The Prodigal Son

by guest blogger Chrisman.


Football came easy for you, didn’t it? Ever since you went on loan to Bournemouth, you’ve been scoring goals. Good quality goals. And you’ve been making it look pretty easy. Since you were 18 years old, you’ve had the technical ability to control and strike the ball that 95% of professionals would kill for.

So I suppose it’s not really any sort of surprise that you completely take those skills for granted. I suppose it’s not surprising that, given your immense level of natural ability, you steadfastly refuse to listen to any type of coaching or advice. I suppose it’s even less surprising that you don’t listen to coaching, since the man who initially blew so much smoke up your ass and told you how brilliant you were is the man who has paradoxically been trying to ‘coach’ you for most of your career.

What you don’t have, Jermain, is the desire to make yourself better than the sum of your skills. Ian Wright, an abhorrent man though he is, had that desire. So did Lineker. It’s scary to think of what those 2 players could have achieved if they had Defoe’s talent (ok it’s not scary – they’re Klinsmann or Batistuta). Defoe, however, has neither the desire nor strength of character to achieve his full potential. He wants to do everything on his own terms, without having to really sweat, really grind it out, really put his body and mind on the line. His general attitude to adversity is extremely poor, and he seems like one of the players you would least want on your side when things aren’t going well.

It’s another example of Harry Redknapp’s in-fighting with himself. He told Jermain to play his natural game. Play to his strengths. Sit on the last shoulder. Wait for the scraps to fall for him. Score goals. Because that’s the most important thing for a striker. Scoring. As long as you are scoring, what more can someone ask…..right? Wrong. I’ve heard Harry say it a few times over the last few weeks….Jermain needs to add more to his game. He needs to work more, link up with the midfield and his strike partner more. Do more running. Use more movement between defence and midfield. Do you think Harry was saying this to Jermain when they were at Pompey, or even West Ham? No, because back then, scoring goals was enough.

But with the move up in teams comes the move up in expectations. Jermain has been here before, and for whatever reason (certainly not lack of talent) he couldn’t cut it. Actually the reason was pretty obvious – Berbatov thought Defoe was a footballing simpleton, and made it very clear that he wasn’t going to waste his time going through strike partnership 101 with him. I’m fairly certain we are approaching some sort of groundhog day with Pav taking the Berba role. Defoe might not be learning, but old Harry will not be as ignorant. Not now he has seen with his own eyes what we all saw 3 years ago.

It’s probably come as much of a shock to Harry as to anyone else that despite scoring 25 odd goals, something is clearly missing from Defoe’s game. I think it’s been a massive mind-mangler for Harry - he spent nearly £40 million on strikers, and the most talented all round player we have in that department is apparently the one who was already there. And also the one that Harry rated the least. Harry may well be stubborn and old fashioned, but he is also smart, and has a wonderful instinct for self preservation. This means that he tends to correct his errors sooner rather than later, and I give him immense credit for swallowing his pride on this and no small amount of other issues in the last year or so. It’s like everything he knew and learnt in his last 20 or so years of management has to be thrown out of the window. Flushed down the toilet. And the really sad thing is that along with those footballing ‘truths’ that Harry has to discard, there are players too. Poor Defoe (and maybe Crouchie) will soon be bogflushed like so much bumwad. This brings me on to…

…if anyone ever needed an example of how scoring goals is not the be all and end all for a striker, look no further than Ruud Van Nistelrooy. Arguably the best all round finisher you are ever likely to see, but Ferguson knew Man Utd weren’t going to win the league again with him in the team. Ferguson was able to make the brutal decision to jettison the club’s top scorer. Almost literally, he had to send the old horse to the glue factory. You can almost hear him now, neighing ‘but boss, I’ve scored 20-plus league goals in ever season, I’ve scored shedloads in the Champs League…what more can I do?’ Ferguson won’t answer, because he knows ol’ Boxer won’t understand. He doesn’t understand the complexities of the issue. He’s not programmed to think, or to understand. Just score. 

Jermain is a player who can be a joy to watch. But more often than not he’s sullen, petulant, lazy and selfish. He is the classic spoilt child, told by his mentor that he is wonderful and beyond reproach. It’s going to be quite a shock to the system to see lanky misfits A and B usurp him in the pecking order for Spurs and England. Can he comprehend what is happening? Does he have the mental strength to do something about it? History suggests that the answer to both questions is no. And to be perfectly honest, I doubt very much whether Defoe cares. It’s going to be his way, or not at all.