Sunday 18 February 2018

Defoe is 'only' a goalscorer - but his value is priceless

'Every other player on the pitch is ball-watching, and Defoe is the only one already on the next page of the move as he shifts his weight in anticipation of a pass.' Photo: Reuters/Peter Nicholls
'Every other player on the pitch is ball-watching, and Defoe is the only one already on the next page of the move as he shifts his weight in anticipation of a pass.' Photo: Reuters/Peter Nicholls
Aidan O'Hara

Aidan O'Hara

At a point in his career when he should have been firmly established in the team, Monty Panesar again found himself on the brink of being dropped from the England cricket starting line-up.

It seemed his left-arm spin could be extremely effective in one match but he could do exactly the same thing in the next and pose no threat. Then, legendary Australian Shane Warne gave his assessment and suddenly everything became clearer.

"Monty Panesar hasn't played 33 Tests," said Warne. "He has played the one Test, 33 times."

Watching Jermain Defoe score the winner for Bournemouth against Brighton on Friday night, it was tempting to make a similar argument that Defoe hasn't scored 159 Premier League goals, he has just scored the same one 159 times.

For somebody of Defoe's quality, it wasn't a difficult chance but the inevitability of the outcome underlines why a player who turns 35 in three weeks' time probably still has a couple of years left, in a league packed full of physical power but often lacking in game intelligence.

Paused

Had somebody paused the game at the point when Jordon Ibe took his penultimate touch on the edge of the box, it would have been one of the easiest questions ever answered in a Question of Sport-style 'What Happened Next' round.

Inside the box, Defoe (pictured) has found a pocket of space, behind one centre back and between the other one and the left back. If there was a triangle drawn between the three Brighton defenders, Defoe was almost perfectly in the middle.

Every other player on the pitch is ball-watching, and Defoe is the only one already on the next page of the move as he shifts his weight in anticipation of a pass. Once Ibe sees Defoe's movement, his mind is made up for him. The pass is played, the ball is drilled low to the goalkeeper's right, there's a defender on the ground who didn't quite get there in time, and Defoe is off to celebrate.

Opponents playing against West Ham, Tottenham, Portsmouth and Sunderland have all been in the same position over the last 16 years as they berate themselves for a lack of concentration that has been ruthlessly punished.

It's often said that defenders don't like playing against pace, or power, or someone who takes them on, but the reality is that they would be happy to face a centre-forward who possesses all three, once he didn't have the finishing ability of Defoe.

Shane Long, for example, would be a nightmare to mark in the manner that he contests every header, chases down every lost cause and doesn't allow defenders a moment to rest. These are all great qualities which have deservedly brought Long and similar players a fruitful career, yet defenders have often finished such physically demanding encounters exhausted and battered, but having won 1-0.

In Defoe's case, his opponent may have kept him quiet for 89 minutes and 40 seconds of the match but nobody cares because they've lost 2-1 and Defoe has scored twice.

The '100 Club' on Sky Sports features a selection of goals scored by players who have passed a century in the Premier League and is confirmation that it's just a trick of the mind to believe Defoe has only scored one type of goal.

There's the screamer for Tottenham against Arsenal which flies into the top corner of Jens Lehmann's goal in 2004, the overhead kick in his second stint at Spurs against Manchester United in 2009, and the left-footed volleyed winner for Sunderland against Newcastle in 2015.

They're the three highlights but the fact that they stretch over 11 years point to how rare the stunning strikes mix in with a career spent as a poacher.

The fact that Nigel Winterburn was in the West Ham team alongside him when Defoe scored his first Premier League goal is a measure of just how long he has been on the scene - which is all the more impressive given that he joined Toronto FC four and a half years ago in a move that, as with Robbie Keane, could have made for an easier, fill-your-boots life of scoring goals but would effectively have ended his career at the highest level.

Instead, he returned to Sunderland in January 2015 and, in much the same way as there are managers who are trusted to keep teams from being relegated, Defoe has developed a new career as a goalscorer for teams who can't score goals.

Two seasons ago, Sunderland netted 48 goals, of which Defoe got 15. He scored in 12 different games and, of them, Sunderland only lost three, which given they lost 17 times and survived by two points shows the nature of Defoe's contribution.

Sadly for Sunderland, it eventually sealed their fate as it got Sam Allardyce the England job and meant they turned to David Moyes. Even in such a disastrous campaign where the Black Cats finally ran out of lives and were relegated by 16 points, Defoe still scored 15 of their 29 league goals.

Secure

Defoe is seventh in the all-time Premier League goalscorers charts and now trails Robbie Fowler - another striker who was a finisher above all else - by just five goals. Given that Sergio Aguero (127) is the only current Premier League player below him, Defoe's place in the top 10 is secure for a long time.

The top five in that chart - Alan Shearer, Wayne Rooney, Andy Cole, Frank Lampard and Thierry Henry - are all multiple medal winners which makes Defoe's lone League Cup winner's medal look somewhat paltry for a player with such a rare ability to find the net.

The fact that Defoe has never reached 20 league goals in a season is probably the reason why no title-chasing club has ever broken the bank for him but his consistency in hitting double figures in the Premier League nine times, including the last two seasons, means there'll always be a club willing to sign him.

He might 'only' be a goalscorer but if he keeps Bournemouth in the richest league in the world, his value is almost priceless.

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