MAIN INTERVIEW, MATCHDAY PROGRAMME v QPR, OCTOBER 30
There’s no doubt that Jermain Defoe is looking sharp. Among the goals, enjoying his football and optimistic about the season ahead…it’s all good for JD right now. By Jon Rayner.
After a disappointing strike rate last term, the goals are starting to flow once again for hot-shot Jermain Defoe and he puts much of that down to a fortnight of hard graft and extra fitness work during the close season.
It’s not often our centre-forward suffers a crisis of confidence in front of goal but during an injury-hit campaign in 2010-11, Jermain hit the back of the net just nine times in all competitions for us, and only four in the Barclays Premier League.
Those are figures that just don’t stack up for a player who simply loves scoring goals, who was born to be a striker and, having now scored 106 times in our colours, stands 12th on our all-time goalscorers list, just four behind Spurs legend Glenn Hoddle.
So determined was he not to endure another difficult and frustrating season this time around, JD headed for France just before pre-season to spend two weeks with renowned fitness coach Tiberius Darau, in a bid to enhance his fitness and improve his sharpness.
It certainly seems to have been time well spent for the England hitman, who looks to have rediscovered his sharpness this season, is enjoying his football again and who has already fired in five goals this term. Jermain admits much of the credit for that must go to those two testing weeks in France.
“I remember last season when I got the ankle injury, I was going to go there and do my rehab but that didn’t happen,” explained JD. “I was curious though, as he has such a great reputation and has worked with some really top players in the past. I wanted to get over there and work with him, so I did during the summer for two weeks and it was unbelievable.
“It was hard, really hard! I’ve never worked like that in my life to be honest, but it’s paid off so I’m happy,” added Jermain. “I did a lot of sharpness work with him on the pitch, just short, sharp work, a lot of stuff on my legs for the power to be explosive and it’s been great.
“There were times when I wanted to cut it short and just go back home because it was so hard, but I thought that at the end of the day, if you put the work in, you get rewarded for it. So I’m happy I did it.”
And if Jermain feels he is reaping the benefits, then so is the team as a whole with JD back among the goals so quickly this season. He was off the mark immediately, netting in our season opener at Hearts, before adding to his tally with goals against Wolves, Liverpool, Shamrock Rovers and, most recently, Newcastle United. By contrast, it took him until January to score five times last season.
But right throughout the squad, competition for places is as fierce as it has ever been at Spurs and even though he has been on the scoresheet regularly, Jermain is having to fight for his place up front alongside Rafael van der Vaart, Roman Pavlyuchenko and new on-loan signing Emmanuel Adebayor. All four strikers have been hitting the target this season and Jermain knows it’s difficult for any of them to keep their place as they are all quality forwards.
“It’s a massive squad and everyone is fighting for their place, we’ve got great players,” he said. “It’s important that when you do play, you play well. Being a forward, you get judged on scoring goals and you’ve got to try to score in every game you play. If you can’t score, then you have to help the team as best you can to win the game.
“It must be difficult for the manager when he has so many great players to choose from and not everyone can play every game. We’ve got an unbelievably strong squad and we all know that there’s someone behind you that can potentially come into the team and do well. Then you can end up on the bench for a few games – so you have to take your chance when it comes and try to stay in the team.”
Talking of our new Ivorian striker, Adebayor, Jermain admits he was excited about his arrival on loan from Manchester City and the pair have struck up a good understanding on and off the pitch. They have started alongside each other three times so far this term – against Wolves, Liverpool and Arsenal – and on each occasion we came out on top.
It’s a partnership that has clicked and Jermain was surprised at how quickly they hit it off up front together.
“It’s been brilliant to be honest,” he said. “A lot of people have said to me it’s amazing that despite not playing with Ade before, it seems like we’ve been playing together for years. We’ve linked up and we just have an understanding, but it’s easy really because he is a great player.
“He’s been there and he’s done it, played for top clubs and it is quite easy when someone like that comes into a football club. I knew Ade from before and used to speak to him after games, sometimes I would go and watch my mate Shaun Wright-Phillips play for Manchester City, I would see Ade afterwards and we’d chat. So when he came here it was great.
“We have a laugh, he’s got great banter and even the first day we trained together, it was quite exciting.”
Like any good striker, there is nothing Jermain likes more than seeing the ball hit the back of the net. He believes the buzz he gets from scoring is something he was born with and has never been happy if he comes off the pitch without a goal to his credit.
“Even for my first team when I was about eight, if I didn’t score I’d get in the car and sometimes I’d cry,” he admits. “Just having that fire in my belly to score from a young age was so important and I’ve still got that now.”
But scoring goals at the very top level of the game takes plenty of hard work, dedication and practice on the training ground and that’s something Jermain is certainly not averse too. He can always be found firing balls into the net from all sorts of distances and angles at Spurs Lodge and says there is nothing better than when all that extra work pays off – as it did against Newcastle at St James’ Park recently.
“When it’s something you’ve rehearsed all week in training, you’ve practised it and painted pictures in your head of how it could look in the match – and then at the weekend you score, it’s the best feeling in the world.
“In the run-up to our game at Newcastle, I worked during the week on getting shots away quickly. Sometimes what’s important as a forward is that when you shoot, you don’t have much back-lift, you just sort of hit the ball quickly. One day after training , I got about 50 balls and was just hitting them like that.
“A lot of the time, goalkeepers often try to set themselves when they know a shot is coming. But when you hit it early, I believe it’s impossible for the goalkeeper to get down and save it.
“So when I had that chance against Newcastle, I did exactly that and it was rewarding to see it go in, I was happy with that!”
With five wins from our last six Premier League matches, a team full of confidence and a squad brimming with talent, does JD believe a top four finish is on the cards again this season?
“I think it’s realistic to be honest, we’ve done it before and in my opinion the squad is stronger now, with the likes of Adebayor, Scott Parker and Brad Friedel all coming in. I think this is the best Spurs squad I’ve been involved in.
“I don’t see why we can’t finish in the top four. Especially when you consider the way we played against Arsenal and Liverpool here, and the fact we went to Newcastle and Blackburn and picked up four points. If we can keep reproducing that sort of form, then we’ve every chance.”