Since Jermain Defoe’s arrival on Wearside his work rate, attitude and quality has proven exceptional. At 34 – Defoe remains, by a country mile, Sunderland’s most effective and influential player.
Vital to any potential Sunderland victory and a humble family man, Jermain Defoe is a rarity in modern football due to his understanding and relationship with the fans – and I would argue that his importance to Sunderland on and off the field coupled with his connection to the Mackem public can be rivaled only by Niall Quinn in modern times.
His goal scoring record is exemplary – the importance of his contribution to the poor side in which Jermain operates ranks him as Sunderland’s greatest modern striker; eclipsing the prolific Kevin Phillips, who stands as Defoe’s only genuine contender to this throne.
And that is not undermining Phillips’ achievements – 130 goals in 235 games and a European Golden Shoe to show for his time at Sunderland immortalises Phillips in Mackem folklore, and rightly so. However, it is worth noting that Phillips played in a golden era in Sunderland’s recent history.
The Peter Reid team of 1999 to 2001 were formidable, managing consecutive 7th place finishes in the Premier League. Defoe consistently manages to produce goals in a side severely lacking the quality assembled by Reid 16 years ago. The likes of Nicky Summerbee, Michael Gray, Steve Bould, Julio Arca and Gavin McCann would waltz into David Moyes’ struggling side; the incompetence of Defoe’s teammates underlines the impressiveness of his 33 goals in 71 appearances.
Both Phillips and Defoe have scored important goals in big games. Both have produced wondrous moments of sheer brilliance against our nearest and dearest rivals. Defoe’s stunning left foot volley against a hapless Tim Krul is quite possibly the best goal I’ve witnessed; a great moment mirrored by Phillips’ chip at St. James Park in 1999.
Defoe’s importance to Sunderland is made even more remarkable given his age. Sunderland’s star man continues to show little evidence of decline in his game; despite that come October, Defoe will celebrate his 35th birthday. Defoe’s longevity and ability to score goals at the highest level is staggering, placing him right at the top of the list when it comes to Sunderland’s greatest ever players in the Premier League era.
In a struggling side, Defoe has, at times and without complaint, sacrificed himself for the good of the team; virtually playing at left back away at Arsenal under Dick Advocaat, a game in which Sunderland needed a point to avoid relegation.
There’s a sense amongst fans that Defoe understands what it means to play for the club. He talks proudly of the Stadium of Light’s raucous atmosphere, waxing lyrical at the fans support. Defoe admits the fans have pushed Sunderland over the line in games gone by. Following a crucial 3-2 victory against Chelsea last season Defoe stated that ‘the fans won us that game’. The outpouring of emotion following Defoe’s volley against Newcastle demonstrated that he as a connection to Sunderland; reduced to tears and overwhelmed by the importance and explosive passionate reaction by Wearside.
Not only has Defoe been dynamite on the field, his off-field behaviour has also been exemplary. His relationship with Bradley and his connection to the Lowery family has been wonderful to witness. Bradley running opened armed while excitedly calling ‘Jermain’ before the Chelsea game last December was a touching moment; stirring deep emotions amongst the footballing community. Defoe has reflected Sunderland fans feelings towards Bradley. We have all wished desperately to take little Bradley in our arms; to comfort him, to make him smile, to show him that he is not alone. Defoe has achieved this and more.
The attention, enthusiasm and time dedicated to Bradley coupled with Defoe’s emotional understanding of Sunderland supporters has strengthened fans adulation of his footballing talents, meaning that Defoe sits amongst Sunderland’s greatest ever players. Certainly, there is no doubt that Defoe ranks as Sunderland’s best Premier League striker since Super Kev.
Whatever happens come the end of this season, whether we are relegated or not, I for one will bear no resentment or ill feeling towards Defoe should he decide to move on.