Jermain Defoe: Ex-Spurs Striker Shouldn't Have Escaped To MLS

He's one of the best English finishers for decades, but he chose to up sticks and move to Canada - and now he's failed to make England's World Cup squad...
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Jermain Defoe: Ex-Spurs Striker Shouldn't Have Escaped To MLS

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"When my career ends" said Johann Cruyff, once. "I cannot go to the bakery and say 'I'm Johann Cruyff, give me some bread'".

He was talking ahead of a lucrative but surprising move to Los Angeles Aztecs to play in what was then the North American Soccer League at the age of just 32, and his point was simple: make hay whilst the sun shines.

Perhaps that is the advice that was given to Jermain Defoe back in January.

A striker widely regarded as one of the most natural finishers in the country; in the midst of a record-breaking season; and a player with a point to prove - just six months away from what is potentially his last crack at international football on the biggest stage of them all, the World Cup.

It is the profile of a player that many clubs, Premier League and beyond, would have moved heaven and earth to sign.

So why has Jermain Defoe, a player who still has the pace and quickness of thought to frighten defences across the highest levels of Europe, chosen to consign himself to what is effectively football's knackers yard?

The Spurs forward touched down in Canada earlier this season to clinch a February switch to Toronto FC, the first ever non-American club to play in the MLS - and he certainly has his work cut out as he looks to mirror the level of impact that David Beckham had on stateside 'soccer'.


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The pair were born just seven miles from each other in Beckton and Leytonstone respectively, but as Defoe lines up over 3,500 miles from the capital, and, perhaps more tellingly, over 3,500 miles away from the watchful gaze of his national team manager, you have to ask the question - has he surrendered his chances of a final fling on the world stage?

Financial reasons aside, it was certainly a bizarre move for the 31 year old - and it was not a case of a lack of options.

His new manager, ex-Blackburn defender Ryan Nelsen, has already confirmed that top four Premier League clubs were sniffing around his marquee signing - and a final goal in Tottenham's 2-0 victory against Crystal Palace was typical Defoe.

Backed by Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE), Toronto have financial muscle - and are certainly hell bent on flexing it.

Since becoming the first Canadian club to play in Major League Soccer seven years ago, they have developed a reputation as the league's whipping boys, and are yet to make the post-season stage of the competition.

Rapid turnaround of both playing and coaching staff have resulted in dwindling attendances, and their once massive fan base has now shrunk to 10th out of the 19 clubs who ply their trade in the league.

MLSE Chief Executive Tim Leiweke is the man responsible for bringing brand Beckham to the States, and he is not hesitant to throw the dollars around as he looks to build a global brand down at the 18,000 seater BMO Field.

At a time when he still has so much to offer both club and country, Defoe has effectively called time on his top-level career, at the age of just 31.

Also jetting into Pearson Airport alongside Defoe after the new year was Roma's US Mens National Team midfielder Michael Bradley, who, in the peak of his career, has been lured back to the continent of his birth.

The 26 year old could've moved to practically any country in Europe, including the Premier League, but an offer which will see him trouser a whopping $6.5 million left him with little decision to make.

His international boss Jurgen Klinsmann quickly moved to vocalise his worries about the increasing security of a move to the States.

"It is a very, very tricky situation that players face right now," he said at the time. "You want them to play in the best clubs in best leagues in the world and obviously MLS is not there yet."

The problem faced by Toronto is that, with little history or tradition to call on, they run the risk of very quickly becoming a team of individuals, with no shared ethos.

Nelsen has tried to stabilise the team by calling on the services of several players from these shores - journeymen such as Rob Earnshaw, Bobby Convey and Steven Caldwell have all pitched up in Ontario, with little success.

At a time when he still has so much to offer both club and country, Defoe has effectively called time on his top-level career, at the age of just 31.

He has ensured his financial stability though, collecting a reported £90k per week for the next four years. Harking back to the example given by Cruyff, he will not be short of bread.

But perhaps he could take on board some wisdom from James A. Garfield, the former President of the country in which he is now largely plying his trade.

"Man cannot live by bread alone; he must have peanut butter."

You have to wonder whether Defoe will one day look back and rue the day that he gave up his peanut butter.

Follow Jonno on Twitter at @jonnot