Once-upon-a-time Jermain Defoe was Tottenham’s super-sub, ready and willing to come off the bench but unable to break the duopoly on the Spurs striking spots held by Robbie Keane and Dimitar Berbatov. A rather bizarre revolving door transfer policy later and Defoe is back from Portsmouth and a fixture in the starting XI, alongside Keane, who spent a similar sabbatical at Liverpool before returning to the White Hart Lane fold. Berbatov is now at Old Trafford and Darren Bent has been and gone and now it is Defoe keeping the talents of Peter Crouch and Roman Pavlyuchenko out of the team.
Yet for his national team, Defoe seems to be experiencing a variation on Groundhog Day, with the same situation in a new location. The diminutive striker has now hit five goals as a substitute in his last three games for England but there still seems doubt as to whether he will be elevated into a starting role for the crunch clash with Croatia on Wednesday. Having taken 28 games to register his first five goals for his country, including doubles against the uninspiring opposition of Andorra and Trinidad and Tobago, Defoe has now started to find his groove. Unfortunately for the former West Ham man, England boss Fabio Capello appears to prefer a hefty target man to partner golden boy Wayne Rooney and so Defoe could again miss out to Emile Heskey. Despite being behind Gabby Agbonlahor and John Carew in the Aston Villa pecking order, Heskey remains the pick of England’s options for a battering ram role, with Carlton Cole as yet unproven and the bullish Kevin Davies uncapped and unfancied.
Defoe has been a slow-burner at international level, periodically given chances but never able to establish himself as a key part of the England squad. He was so unfavoured by former boss Sven-Goran Eriksson that the Swede overlooked him for the 2006 World Cup finals in favour of the half-fit Michael Owen and Rooney, and the untried wildcard of 17-year-old Theo Walcott, leaving Crouch as the only fully fit and experienced striker out of just four in the touring party. Sven stuck by his decision, despite England suffering problems up front in Germany. When asked after the tournament if he would have been better off taking Defoe rather than the work-experience boy Walcott, the Swede exclaimed, “If I had thought so I would have picked him. I’ve seen him 15 or 20 times this season and I have to take the best players who I think will be good for us in the future.”
After an explosive start to the season, matched by his club side’s 100% record so far, Defoe’s stock has never been higher. With England able to seal qualification for the 2010 World Cup by beating their Croatian rivals, the 26-year-old could become his country’s latest hero if he can continue his excellent form and score the goals that beat Slaven Bilic’s Croatia. Firstly, he must convince Capello between now and the submission of the team sheets on Wednesday that he is worthy of a place in the team from kick-off. The Italian would be quite within his rights to view Defoe as someone who performs better coming off the bench, given the player’s record of five goals when starting and six as a substitute.
There was good news elsewhere for Defoe’s Tottenham strike partners with both Keane and Pavlyuchenko netting in World Cup qualifiers. Keane scored the winner for the Republic of Ireland as they won 2-1 in Cyprus while Pavlyuchenko struck twice for Russia as they beat Liechtenstein 3-0. There was further happy news for two Spurs players over in the CONCACAF region as Giovani dos Santos and Wilson Palacios saw their chances of competing in South Africa next summer boosted. Gio was on the scoresheet for Mexico and set up two further goals as his country won 3-0 in Costa Rica. Palacios was suspended for Honduras’ 4-1 win over Trinidad and Tobago but his side are now top of the region’s qualifying group ahead of a meeting with club mate Gio and his Mexican side on Wednesday. No doubt Harry Redknapp will be keeping his eyes on that one as he, along with 19 other Premier League managers keep their fingers crossed that all their stars come back fit and healthy to resume their league campaigns.