The alleged street murder of his half-brother, Jade, and death of a beloved grandmother, has left Defoe determined “to make sure something good happens for my family this year”. And then there is the World Cup. Infamously omitted from England’s squad for the 2006 finals by Sven-Göran Eriksson, Defoe wants to leave Fabio Capello no choice but to take him to South Africa in 2010. “It [the World Cup] has got me massively pumped,” Defoe says. “It’s probably the main reason I’m playing so well and working so hard in training. You want to impress the manager and get on the plane.”
One powerful, overriding feeling guides every step, every kick he takes. It’s a sensation of being in that state of grace that, if a sportsman is lucky, he finds himself in at a point in his career, although for some, it never happens. It’s a warm, joyous knowledge that makes muscles flex eagerly and rinses the mind of doubts: this is my moment, it’s my world right now.
“Over the years I’ve always managed to get goals,” says Defoe, “but a time comes when you get that belief you can do something special.” Five strikes in a single half against Wigan, 15 already for the season, eight goals in his past 11 appearances for England, when his first 27 caps yielded only three: special indeed. And yet, within the game, few are surprised by Defoe’s progress.
From the instant he struck to win a cup-tie for West Ham as a 17-year-old debutant in 2000, having been on the pitch for just seven minutes as a substitute, it was clear — here was someone who has got football’s most magical and elusive “it”, the gift of finishing. The intervening years were about progress, less rapid than hoped for, but a steady improvement in consistency, physique and match appreciation that made him, by early 2009, a guaranteed England squad member and the subject of a £15m transfer from Portsmouth back to Tottenham, who had sold him to Pompey for £7.5m just 12 months earlier. Then came the great leap forward, which started, oddly, with an injury.
Five games into his Tottenham return, a training ground accident left Defoe with a broken metatarsal. He hit the gym. “I was out for 10 weeks and in that time did a lot of bike work and strengthening work on my legs and upper body. Since I came back, I’ve just felt so strong and fit. Even now I’ve still got my [gym] programme.” The power men of the Premier League used to shove 5ft 7in Defoe off the ball, but not now. “I can receive it with my back to goal in a tight spot and it doesn’t bother me. I believe I can hold it and bring people in,” he said. “That’s a great feeling. I’ve been doing boxing for my breathing and stuff. It gives you sharpness and helps your footwork.”
Allen and Ferdinand have also helped Defoe. “Clive is always giving me little reminders. On Tuesday (before Tottenham’s Carling Cup game at Old Trafford) he said, ‘The grass is wet so follow in the shots, the goalkeeper could spill one for a tap-in’. He scored 49 in a season once: unbelievable, isn’t it? Mad. Clive still joins in our finishing practice and he just caresses it into the corner, doesn’t hit it hard. Both feet, great technique. A lot of forwards can learn from that.
“And Les has great advice. He tells me, ‘Just keep it going, don’t take your foot off the gas.’ He’s just a cool guy, a leg [legend].”
Defoe is addicted to his art. “Harry Redknapp can tell you, when I was at West Ham, and 16, I’d always stay behind to hone my finishing. Always. Nobody told me to. I live football, obsess about it. When I’m away with England or whatever, in a hotel, I bring DVDs of great players with me. I’ve got a Maradona DVD, Zidane, Van Basten. I watch the finishing.”
At this point Arsenal supporters may wish to look away. The inspiration behind his Wigan salvo? “All week before the game, every day, I was watching Thierry Henry goals.” For Gooners it gets worse. Defoe is close to Shaun Wright-Phillips and Shaun’s father, Ian Wright, is a mentor. “I speak to Wrighty all the time,” Defoe says. “He just shouts on the phone. He doesn’t speak, does he? He called after my five goals. He was screaming!
“The reason why he went mad was at the beginning of the season he said to me, ‘You know what, you’ll get five in a game soon . . . ’ Seriously, he did. He said, ‘Jay, you’re the type of player who if you get five chances in a game you can score five’. I know he’s an Arsenal legend but he’s always loved Spurs, even when he was at Arsenal and before, when he was at Palace, because of great players, such as Chris Waddle.”
Defoe passes on his skills. Two cousins, Darnell (at Tottenham) and Anthony (at West Ham), are emerging players and his advice is “practise and practise, then you get the same situation in a game and find you’re familiar with it. A lot is instinctive, to be honest. When I have a chance, I try and relax and I usually feel I’m going to score. If I score one goal, especially early in the game, the first thing I think is, ‘I’m going to get a hat-trick today’.”
The biggest presence in Defoe’s life is his mother, Sandra, who has imprinted on him the mantra that if you do something, you do it 100%. It is why he rarely touches alcohol (“a drink’s not going to help me so what’s the point?”) and plays to win, even in training ( “what’s the point of losing? Even if it’s just a friendly you get texts.”). Defoe admits that he is a “bit scared” to disobey his mother, pointing to her ability to give him “The Look” if she disapproves of something he has said or done. The evening after the Wigan match, mother took son out to dinner to celebrate. “It was difficult for her. When I was three my mum and dad split up and she was a single parent in East London. She raised me on her own and raising a son is difficult enough for a woman already. She’d work around the clock to buy me shin pads and football boots.”
In April, Jade suffered head injuries after an an alleged assault in Leytonstone and died in hospital. Defoe was at his bedside. “It’s weird,” he reflects. “The year before, I lost my nan, who was like my second mum. I went to St Lucia for the funeral. Then I lost my brother. It’s been hard for the family but during the summer I said to my cousin, ‘Right, next season I just want to make sure it’s my year, because of all the stuff we’ve been through as a family. Something good’s got to come for us and it’s down to me to make that happen.”
For club and country, he could hardly be striving harder. There’s “no reason” why Tottenham cannot qualify for the Champions League. “Everyone involved in the squad would be remembered for years if we did. I saw an interview with Steven Gerrard and he still believes Liverpool will finish in the top four. Well, we’re third, so we should believe too.”
It is almost certain Capello will take him to the World Cup but he is bent on becoming more than the Italian’s No 1 substitute. “The reason I haven’t always started is Emile [Heskey] has done well, simple as that. Em holds up the ball and helps other players. But I’d like to think that if you’re playing well for your club and scoring then at some point you’ll get a chance to be a starter.”
And if he remains a supersub come the World Cup? “Then I’ll just have to come on and score,” he said. “I wouldn’t look at it negatively. When I sit on the bench I always watch the game closely and ask, ‘Where can I make an impact, what are the defenders doing?’ You’re watching it. Coaches do, managers do, they watch it, so players should be the same. You’ve got to think, ‘Right, if I come on, where can I make an impact? What are the defenders doing?’ ”
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had exactly the same attitude. Defoe, as a finisher, is becoming just as much a maestro.
There was a good bit of drama in the first half and a few yellow cards and I honestly thought a fight would start for a bit.
he got his 13th goal of the season
Michael Dawson got his second (and Tommy seems quite popular for climbing on)
And all credit to Everton, they were down 0-2 and did not stop. Saha was great. Shortly thereafter, Cahill scored the second. I forgot to mention, Seamus Coleman did a lot to help with these goals and Everton's lucky to have him.
Then Mr. Howard saved the third penalty of the weekend in extra time after Wilson Palacios got clobbered. I read he had to go to the hospital and that it might be his ribs. I hope he's ok!
sauce for interview
at the moment I am an odd combination of ecstatic and butthurt. Butthurt because of today's draw and ecstatic because 1) the Miami Dolphins (mah boysssss) just beat those goddamned Patriots in ~~~handegg~~ and 2) it was Tim Howard who made all those saves and, well, let me just copy-paste what The Guardian wrote about the penalty: England then faced USA and the USA won. (WHATEVER, I LAUGHED)