There is an interesting anecdote in former England cricket captain Nasser Hussain’s autobiography regarding batsman Graham Thorpe.
Hussain, in his role as England captain, was sitting in with the selection panel which included former England skipper Mike Gatting ahead of an upcoming tour of South Africa.
The pair, along with the rest of the committee, were discussing the pros and cons of respective batsmen ahead of the tour when the subject of Thorpe’s inclusion came up.
“What does Thorpe bring to the table except runs?” Gatting somewhat laughably said to Hussain, leaving the Essex batsman to ponder just what else he needs to contribute in order to be selected for an England team a million miles away from its current incarnation.
Redknapp has managed Defoe at not one, not two but three clubs and is a clear admirer of his sharp-shooting abilities.
“He is a good finisher and he is a good player,” Redknapp said after Defoe’s two goals eased Tottenham into the quarter-finals of the F.A Cup in their fifth round replay at Stevenage last night.
“He must have a chance (of an international recall). That is a problem area for England. There is a shortage of top strikers and Jermain is up there with the best of them when he is sharp and on form, and he is looking sharp at the moment.”
The problem comes not with Defoe’s primary objective, finding the back of the net. The former West Ham and Portsmouth man boasts an impressive record this season despite spending much of the season watching his side garner plaudits for their style and panache from the bench.
He averages a goal every 104 minutes in this Premier League campaign; a better rate than Wayne Rooney (106), Daniel Sturridge (178), Darren Bent (206) , Danny Welbeck (238) – all England rivals (apart from the injured Bent) and regular starters for their respective sides.
No, the problem comes when scoring goals is not enough. Defoe is something of a throw-back to an era gone by, an old-school fox in the box who can have a quiet 89 minutes only to spring into life when most modern players are expected to fill the gap in other positions.
Jockeying for his position is Rafael van der Vaart, a man with a nose for goal but who can also offer cover to Spurs midfield two when the opposition pose a threat with a central midfield three.
In the 5-2 defeat against Arsenal last month Spurs were swamped by runners bursting through the midfield two of Scott Parker and Luka Modric; their antiquated 4-4-2 with Louis Saha and Emmanuel Adebayor in attack couldn’t cope with the onslaught and five goals were shipped in 25 minutes.
The Dutchman has been sorely missed in recent weeks as injury once more halts his progress at White Hart Lane - not only his goals but his all round distribution mean he is above Defoe in the pecking order.
Of course, Defoe could be deployed as the focal point in attack instead of Adebayor, rather than alongside him.
The Togolese striker has led the line excellently this season and has a decent strike rate although at an average of a goal every 193 minutes, not as good as Defoe’s, but once more he brings another dimension which Redknapp seems to favour.
His physicality and skillful nature mean he is an excellent release valve, especially for the two full-backs for a long diagonal ball to mix it when up Spurs’ direct style isn’t reaping its rewards.
With Van der Vaart coming off the back of a lengthy lay off and Saha out with a knee injury, Defoe should get his chance as Spurs go about halting a mini-dip in form developing into a full blown slump against Everton this weekend.
As proved when he came on against Manchester United and the win over Stevenage, Defoe has lost none of his sharpness and nous for finding the back of the net.
Gatting’s accusations against Thorpe may have held no water in a team sport with an emphasis on the individual, however when it comes to a genuine team sport it would seem that goals alone aren’t enough.
Redknapp will be counting his lucky stars he has a proven match winner on the bench, but it is likely that he will remain firmly in a supporting role rather than becoming a leading man in the long term.
It may not be fair, but perhaps it goes some way to explaining why we live in a world where Emile Heskey has 62 caps his country and Defoe has 46.
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