There is perhaps no transfer, in or out, that would signify Tottenham’s transition to a new era more so than the departure of Jermain Defoe.
The phrase ‘new era’ has been synonymous with the club ever since Andre Villas-Boas arrived at White Hart Lane to replace Harry Redknapp, and, though the managerial change fits this criteria, the sale of one of the club’s longest-serving players will be most representative of the ambitious direction towards which the club are moving.
Rumours of an impending exit for Defoe – a cult figure at Spurs, with a respectable 118 goals in 298 games over two spells and seven-and-a-half years – have gathered pace in the last week as he is believed to be surplus to Villas-Boas’s requirements and available for just under £10 million.
Defoe became a popular figure at Spurs, signed by interim manager David Pleat in January 2004 as a sprightly 21-year-old. Oddly (although maybe not when you consider the reaction to Emmanuel Adebayor’s move to Spurs this season) there was little animosity towards the forward, despite his affiliation with London rivals West Ham.
But that may be down to the reputation which the striker carried at the time, as Pleat explained on completion of the transfer, saying: “I can’t think of a British striker at his age who has achieved as much in such a short space of time.”
Spurs had snapped up one of the most promising young poachers in the country and he started well, scoring seven times in the second half of the 2003-04 season, as well as beginning his first full campaign convincingly.
But it could be argued that this was the only stage of Defoe’s Tottenham career in which he was the main striker. Mido and Robbie Keane became Martin Jol’s preferred pairing before Dimitar Berbatov joined the Irishman to create one of the most potent strikeforces in the Premier League. After Darren Bent signed in the summer of 2007, Defoe found himself further down the pecking order and moved to Portsmouth.
Even on his return to White Hart Lane under Redknapp, Defoe was still competing with Keane, Bent and Roman Pavlyuchenko and the trend has followed him all the way to the present day. He has been the nearly-man at Spurs, despite an obvious goalscoring knack that would be so valued elsewhere – and that became his problem.
Still just 29 years old, he will offer at least a few more years of top-level service for whichever club he joins but it has become patently obvious that he has his limitations – and there will be few Tottenham fans who would disagree. Always good for a goal, but rarely offering much in the build-up, the modern Spurs team of consecutive fifth-place finishes under Jol and the improvements under Redknapp showed that the club required a front line capable of more than Defoe could offer.
Though the Keane and Berbatov axis best represented the value of possessing strikers with a rounded set of attributes, Adebayor’s productive campaign both in front of goal and as a creator last season highlighted a need for a striker suited to leading the line alone (though Defoe has improved in this aspect).
That is not to say that he has no role in top-flight football, though. If you were to give Defoe a full campaign he would return double figures – and to any side below the top eight, that would be vital. Teams such as Fulham, Aston Villa and Reading – to take three at random – would have no issue in providing Defoe the first-team football that he so desperately seeks. But at the summit of the league, the game has changed; as defences sit back and invite pressure, strikers able to interchange with their supporting cast tend to create a greater danger.
It is sad to see a loyal club servant leave and that will be the case for many if and when Defoe moves on, but with the aspirations of Tottenham eclipsing his worth, it is in the best interests of both parties to part ways.
Sadly for a man who openly cares for the club, he never attained the peak of his perceived potential. There is no shame in that but, as Tottenham look to move away from the nearly-men tag that has dogged their Premier League lifespan, they will need to discard the man who encapsulates that more than any other Spur.
This article originally featured on Goal.com