When it comes to natural finishers, Reading target Jermain Defoe is one that rolls right off the tongue. The Tottenham Hotspur star has been synopsis with the term ‘poacher’ since a young age. Born in Beckton in 1982, Defoe joined the famous Sunday League side Senrab as youngster, a side well known for producing young English talent, including the likes of Ledley King and John Terry.
Clearly impressing as a fresh-faced teen, Defoe went through the ranks of first Charlton Athletic and then West Ham United. It was with the Hammers that the then 16-year-old began to make his mark on the footballing world. Then manager Harry Redknapp was full of praise for the young striker, so much so that at just 16, after nestling a volley into the bottom corner, the veteran tactician turned to the senior players and said: “That’s how I need you to finish. Finish like that young kid there.”
Redknapp clearly had faith in Defoe at a young age, despite sending him out on loan to AFC Bournemouth for the 2000/01 season, where he finished the campaign with 18 goals in 29 games, including a run of scoring in 10 consecutive games, equalling John Aldridge’s post-war record. His exploits with the south-coast club earned him a place on the Cherries Wall of Fame.
Defoe’s career really took off the following year and he became a prominent member in the West Ham starting XI, netting 14 goals in all competitions that year. However, the East London club were relegated in 2003, leading the striker to question his future at Upton Park. He began the next season with West Ham, but secured a £6m move to Tottenham Hotspur in January 2004.
His exploits with the south-coast club earned him a place on the Cherries Wall of Fame.
His impact with Spurs was immediate, ending the season with seven goals in 15 appearances. The move received a massive amount of praise, with interim manager David Pleat declaring his admiration for the front-man, proclaiming: “I can’t think of a British striker at his age who has achieved so much in such a short space of time.”
Defoe would continue to excel at White Hart Lane under first Jacques Santini and his successor Martin Jol, ending his first spell with the club with 64 goals in 177 appearances. However, a frustration at a lack of first-team football saw him seek pastures new during January in 2008 before being reunited with Redknapp with Portsmouth.
12 months later, and after Redknapp had taken over the reins from Juande Ramos, Defoe was again back with the North London outfit. The England striker again made an immediate impact upon his return to the club as Spurs secured a top four finish in his first full season back at White Hart Lane, netting 24 times in the process.
However, with the likes of Rafael van der Vaart and Emmanuel Adebayor arriving at Spurs over the past 24 months, his playing time has again been limited to substitute appearances, with the aforementioned duo leapfrogging him in the pecking order. Nevertheless, despite featuring sporadically, Defoe mustered 17 goals in 38 appearances, his strike in the 3-2 defeat to Manchester City back in January epitomising his approach to the game.
Now, with Spurs under the stewardship of Andre Villas-Boas, the Portuguese tactician is willing to give all fringe players a clean slate, Defoe included. However, at 29, the front-man is looking to secure a place in the team where he is looking to playing a starring role, not remain sidelined during the peak of his career.
Nevertheless, despite featuring sporadically, Defoe mustered 17 goals in 38 appearances, his strike in the 3-2 defeat to Manchester City back in January epitomising his approach to the game.
Villas-Boas is thought to be a big fan of the striker, but a move away from Spurs seems the most likely scenario for Defoe. Playing a leading role would certainly suit both the player himself and the team he ends up with. The best way to harness his strengths would be to pair him with a target man rather than as the lone striker, as it has been proved that his performances drop considerably when this happens.
Defenders often find it easy to mark him out of the game due to his physical frailty, but with a big man alongside him, for Reading this could be Jason Roberts or Pavel Pogrebnyak, for example, he can exploit the space left behind the back four when they step up to counteract the influence a possible striking partner. This further works in his favour as a finisher; given one opportunity in game and 9 times out of 10, Defoe will take it.
Very much a confidence player, Defoe will require his new manager to be on to put his arm around his shoulder and deliver the words that will bring out the best in the front-man. For a team like recently promoted Reading, Defoe would be an ideal acquisition. Bags of Premier League experience and knows where the net is, his goals could be vital in them retaining their place in England’s top tier, whilst further boosting the player’s England credentials.
Alongside new arrival Pogrebnyak, the duo could form a dynamic partnership that brings out the best in both strikers. The Russian prefers to drop deep to receive the ball and use his strength to hold off defenders, whilst Defoe would hang on the shoulder of the last defender. If the two can hit the ground running, the Royals will have the firepower to stave off relegation and secure a mid-table finish.
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