Defoe or not Defoe – it’s not even a question

Without wishing to pre-empt the entire article, Jermaine Defoe is a very good football player, not a world-class football player.

There is much empirical evidence to substantiate this, but what is most striking is that he has never scored more than 13 Premier League goals in a season (a record topped by more players than I care to list). It is at this point that you hear the rebuttal, but he played most games as a substitute, and I can’t refute that, but there is a reason Defoe was a substitute, he wasn’t regarded by his managers (and there have been more than one) as one of the best two options in the squad.

There have been many reasons muted for this, but at Spurs the principal one was that two little men are not an ideal strike partnership, something which although many hold to be true, is not an absolute theory and is disproved not least by the Rooney, Tevez partnership that won the Premier League only a few seasons back.

However even if you subscribe to the theory implemented by Spurs that the correct system is more important than more talented players in a less balanced system, it still prompts two important points in the current Defoe debate. Firstly Rooney and Defoe would be reverting to two small men upfront (Rooney is a strong, tenacious guy but he is not a target man in the mould of Heskey, Carew or Adebayor) the very thing many argue does not work.

Secondly surely Defoe is not as good as Robbie Keane (he was after all his understudy at Spurs for years, and left for that reason. It would be interesting to know if Defoe would have accepted a return to White Hart Lane if Robbie Keane had moved back before him) a player who has failed quite spectacularly during both his spells with established top European clubs, namely Inter Milan and Liverpool, with his times there lasting only a year and six months respectively.

On top of this despite Defoe being transferred three times in the last five years he has not once been picked up by a top four club, has never played in the Champions League, and has never gone to an international tournament. Indeed Eriksson preferred to pick Theo Walcott, despite admitting he had never seen him play, than take Jermaine Defoe to Germany, a decision that whilst being almost universally regarded as a mistake shows the regard Defoe was held in by yet another top manager.

I know there are other factors that undoubtedly come into this debate, not least Defoe’s current form and Heskey’s seeming inability to score a goal no matter how presentable the opportunity. Yet should this be enough to change what is a balanced, organised and winning England team just to accommodate a player who has previously been judged by many (in fact rightly or wrongly by every manager except Harry Redknapp) to be a substitute?

Getting the most out of the England team requires finding a way for Gerrard and Lampard to coexist in a system which fully utilises all the talent and ability of Wayne Rooney. If this system involves Gareth Barry and Emile Heskey rather than the more talented Michael Carrick and Jermaine Defoe, and the side wins, then surely this is the best option.

As I have mentioned I believe Jermaine Defoe is a very good football player and offers an option that with the exception of Michael Owen (which under Capello doesn’t appear to be an option) is lacking in the England fold. However going on past experience Defoe should be more concerned about securing his place in the England squad that travels to South Africa than he should be about gaining an elevation into its starting XI.

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