Saturday 01 March 2014
Jermain Defoe said farewell to Tottenham Hotspur and to the Barclays Premier League this week as he heads off to play for Toronto FC in the MLS and begin a new chapter to his stellar career. Looking back on his 13 years in the Barclays Premier League the England striker talked exclusively to premierleague.com about his success on the pitch and off it with various good causes.
Defoe made his Barclays Premier League debut as an 18-year-old on 19 May 2001, coming on as a substitute for West Ham United away to Middlesbrough.
"I was at Bournemouth on loan having made my debut in the cup for West Ham and at Bournemouth I had scored a number of goals so I was looking forward to coming back to West Ham and playing that in the Premier League," he says. "It was like a dream come true to come on in the Premier League at such a young age for a good club. It was a special day."
"When I was through on goal I was thinking, 'This is it!' "
He had to wait until the next season for his first goal in the competition, in October, when as a substitute he was put through on goal to score the third goal in a 3-2 win for West Ham against Ipswich Town. Such was the confidence of the 19-year-old, even before he had scored he was thinking about the significance of the goal.
"Michael Carrick had flocked the ball on for me and I was one-on-one with the 'keeper and I slotted it past him. When I was through on goal it was something I had rehearsed so much from my West Ham youth days and before, at Lilleshall, so I was confident I was going to score.
"It was a matter of getting that chance. So when I was through I was thinking, 'This is it! This is what I have been waiting for since I was at school, watching Premier League matches.' "
Since making his debut for West Ham Defoe, now 31, has gone on to play for Spurs and Portsmouth before returning to White Hart Lane. For the striker each club has special memories for him.
"With West Ham because I came through the youth system, a lot of my friends were there and that was where I made my debut, it is always going to special for me, my foundation. But Spurs were different. Looking back I will think that I was meant to be at the club and score all those goals. It was meant to happen. I scored on my debut. I left before coming back, which not a lot of players can do. The fans were amazing. Even before I kicked a ball the reception the fans gave me when I signed was unbelievable! I thought, 'I had better do well here!'
"At Portsmouth, even though I wasn't there that long I enjoyed it because I had got frustrated at not playing at Spurs. It was perfect for me because Harry Redknapp was at Portsmouth and I was with him at West Ham from the age of 16 and so I thought I'd be happy there and get back in the England squad. And I did. I scored a lot of goals and the fans were really good. The stadium was always rocking.
"But I missed Tottenham so as soon as I got the phone call to return to Harry I had no hesitation to do so."
As well as being 14th in the list of all-time goalscorers in the Barclays Premier League, Defoe holds a number of other records. One is the player with the most goals as a substitute.
"It is good because you have to look at the list of players and who is in there and I am proud to be on top of it. I bumped into Ole last night and he said jokingly, 'You have just pipped me to the top.'
"Also being a member of the '100 Club', the players to have scored 100 goals in the Barclays Premier League, among all the other famous names there, is just fantastic."
Defoe is also in rare company for another Barclays Premier League record, as one of only four players to score five goals in one match. And it is the final one of those five against Wigan Athletic on 22 November 2009 that stands out for Defoe when asked to choose his favourite of all 124 goals he scored in the Barclays Premier League.
"The significance of that fifth one makes it special"
"There are many good ones: the overhead kick against Man United; the one last season against Man City when I cut inside Vincent Kompany and whipped it; against Arsenal, the debut. But the fifth one against Wigan was special for me.
"It was emotional on the pitch at the time because I love my football, I know all the stats, so I knew that only two players – Alan Shearer and Andy Cole – had scored five times in a Premier League match so to join these players I was like, 'Wow!' It was an unbelievable feeling and to do it in one half was special.
"The technique of those goals I enjoyed – finishing across the 'keeper, through his legs – but the significance of that fifth one makes it special."
As well as his success on the pitch Defoe was worked hard over the years in helping others off the pitch. His E18HTEEN project, which works with with the Tottenham Hotspur Foundation, has helped more than 160 young people local to Spurs who have been in care or are care leavers, offering more than 5,000 hours of one-to-one mentoring and access to training and employment opportunities.
Its success has been recognised by its nomination for a 2014 BT Sport Industry Award in the category of Community Programme of the Year and during the half-time farewell to Defoe during the UEFA Europa League match against Dnipro, one of E18HTEEN's participants, Charlotte, presented him with a surprise gift, a framed photo from the day he first met with the group back in 2011.
"Not only have you help change my life, but tonight shows that you have made a difference in the lives of thousands of people during your time here, and we will all miss you," Charlotte said.
The Jermain Defoe Foundation has been founded to support underprivileged children in his family's home country of St Lucia, working in partnership with the government and other charitable organisations, and his greater proximity to the Caribbean island and a Christmas off will help him to carry on promoting it.
"The Prince's Trust is an unbelievable cause because it has given lots of people the opportunity to fulfil their dreams"
"The E18HTEEN project will still be going and has another two years of funding and I am only five hours away so my mother will be busy."
Defoe has also helped out The Prince's Trust Football Initiative, which since 1997 has worked with the Premier League and the PFA to help change more than 22,000 young lives.
"The Prince's Trust is an unbelievable cause because it has given lots of people the opportunity to fulfil their dreams, people who have gone off the rails a bit and have had a hard time," Defoe says. "But the Prince's Trust gives them the opportunity to turn their lives around and do something they enjoy doing taking that passion they have. I enjoyed the things I have done for the Trust, the Q&As where I have tried to be as honest as I can and tried to inspire them."
Defoe is off to join the England squad for the friendly international against Denmark next week and then flies out to Toronto on 8 March before the MLS season starts a week later. And while the Premier League is saying its farewells to Defoe, the man himself says it may be more a case of "Au revoir", not ruling out a possible return at some point.
"You may see me back! You never know!"
For Jermain Defoe's stats in the Barclays Premier League go to his player profile page