Defoe, Adebayor and the Journey of Tottenham Hotspur's Strike-Force Since 2004

Thomas CooperFeatured ColumnistJanuary 4, 2013

Jermain Defoe and Emmanuel Adebayor the current and primary subjects of the continuous debate that surrounds Tottenham Hotspur's forward options.
Jermain Defoe and Emmanuel Adebayor the current and primary subjects of the continuous debate that surrounds Tottenham Hotspur's forward options.Michael Regan/Getty Images

Jermain Defoe's transfer from West Ham United to Tottenham Hotspur in January 2004 was, along with the development of Ledley King and the earlier signing of Robbie Keane, one of the key developments in the progress of the club over the last decade.

His arrival also instigated one of the key themes of that period in time, one that in a comparatively pared-down form exists to this day—the near-constant competition between a number of talented, occasionally woeful and thoroughly entertaining forwards.

That 2003-04 season saw Tottenham moving away the players that had been their predominant source of goals since the mid to late 1990s.

Helder Postiga and Fredi Kanoute came in alongside Keane with Steffen Iversen, Teddy Sheringham and Les Ferdinand having departed over the course of 2003 (Chris Armstrong having moved on a year earlier, and Sergei Rebrov soon to leave too).

That group had rotten luck with injuries (though Sheringham generally stayed fit), with spells on the sidelines ensuring they never developed into the strike-force their talent warranted.

Compared to the packs of strikers that been rotated and utilized so effectively by recently successful sides for Manchester United and Arsenal, the collection of internationals Spurs amassed had not come anywhere near becoming a feared proposition beyond the individual merits of each player.

Partly what changed for the era brought on by Keane and Defoe was how improvements were made elsewhere in the team.

While quality experienced players were still sought, there was an increasing emphasis on signing younger talent (the balance had veered in the other direction during the days David Pleat and Glenn Hoddle were running things). Tottenham became an altogether more competitive prospect than they had been for some time.

There were reasons beyond goals as to why they broke out of their longtime mid-table rut, but the role of their strikers was definitely the most exciting of them.

Excluding their brief ventures elsewhere in 2008, for the best part of five years Keane and Defoe would be the constants around which a progression of (usually bigger) strikers would operate.

The changing faces ensured there were distinct periods in which these strike-forces existed rather than one which stayed the same for a substantial spell (a minimum of which would be three years i.e. Cole/Yorke/Sheringham/Solskjaer at Man United between 1998 and 2001), but generally they contributed enough goals they warrant being bunched together.

Joining those two and Kanoute first of all was Mido in January 2005, with the Egyptian replacing his fellow African striker as the team's de facto big-man upfront for the following campaign (Grzegorz Rasiak was involved for a short time but ultimately lacked top-flight quality).

Then manager Martin Jol had all but decided the smaller pairing of Keane and Defoe did not work together, and virtually from his appointment it was one or the other.

Defoe got the nod over Keane to begin with, but when the former lost form at the start of the 2005-06 season the Irishman soon displaced him as Jol's first choice. Egos were undoubtedly hurt in the competition for places, but it worked as whoever was not the regular starter was more than capable of coming in to the team and scoring goals.

The succession of big-men used as their taller counterpart gave variety and a nice balance to Tottenham's attack, but the arrival of a certain Bulgarian upped the quality and changed the stakes.

The ideal platform for Kanoute's football turned out to be in Spain while Mido was an effective forward when fit, however Dimitar Berbatov—he was perfect for Spurs.

As he was too for Keane, with the pair of them forming an almost immediate understanding that made for an often scintillating partnership, restricting Defoe's opportunities further. Still, even then he scored a further 24 goals between Berbatov's arrival and his own move to Portsmouth in January 2008, indicative of his ability to deliver when called upon.

All three were gone by September that year, leaving only Darren Bent and the newly arrived Roman Pavlyuchenko (the comparatively inexperienced Frazier Campbell had joined on-loan too), but Defoe and Keane would soon be back the following January to help Spurs ease their relegation fears after the dismal start to the 2008-09 campaign.

Soon enough Harry Redknapp was having to decide who best to go with to partner either Pavlyuchenko, or more likely another form Spur in the form of Peter Crouch. When Keane fell out of favor with the manager it all but eliminated him as part of the equation (even though he only officially left in 2011).

Rather than become simpler to answer the equation grew more complex with the signing of Rafael van der Vaart on the last day of the 2010 summer transfer window. Spurs had played with two strikers for so long it was something of a culture-shock to see them operating with the Dutchman sitting just off of a solitary man up top.

It was a game-changer for Tottenham, one that has had repercussions to this day in a roundabout way.

As a club they had never been beholden to 4-4-2 or having to have two up front, but after several years of accumulating talent to fulfill the needs of such a system they were once again in the mood to try something different (though it was not an entirely smooth development and coincided with a distinct lack of goals from Spurs' strikers proper during the latter half of the 2011-12 season).

Current manager Andre Villas-Boas has embraced this wholeheartedly, choosing to view having just two out-and-out strikers and a handful of versatile attacking midfielders as a means of flexibility rather than a restriction.

Defoe has arguably been playing the best football of his career of late and has thrived as a lone striker, so much so that it is more contentious now when Emmanuel Adebayor is playing alongside him rather than someone like Clint Dempsey in support.

We are a slave to the moment in this respect as it was not so long ago that some were keen to return to a front two. But if nothing else it is testament to the continuously ridiculous and thrilling entity that is the Tottenham strike-force.

What is in store for Defoe, Adebayor and whoever may be next to join this complicated lineage is unknown. But what is certain is that there are few Premier League clubs for whom the debate (both internal and external) for who to play upfront is as captivating as the one that so often takes place at White Hart Lane.