It’s the end of an era in Toronto, assuming an era can last one calendar year.
This week, Jermain “Bloody Big Deal” Defoe finished his year-long Canadian exchange program. In a swap deal that saw U.S. international Jozy Altidore join Toronto FC, Defoe will resume playing his soccerball at relegation-fighting English Premier League side Sunderland, Altidore’s ex-stomping ground.
Although a year may sound like an insignificant period of time to some, Defoe made an indelible impact on the MLS landscape, which is why we’ve decided to pay tribute to the legend’s dynamic North American career. Here are Defoe’s top five Toronto FC highlights.
1. It’s a bloody big deal
The beautiful thing about Toronto’s “Bloody Big Deal” campaign isn’t that it used the word bloody. That’s more awkward than beautiful. No, the beauty of the whole campaign is most of the material, like this video, is timeless.
For instance, most of this footage could also be used to announce that Defoe is returning to England. It can be leveraged to announce how much Toronto is paying Jozy Altidore. Michael Bradley decide not the shave his head? Sure. This campaign is far more versatile than it should be.
Video of people spitting out their drinks is useful because its flexible. That probably should be taught to marketing undergrads everywhere. Spit takes always work.
2. Groin injury
In August 2014, Defoe was sidelined with a groin injury. Toronto coach Ryan Nelsen informed the world that the injury was likely a result of back-to-back seasons, as he’d shown up in Toronto fresh off of “playing” with Tottenham in the Premier League. Nelsen also said he expected Defoe to be back by the end of September, which gave the striker plenty of time to hang out in Toronto – clearly was one of the five first best things Defoe did last season.
3. Defoe still injured
Look. These things happen. But by late October, Defoe was still mostly unavailable for new head coach Greg Vanney. During his spell on the sidelines — a chunk of which he spent back home in England, where he received treatment — Toronto fans began to question his commitment. That made Jermain sad:
“Throughout my career, I’ve never been criticized with my commitment because I love football. I always say I’m part of the old school, where I came from and how my parents brought me up. Not just my mom, my grandparents and everyone.
“And then you read things. Obviously social media is powerful and I see things from the fans. I try not to read it. But I’m only human and obviously I want to read things. And you want people to like you. You want the fans to realize that you love playing for the club and you love football.
“As long as I know in my heart that I’m committed, then I suppose the rest doesn’t really bother me.”
Note that Defoe never mentioned a specific club or which club he was committed to – a brilliant public relations move by the former England international. Have we ever seen that kind of seasoned savvy from Gilberto? No. Highlight.
4. Going to a Raptors game with Michael Bradley
One of the perks of having Drake recruit you is getting court-side tickets to a Raptors game and having the PA guy tell the semi-interested crowd that you are important. Kids dream of this. Defoe reportedly even had one of the Raptors players pick him up so that he could touch the net. It was a beautiful evening, one that Defoe will tell Lee Cattermole all about in between small-sided games at Sunderland’s training ground.
Everything else about this video is sad, especially the guy raising the scarf above his head.
5. Not getting called up to England’s World Cup squad
Back in May, Defoe was looking forward to joining his England colleagues in Brazil, insisting the England staff was watching for he performed in Toronto:
“I spoke to the physio this morning, he called me up and said, ‘How are you feeling, is everything 100 percent?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ And he said, ‘Good, because [head coach] Roy Hodgson wants the physios to phone all the players that potentially could be in the 23-man squad. He’s got a list of 30.’”
People may have questioned Defoe’s commitment, but his true commitment to not appealing Hodgson’s decision, allowing him to focus on being injured for much of the rest of the season. Imagine how much worse things would have been had he gone to Brazil and had to train with Chris Smalling.
There’s been no word yet as to whether Toronto will name a practice facility after Defoe, but it should. Through all the disappointment that’s been Toronto’s history in MLS, no single player has epitomized the team’s purpose, promise, and product more than Defoe. You can’t run from legend.