Jermain Defoe has enjoyed the sort of career many players can only dream of.
Renowned as one of the most natural finishers English football has produced since the turn of the millennium, the prolific striker has retired after a hugely successful track record at both club and international level.
Now 39 years of age, Defoe has hung up his boots after scoring 305 goals since making his senior debut 21 and a half years ago.
As well as making an impact on the pitch, the striker gained huge credit for his touching friendship with Bradley Lowery, the inspirational young Sunderland fan who captured the hearts of the nation and was able to become best friends with his hero in the final months of his battle with cancer.
So what made Defoe so special as a top-level talent?
talkSPORT.com takes a look at the career of one of England’s most underrated goalscorers to grace the Premier League.
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Born in October 1982, Defoe’s football career started at the age of 14 when the Beckton-born starlet joined the youth set-up at Charlton Athletic.
After two years, Defoe completed a move to West Ham United where he quickly started to rise through the ranks.
A player who was highly-rated in east London, the striker was handed his debut by Harry Redknapp in a League Cup clash with Walsall in September 2000, a match where the 17-year-old scored the winner and quickly showed the football world what he was all about.
Shortly after, Defoe signed a season-long loan deal with Bournemouth, who were playing in the second division where he scored 18 goals in 29 appearances for the south coast club.
In that time, the youngster went on an impressive streak of scoring ten goals in ten games, something that led Redknapp to describe him as someone with ‘a big future’, saying: “He’s done great.
“I sent him out to Bournemouth to get some experience playing league football and he’s coped marvellously.
“He’s a bright lad who’s full of confidence. Nothing knocks him, he’s a typical goalscorer. If he misses, he’ll be there the next time looking for a goal.
“He’s a kid with a big future. Hopefully, he’ll come back to West Ham and establish himself in our first team.”
Hammering opponents to being hammered by supporters
After returning from the south coast, Defoe took little time to get up to speed in the Premier League.
Despite being used primarily as a substitute in 2001/02, the striker ended the season as West Ham’s top goalscorer with 14 goals in 39 appearances for Glenn Roeder’s side.
The next season saw him hit double figures again with 11 goals to his name, but that tally wasn’t enough to see the Hammers avoid relegation to the First Division.
Defoe then rapidly went from hero to villain at Upton Park as he announced his intention to leave within just a few hours of the club’s relegation being confirmed.
“As much as I love West Ham United I feel that now is the right time for me to move on in my career,” his statement said. “This is very much a career decision. I am very ambitious and hungry to achieve at the highest levels of the game for both club and country.
“The club staff and especially the fans are very dear to me and have been unbelievable in the early part of my career. It will always be a special place for me to play.”
That request for a move was turned down by club director Paul Aldridge, who hit out at the player’s agent for the advice given, saying: “I can confirm we are not accepting Jermain Defoe’s request to be put on the transfer list.
“Jermain is a smashing lad from a good family, we have a good relationship with him and them, and it is unfortunate that he has received advice to put in a request at this time.
“That advice has led to criticism from supporters and work colleagues alike.
“I can understand that given the timing, and added to the fact that a story linking him to another club was leaked to a newspaper on the morning of one of our most important games for years. I would, however, caution our supporters to be patient with Jermain.
“We do not believe this situation would have arisen if he was still represented by the PFA, rather than the agency SFX to whom he has now moved.”
Crossing enemy lines and a welcome reunion
After spending the first half of the 2003/04 season with West Ham, Defoe completed a £6million move to London rivals Tottenham in a deal that would see him secure a switch back to the Premier League.
Upon signing the player, Spurs boss David Pleat said: “I can’t think of a British striker at his age who has achieved as much in such a short space of time.
“His goal record for a 21-year-old is quite exceptional. I hope he will have a fine career at Tottenham.”
That early promise was certainly fulfilled over the next four years at the club with Defoe scoring 64 times for the north London side – an impressive tally given the significant competition for places in the team as he battled for a spot in the side with the likes of Robbie Keane, Freddie Kanoute, Mido and Darren Bent.
With regular starts proving hard to come by, Defoe was tempted back to the south coast by Harry Redknapp and Portsmouth in January 2008, with the striker revealing that his former boss was keen to be reunited at any cost.
Speaking to Sky Sports years later, Defoe explained: “When I went to Portsmouth, it was deadline day. Benjani went to Man City and I went to Portsmouth with Harry [Redknapp].
“I was at my mum’s house and had to rush to Portsmouth. Harry was like ‘don’t bother about the medical, you’re fit. You’re fine!’
“He knew me from a kid [at West Ham], so he was ‘come on JD, you’ve just got to get down and score some goals. You don’t need a medical, you’re young and fit’.”
Scoring 15 goals in 31 appearances for the club, Defoe was part of the group that lifted the FA Cup in 2008, however he was cup-tied due to his involvement in the competition for Spurs.
He also competed in the UEFA Cup for Pompey, before being re-signed by Tottenham in January 2009 for his third spell under Redknapp who had been appointed as Spurs boss just six weeks earlier.
Stunning for Spurs and World Cup redemption
After moving back to north London, Defoe took little time to get himself back on track.
This spell with Spurs saw him score an impressive 79 goals for the club, while also establishing himself as a key player for England.
Defoe’s international career had been mixed up to that point, after missing out on a spot at the 2006 World Cup in Germany, a decision that left the striker baffled, saying: “I’ve been involved in every squad for the last two years and feel I’ve played a part in helping us to qualify.
“I have never felt fitter and sharper than I was in training and believe I could have scored goals in the tournament. It’s a strange decision and everybody I speak to thinks so as well.”
Thankfully the striker would get his chance in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa where his crucial goal against Slovenia was enough to send England into the last-16.
Defoe had hoped to be included in the 2014 World Cup squad as well, but a lack of form for Tottenham saw him miss out on the trip to Brazil.
Over the pond, Sunderland and a new best friend
In February 2014, Defoe completed a move to the MLS where he joined Toronto FC who were managed by former Spurs teammate Ryan Nelson, following a convincing phone call from rapper and Toronto-native Drake.
In 19 appearances, the striker scored 11 goals before completing a move back to the UK in January 2015 when he joined Sunderland.
As well as scoring 15 goals in two of his three seasons at the Stadium Of Light to help the Black Cats to Premier League survival, his biggest success was his heart-warming friendship with Bradley Lowery.
The six-year-old Sunderland fan was suffering with neuroblastoma and idolised Defoe, leading to the striker becoming ‘best friends’ with the terminally-ill supporter.
As well as leading Lowery onto the pitch with the Sunderland team on numerous occasions and letting him score a goal against Petr Cech in the warm-up to a clash with Chelsea, Defoe was called up to the England squad and carried the six-year-old onto the pitch at Wembley Stadium, with Lowery’s mum saying: “Bradley is so excited to be mascot for England.
“He has spoken about it every day since we told him. Bradley has touched so many hearts, we are so proud of our little boy.”
Sadly, the inspirational youngster passed away in July 2017, with Defoe pledging to continue supporting his family as well as becoming a patron of the Bradley Lowery Foundation, saying: “I speak to the family every day.
“He will always be in my heart for the rest of my life. There isn’t a day that goes past when I don’t wake up and check my phone or think about little Bradley.
“His love is genuine and I can see it in his eyes when he looks at me.”
After leaving Sunderland following their relegation in 2017, Defoe joined the club where he first announced himself, Bournemouth.
After 18 months at the club he completed a move to Scottish giants Rangers where he turned back the clock as the striker scored 32 goals in 74 appearances, playing his part in the club’s Premiership title win after a nine-year absence.
Following the departure of Steven Gerrard to Aston Villa, Defoe departed Ibrox in January 2022 before re-joining Sunderland on a short-term deal until the end of the season.
With his retirement from the game now confirmed, fans will be able to look back and admire the career of one of English football’s most prolific attackers.
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Source: Culled From Talksport.