In truth it was a love affair of convenience rather than choice that brought Jermain Defoe to Toronto FC. Desperate to remove himself from the White Hart Lane bench in order to increase his England World Cup chances, Defoe would have settled for anywhere as long as he could play regularly. Unfortunately for him, that only option was a move to Canada and the vastly improving MLS as a designated player. TFC pulled out all the stops to persuade Defoe to quit London for Toronto offering him a package that was too good to refuse, wining and dining his mother all across the city and even having Toronto born rapper Drake call the player in an effort to swing favour. But did he really want to leave London for the icy winters in Toronto? Honestly no but he had little choice.
Defoe may have said the right things at the press conference but beneath that fake smile lay the dark truth – he was using Toronto to get to Brazil. He or his advisers had convinced him that playing and scoring regularly for Toronto would give him the edge over other rivals for a spot in the final 23 man squad. With Rooney guaranteed, Defoe was aiming for one of the other three places but did he really stand a chance? Given that his competition was the trio of Lambert, Welbeck and Sturridge, Defoe must have realized that even a move to Barcelona couldn’t have helped his chances. Given that Rickie Lambert, the then Southampton striker who at 31 was scoring for fun on more than a regular basis and offered a more physical presence than Defoe. Or Danny Welbeck, a standout player in a very average performing Manchester United team under David Moyes, who won favour with England boss Roy Hodgson thanks in part to a series of stellar performances during qualifying. Or perhaps it was Daniel Sturridge who he thought he could displace despite the Liverpool striker being in the best form of his life and seen as England’s best striker. Of course Defoe was a shoe in for a place, why wouldn’t he considering that his ego had already told himself that he had one foot on the plane. In the end Hodgson rightly or wrongly didn’t select Defoe for the World Cup thus ending the dream and with it Toronto’s chances of holding onto their big name signing.
So on the coldest day in Toronto so far this year (-33 with the wind chill), Defoe finally bided adieu to his home for less than a year and headed back to London to sign for… well no-one. Instead he is heading north to Sunderland, a place not known for its warmth either. A swap deal plus cash move that sees US striker Jozy Altidore head to Canada has been agreed and Defoe has gotten his wish, to return to the Premiership and of course to his beloved mother. Defoe will retain the astronomical wages that he was given in Canada at Sunderland, along with his belief that a return to the national team is a possibility. Toronto on the other hand will pick up the pieces of Defoe’s failed move and focus on replacing him, either with Altidore on his own (if the MLS agrees to it of course) leading the line or as part of a new front duo alongside rumoured target Italy and Juventus striker Sebastian Giovinco.
The heavily advertised “Bloody Big Deal” has spectacularly ended with a whimper with few fans disappointed to see Defoe go. Whilst he may have performed well during his 19 games for the club, the player’s attitude and apparent need of an escape route as soon as possible quickly turned the home crowd against him. Even the two men responsible for engineering the move – Tim Bezbatchencko and Tim Leiweke could not hide their distaste for the man towards the end. Whether this was an eye opening experience for the pair is unknown but surely they must have predicted this when they signed Defoe in the first place? Hardly filled with options, Defoe could either languish on the bench at Spurs or give this MLS malarkey a go in the hopes that he became a superstar once more like Henry or Keane had. Unfortunately for Defoe both of those players, who he called out as reasons for his optimism for the league, were superstars when they arrived; not because of it.
Defoe’s return to the Premiership will be viewed by many as a career salvaging move, with the striker still highly regarded by many in England. His spell in North America will be viewed in the future as successful given his goals to game ratio however the underlining truth is that it wasn’t. From the day Defoe arrived in Toronto, he was engineering his escape. That escape has been found and for the MLS its good riddance. Toronto may suffer in the short term from his departure but longer term will become a stronger team. Defoe on the other hand could have made yet another terrible mistake by joining relegation threatened Sunderland. He must believe that he can score the goals to rescue them and keep them in the Premiership, but if he can’t then once again he will be looking towards the exit door.