Jermain Defoe this week spoke of his disappointment at being left out of Tottenham’s “big games” this season, but is this a case of the striker being a victim of football’s new approach, rather than his own performances?
Defoe’s campaign has been disrupted by injury this year and he only netted his first Premier League goals of the season in Sunday’s thrilling 3-3 draw at Wolves. But injury problems aside, the former West Ham and Portsmouth man has found himself on the bench more often than not, especially when Spurs face a difficult encounter. But as Defoe says himself: “this
Indeed, it seems the life of the diminutive-type goal-poacher is not as valuable as it once was. Defoe is as natural a goalscorer as you are likely to see, but his career has never hit the heights it perhaps might have done if he played the game before his time – when players like Robbie Fowler and Gary Lineker were considered such a priceless commodity in their ability to stick the ball in the net. The fact either player lacked ability in other facets of the game was completely redundant – they were there to score and that skill alone was enough to push them to the top of the game.
But now players in that mould just are not as revered as they once were. A lot of Defoe’s problems stem from the fact he is not useful at playing the lone striker role. His hold up play is poor and his selfish play is not a natural fit for such a role. Indeed, his falling out with former club Portsmouth came from a game at Anfield where he was dropped as Pompey preferred a 4-5-1 system in order to give them more bodies in midfield. The 4-5-1-cum-4-3-3 system has become more and more prominent in recent years, especially for away teams or underdogs looking to gain a foothold in a game. But the player that is often sacrificed is the chief goalscorer, who has become something of a luxury in the game. Spurs boss Harry Redknapp is one of few modern day managers who still employs the 4-4-2 system but even he has sacrificed his goal-getter for a midfielder – albeit an attacking one in Rafael van der Vaart.
Indeed, England’s World Cup campaign is perhaps the best case example. Emile Heskey was given the role of leading the line, despite his horrendous scoring record and lack of club playing time. But despite his inferiority to Defoe in the goalscoring stakes – by quite some distance – he was Fabio Capello’s first choice as he offered more to the team. The Head Coach wanted someone to hold the ball up, run the channels and be a focus point for his attack, valuing all those valuable attributes over the most important one of all – goals.