It started as a Bloody Big Deal.
Quickly, though, the arrival of east London’s finest striker in Toronto turned into a bloody big row.
The team’s form fell off a cliff in midsummer, coach Ryan Nelsen was fired, and the club seemed on the brink of selling Jermain Defoe back to a Premier League team. And it appeared that he’d have been more than happy with that.
Even the man who masterminded Defoe’s arrival questioned his commitment and said he expects him to leave this winter. “I personally don’t think Defoe will come back. I think if he doesn’t want to be here, you get rid of him,” Leiweke, president and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, told Ryerson students last month.
“My attitude: if you want to be here and you want to buy into what we’re doing, let’s go. Roll up your sleeves and we’ll fight together. And I will be there with you every day. If you don’t want to be here, get the hell out of our way.”
Or: “Look, mate, just piss off back to England, all right? Cheers,” as Toronto’s marketing department would probably put it if they have to make a farewell video.
Now Defoe has given a long interview to the Guardian’s Donald McRae in which the 32-year-old attempts to tip the PR scales back in his favor. Rarely a revealing interviewee, this is about as open and reflective in public as he gets. Certainly, with 11 goals in 19 games, Defoe delivered when he was on the field. But, as with David Beckham when he started with L.A., injuries quickly burst the hype bubble.
“When I saw [Leiweke’s] comments I was hurt,” Defoe confessed. “It’s so far from the truth. Football and commitment? Come on, man, that’s built into me. That stems from my family, my mum, my nan, my granddad. They worked hard their whole lives. I’ve always been that way. I’ve always dedicated myself to football and worked hard for the team and scored goals.”
He doesn’t exactly seem like a man in total control of his own destiny. Asked if he was close to joining QPR in August, Defoe tells McRae: “I really don’t know … as a player you’re often in the dark.”
As for his Toronto future? He is enthusiastic about the city but damns MLS with faint praise and said he believes he was left out of England’s World Cup squad because he joined the league. Despite England’s performance in Brazil, Defoe does not view this as a lucky escape.
“I can’t say what’s going to happen because I really don’t know. But I like Toronto. It’s a really nice city. And it’s amazing when the sun’s out. Obviously, the football’s different. The Premier League is one of the best in the world. Even compared to La Liga and Serie A it’s faster, and the tempo of the game is incredible,” he said.
“You always have to think quick and be sharp. In England every game is electric. But the fans here are good and quite noisy.”
Now back in England to see a specialist about his persistent groin injury, will he ever see the sun glinting off the CN Tower again?