals in nine years at White Hart Lane across two spells – making him the club’s fifth-highest scorer of all time - others became irked at the opinionated striker’s apparent unwillingness to settle for sitting out the odd game and his always running to the press to hint at a move away at the first sign that he was not a first choice anymore.
Although often spoke up by those in the hot seat, not least Uncle Martin Jol and Flash Harry Redknapp, Defoe never quite settled under any manager and often appeared keen to move at a moment’s notice, making it harder for fans to take to him in the way they did with Robbie Keane – at least in the Irishman’s first spell at the club.
Blessed with an explosive finish and equally adept blasting home from range or touching in from a yard, his talent was never in any doubt. The 21-year-old displayed rich potential when he arrived as a raw, fresh-faced forward in February 2004, amid much bad blood from former club West Ham – having been sent-off three times in three months for the relegated Hammers.
He hit the ground running at the Lane alongside Keane, scoring in his first three matches and ending his half season with the club with seven goals for David Pleat’s side as they struggled to avoid the drop. His form continued after the summer break, and he was at his best in his first full season at the club, hitting 22 goals as Jol came in to steer the club to within three points of European competition in 2004/05.
He struggled to replicate the feats of that season thereafter, the little and little combination with Keane often coming unstuck, as the likes of Mido, Dimitar Berbatov, Peter Crouch, Roman Pavlyuchenko, Rafael van der Vaart, Emmanuel Adebayor and Roberto Soldado were preferred to him for long spells amid their varying qualities, manager after manager seeing something more attractive in Defoe’s strike partner to leave the Englishman kicking his heels on the bench for long spells. The fact that he only top scored for the club in two seasons at the club speaks volumes.
Having grown tired of playing second fiddle to the flourishing Keane-Berbatov partnership, Defoe opted to leave the club in early 2008, missing out on the north London club’s League Cup success to join up with Redknapp at Portsmouth (while also being cup-tied for the South Coast side’s FA Cup success). He returned to the Lane just 12 months later as the club struggled following the summer departures of the two players he struggled to displace - Berbatov and Keane - and also manager Juande Ramos two month's later.
His bad luck continued as he picked up an ankle injury and again struggled to make a first-team spot his own, Darren Bent ending the season top scorer. The forward enjoyed his most productive season at Tottenham in 2009-10, hitting hat-tricks at Hull and Leeds United and five in the 9-1 humbling of Wigan Athletic, as he helped Tottenham to Champions League qualification with a total of 24 goals. Van der Vaart’s partnership with Crouch took most plaudits in Spurs’ Champions League campaign, although the loan arrival of Adebayor in 2011 seemed to bring out the best in Defoe, who struck up a good link with the frustrating Togolese as Tottenham flirted with an unlikely title challenge until a spring collapse.
Seen as something of a flat-track bully in recent seasons, Defoe was again forced to settle for long spells on the bench behind Soldado (and the odd Europa outing) as Andre Villas-Boas’ grand plan failed to come to fruition. It’s a risk, moving to a country more known for Ice Hockey than any footballing heritage, in a World Cup year, but you wouldn’t bet on him being anything other than a success. He has scored goals wherever has been and will rightfully take his place in the White Hart Lane hall of fame.
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