Jermain Defoe has a long history as a Tottenham Hotspur player, and while his career is in its twilight years, he will be forever considered one of the most popular Spurs players of the mid 2000s. Recently, he sat down for an interview with the Sky Sports Transfer Talk podcast, which is posted on YouTube, to speak about his long career in the game, and much of the talk centered around his time at Spurs.
One of the best moments of the podcast is Defoe’s recounting of one of Tottenham’s worst ever moments — the 2-1 defeat to West Ham on the final day of the 2005-06 season that cost Martin Jol’s side their first ever Champions League bid after several players came down sick with food poisoning from the pre-match meal. It came to be known as “lasagnagate” and Defoe was one of the few first team players that was not ill... because he ate something else.
“I remember the buildup to the game. It was a massive game, a chance to get into the Champions League so it was massive for the football club. We felt like we deserved it based on how we played all season and the squad that we had. And so going into the game everyone was obviously buzzing, as you can imagine.
I can remember, I had just had the evening meal and was heading to bed. No, I hadn’t had [the lasagna], but I remember getting a phone call from the doctor in the morning, and he asked ‘Are you okay, a few of the boys aren’t well.” I thought it was like one or two.
“I remember coming down to pre-match and the lads were struggling and of course I started to panic. Especially Michael Carrick, who was a massive player for us, unbelievable signing. I thought we need these players today, it’s going to be a tough game against West Ham.
“So going into that game with that sort of negativity was tough. And then what happened... you look back now and you don’t want to say it was a conspiracy, but... It was just strange for so many players to get ill the night before a massive game. Maybe it just wasn’t meant to be.”
Unsurprisingly, Defoe was very open and candid about his eventual departure from Tottenham to Toronto FC in MLS in 2014. With the purchase of Roberto Soldado and the appointment of Andre Villas-Boas, Defoe had seen his match time steadily diminish until he was mostly playing in European competition and acting as a late substitute in Premier League matches. The decision to leave made sense, even if the eventual destination — Canada — was a surprise to many. And even though he felt he had to leave, Defoe said he had a good relationship with Villas-Boas.
“[AVB’s] training was amazing. It was different. A lot of possessions. Preseason there was no running, it was just football, football, football, football, in the morning, in the afternoon. He was a young manager, and I had a good relationship with him. We could speak about anything; I could knock on his door and feel comfortable, he was approachable.
“But then I was in and out of the team, and towards the end I was playing more in the Europa League, and I was scoring consistently and was really sharp. But for whatever reason I just wasn’t playing in the league. Obviously we had just brought in [Roberto] Soldado for a lot of money, and obviously it was the Darren Bent thing — if you’ve spent a lot of money on a forward, they’re looking to come in and play.”
Defoe went on to talk about why it was that he decided to leave for Toronto FC in MLS, instead of pushing for a transfer to another Premier League club.
“There were other clubs, but to be honest the vibe I got from a conversation with Daniel Levy before I left was that the club didn’t feel comfortable selling me to another Premier League club.
“It was a nice conversation. We sat down as friends, and he just said to me ‘It’s up to you, you can do whatever you want to do, but as a friend I just feel like this is a good opportunity for you to go to another league. It’s been tough for you but you’ve done it here, and it’s nice for you to go enjoy your time on and off the pitch, with the lifestyle in Toronto. It’s an amazing deal for the football club and it’d be an amazing deal for you, getting a four year contract.’”
Defoe went on to say that despite lasting less than a year in MLS, he loved the experience of living and playing in Toronto.
“No I don’t regret it, because I enjoyed it and having that experience. I speak about it every day. People ask me ‘What’s the MLS like, what’s all the traveling like, what’s it like over there,’ and I say the club did so much to get me there. The advertising campaign [when I signed] was a big deal. You have to appreciate that. I enjoyed my time there. I signed with [USMNT player] Michael Bradley, who came from Roma.
“But I just missed the Premier League, to be honest. Every Saturday morning I’d wake up really early and watch all the games. I remember that season where Liverpool probably should’ve won the league, and I watched all the games. I watched Tottenham... I just missed the Premier League.”
Defoe is very comfortable speaking on camera and with the interviewer. The talk touches on his relationship with Robbie Keane and Dimitar Berbatov, both of whom he likes and respects highly, his early career and how he broke out as a footballer, and his controversial transfer request while still at West Ham.
Now 37, Defoe spent this past season on loan at Rangers from Bournemouth, and you have to wonder if “JD Trouble” will hang up his boots at the end of this current coronavirus-lengthened campaign. But Defoe doesn’t even hint at that possibility.
“How old do I feel? I feel like Peter Pan! I feel good. When I think about my time at Sunderland when I scored a lot of goals and how I played there, I feel the same. I still feel like I can do the things I was doing a few years ago. I don’t feel like I’ve aged, or slowed down and I train every day. I don’t miss a session, on the pitch, off the pitch.
“I’ve always said if you look after your body your body looks after you. That’s how it goes. I still feel really sharp.”