Tottenham 2 Crystal Palace 0
Jermain Defoe flew off to Canada yesterday to be unveiled as a Toronto FC player and begin a new phase of his life in North America leaving behind a series of questions.
Has the former West Ham starlet fulfilled the promise he showed as a teenager when he scored a record 10 goals in 10 successive games while on loan at Bournemouth? Is he leaving Tottenham at the wrong time with Tim Sherwood’s new 4-4-2 formation able to give Defoe more playing time than former manager Andre Villas-Boas? Will playing in the MLS be the killer blow for his chances of representing England at the World Cup next summer? And will Spurs miss out on a Champions League place if they fail to replace Defoe this month, as Sherwood insists is the case?
Defoe has rarely been guaranteed a starting place, going back to the days when he competed — mostly unsuccessfully — with Robbie Keane for a place alongside Dimitar Berbatov.
Under Sherwood he was vying with £26m Spain international Roberto Soldado to partner Emmanuel Adebayor in the Spurs attack.
Against Crystal Palace, Soldado and most of his team-mates laboured ineffectively for the opening 45 minutes as the relegation battlers outplayed their hosts and would have gone into the break ahead but for a shocker of a penalty from Jason Puncheon that almost cleared the roof of the North Stand.
But Sherwood shook things up at half-time, Christian Eriksen put Spurs ahead five minutes later and Defoe sealed the points with a trademark close-range finish shortly after replacing Soldado.
It was his 143rd goal for the club and makes his decision to follow Keane into Major League Soccer all the more baffling given that he and Tottenham have so much to gain from staying in London.
But as Defoe explained, there are a number of reasons for wanting a fresh start, some personal, some financial, with a four-year contract worth almost €100,000 per week.
Three close relatives have died tragically in recent years and he explained: “There are a few things — on a personal note, the things we have been through over the past few years as a family, and sometimes it is nice to have a change. I only had a year left on my contract at Tottenham so when someone offers you four years, you have to consider it.
“I’m excited. Everyone knows how I feel about Tottenham after nine years, and I’ve had a special relationship with the fans, but you move on — that is football. I’m 31, its a great opportunity for me and my family.”
Roy Hodgson is no fan of his players going to America, having warned Frank Lampard against it last season, but Defoe said: “Hopefully the manager knows what I can do. I’ve played in the Premier League my whole career so there is not much more I need to prove. It’s down to the manager. He picks the squad. I’ve always said if I’m picked to play for my country I will be ready.”
Sherwood said: “I can’t give enough praise to Jermain. He’s a fantastic professional. Whenever he comes on he wants to turn the game, to prove that he is good enough to start a game. He knows we will use him as and when we need to. Robbie Soldado is a great striker who has scored goals wherever he has been and at international level, and Ade gives us that physical presence, so we have an abundance at the moment. There is competition for places and will be right through the season, even when Jermain leaves at the end of February.
“He’s one of the best strikers the Premier League has ever seen, his scoring record suggests that. It is not just the clubs he has played for. He has done it at international level too. His minutes per goal ratio is fantastic.”
And Sherwood believes Defoe will thrive in North America. “We should give more credit to the MLS. It’s not a rubbish league. Jermain needs to play regular football and he sees the MLS as the place he can do that, as well as having a lifestyle change. He will spend his final footballing days over there and I am sure that won’t hinder his England chances because wherever he plays, he will score goals.”
A lack of goals is Palace’s problem and they could not even score from the penalty spot, as Puncheon proved. Yannick Bolasie said his fellow winger would not be downhearted long, though: “We’re not discouraged. The next game is at home to Stoke, Tony Pulis’s old side, and the gaffer is fired up for it and so will the boys be too.
“The spirit in the camp is good and the belief is as high as I have ever seen it. We just have to take our chances”
TOTTENHAM (4-4-2): Lloris 7; Walker 5 (Naughton 6, 48), Dawson 6, Chiriches 5, Rose 7; Lennon 7, Bentaleb 8, Dembele 7, Eriksen 7 (Chadli 6, 76); Adebayor 6, Soldado 5 (Defoe 7, 58).
CRYSTAL PALACE (4-5-1): Speroni 6; Parr 5, Delaney 6, Gabbidon 7, Mariappa 6; Bolasie 7 (Williams 6, 70), Chamakh 7, Jedenak 7, Ward 6, Puncheon 5 (Guedioura 6, 81); Jerome 7 (Gayle 6, 70).
Referee: Mike Oliver.
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