Jermain Defoe: Why He Has Been Unsung Hero for Tottenham Hotspur This Season
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So after the speculation and the rumours, and the last-minute suggestion his absence for Tuesday night's game against Wigan Athletic was down to a deal being done for his move to Liverpool, Jermain Defoe remained a Tottenham Hotspur player.
But there was never really a doubt this would be the case.
Defoe missed the 3-1 win over Wigan as a result of a hamstring injury picked up against Watford the previous Friday; Tottenham's official club website had already made it known it was doubtful he would play. And besides, even with Spurs' sometimes puzzling transfer dealings, there was no chance a player who has performing as well as Defoe has this season would have been allowed to leave.
Despite not being a regular starter for Tottenham this season, beginning eight Premier League games and being brought on in a further eight, Defoe has been one of the club's most consistently impressive performers.
His eight league goals (in addition to three cup goals) have been a solid return, seeing him already double his Premier League tally from last season. But it has been the improvement in his all-round game that has been just as pleasing. While credit is due to many in the Spurs squad for what has been a good campaign thus far, Defoe has been in many ways the most unsung of all contributors.
Looking back on 2010/11, it wasn't just that Defoe wasn't scoring; it was the general air of apathy that surrounded his performances that was especially frustrating. While a certain amount of leniency was allowed for the spell immediately following his return from the injury problems that caused him to miss the first few months of the season, it was hard to be sympathetic of Defoe's performances later on.
What the 29-year-old has instilled (or to some extent restored) to his game this season has been exactly what was lacking last time round.
In and around the penalty box the striker's movement has been a lot sharper. Previously Defoe was likely to be found hovering around the edge of the area, practically waiting for the ball to come to him. This season that inclination has begun to change.
There is a greater awareness of the contribution he can make off the ball, how by making a run he might not necessarily get the ball himself, but he might be able to pull defenders out of position to make space for teammates. It sounds a given for a striker, but few do it as often as they should. Defoe is increasingly doing so and is subsequently making more opportunities for himself. This work ethic has extended beyond contributions he might make in the final third.
One of the main reasons Roman Pavlyuchenko has probably been allowed to leave is due to Defoe's growing willingness to drop deep and link up with his teammates, something that was one of the Russian's strongest attributes. It is has not become a major part of Defoe's game, but he seems to have realised he can help his team by offering another body to pass to in the progression up the pitch.
Then, either through the presence of Emmanuel Adebayor up top or the pace with which Spurs can get players forward, they are not losing out from not having Defoe further up the pitch but actually improving the likelihood of creating a goal-scoring opportunity in the first place.
In the recent 3-2 loss to Manchester City, there were frequent periods of play where Defoe didn't see much of the ball. But by at least attempting to get involved in the action, there were several occasions when he nipped in to win the ball back around the halfway line, or closed down the City player on the ball.
Though it would be Stefan Savic's failed clearance that led to his goal, Defoe was crucially alert and in sync with the game's flow so as to capitalise, which he did so in most clinical fashion. But for an extra inch or two in height he may have grabbed the winner too, in what turned into a heartbreaking defeat.
Defoe may have only started the City game because of Adebayor's ineligibility, but all the concentrated improvements he made to his game have meant he is as good a go-to guy in the Premier League right now. Something he wasn't necessarily in the past when, after a game or two out of the side, he wasn't as sharp as would have been liked when called upon again.
He has played well in many of the games this season that he didn't get a goal, but if you look at the games Defoe did score in there is evidence of a certain reliability now.
The unofficial starting point of Tottenham's season saw Defoe start and scored in the two victories over Wolves and Liverpool; his next two goals came in substitute appearances at Newcastle and Fulham. Back starting in late November, he grabbed strikes in consecutive games against West Brom and Bolton. Then, after missing the Christmas period through injury, he returned for the home game against the Baggies and score the vital winning goal in a tight contest.
Whether Defoe can maintain this level of consistency for the remainder of the season will be of significance to both him and Tottenham. His good performances this season have helped make sure that the difficulty to score goals that cost Spurs so dearly late last season has thus far not been repeated.
The loan signing of Louis Saha will reinforce an attack that may have looked light had Pavlyuchenko been allowed to leave un-replaced. But even if Adebayor supported by Rafael van der Vaart is Harry Redknapp's preferred attacking combination, Defoe will be just as vital to the Tottenham cause.
His new-found maturity will be tested further as the current third-place side face a difficult run of fixtures against their rivals in the top six. If he has never previously been the big-game player Spurs may have liked, Defoe will have ample opportunity to demonstrate he is now.
The rewards for Spurs from such a contribution could leave them in prime position to cement a Champions League spot or even a possible challenge for the title in the season's last couple of months. For Defoe, too, it might be what he needs to grab himself a spot in England's Euro 2012 squad.
Fabio Capello would be smart to look beyond the fact that Defoe doesn't always start for Tottenham. As strikers go he remains one of England's deadliest finishers whilst, as has been discussed here, the improvements to his all-round game make him someone who can contribute more to the team than just goals.
Defoe was one of the few to come out of England's 2010 World Cup squad with any semblance of pride and indeed evidence of him being a capable tournament player, grabbing the goal in their only win against Slovenia. There is talent elsewhere among English attackers, but with Wayne Rooney being suspended for the opening two games, Defoe would be the most experienced and reliable goal threat to call upon.
So right now, Defoe might well be Tottenham Hotspur's unsung player of 2011/12. If he carries on as he has been, there is every chance he will be recognised as one of the key players of what might yet be a very successful year.
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