Jermain Defoe's recent move to Major League Soccer made plenty of headlines on both sides of the Atlantic. After plenty of fanfare and build-up before Toronto FC’s first match, the 31-year-old was finally able to show everyone – perhaps even England manager Roy Hodgson – that he is still lethal in front of goal.
FIFA.com caught up with the diminutive striker for an exclusive chat after Defoe’s explosive two-goal debut that earned his new employers an impressive 2-1 win at Seattle Sounders. Despite having limited time to train with his new team-mates, Defoe and Co seemed to click instantly en route to their victory.
“All the boys have been fantastic,” Defoe said with a smile. “The team spirit is really good. When you have to dig in towards the end, like when [the Sounders] scored a goal and put us under a lot of pressure, we all stuck together. Everyone worked hard for one another and we showed great character.”
There is at least one familiar face at the club for Defoe in the form of coach Ryan Nelsen. Having played with Nelsen at Spurs in 2012, Defoe explained he was happy to be playing for the former New Zealand centre-back
“Ryan is really organised,” Defoe explained. “Even when he was at Tottenham you always knew that he would go on to be a manager. He’s just a natural leader. He’s going to do well because he’s been there and he’s done it. A lot of managers haven’t played at the top level, but Ryan has. He’s someone who knows the game inside and out. He’s the perfect manager for this club.”
I’d like to score as many goals as possible and go to the World Cup. If I can get that experience, I can come back here on a high.
When addressing the media after the game, Nelsen showed his appreciation of having someone like Defoe in his side. “That was Jermain Defoe," he said proudly. “Let’s just say I’m not surprised. That’s why we brought him in. There’s a reason why they pay certain people certain amounts of money.”
When asked about his goals for 2014, Defoe quickly replied: “As a team our goal is to win something, to get in the play-offs and do something that’s never been done here before.”
Considering Toronto’s best-ever finish in MLS back in 2010 still left the side three places shy of a play-off berth, that may not be an easy task for the Canadian club. However, Defoe’s confidence and ability should signal positive things ahead for Toronto supporters.
“On a personal level, I’d like to score as many goals as possible for the club and go to the World Cup,” Defoe said. “If I can get that experience of playing in a second World Cup, I can come back here on a high and help the team again. That’s all I want to do.”
Defoe backs England to prosper
Defoe has previously stated he believes his move to Toronto will help his chances of earning a spot in Hodgson’s 23-man squad for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™. And with his two-goal performance to build off of, Defoe knows what he needs to do to stay on Roy’s radar.
“I just need to play and score goals,” he said. “To get on a World Cup squad you have to be playing. Throughout my career people know I’ve scored a lot of goals. I think the most important thing for me is to play and score goals. I think that’s all I can do.”
Defoe recognised the wealth of talent awaiting England in the World Cup, though he also demonstrated confidence in England’s abilities if they can navigate their way out of a tricky group. “Obviously Brazil are a threat and are a great footballing nation - I think everyone knows that,” Defoe said. “Spain are another great side and they win tournaments for fun.
“I think England have a great chance because I think there’s a great mix between the experienced players and the young players. It’s so exciting. It’s going to be hard for the manager to pick 23 players because there are so many good players these days.”
When asked how far he thinks the Three Lions can go in Brazil, Defoe was careful not to put the cart before the horse. “It’s important to get off to a good start,” Defoe said cautiously. “There’s a hard first game against Italy, but I think if we get off to a good start then you just never know.
“We need to stick together and take each game as it comes. It’s hard to make predictions because it’s the World Cup. It’s the pinnacle of football and that’s why you play the game - to go there and see how it goes.”
If the former West Ham United and Portsmouth player's maiden performance is any indication of what Toronto supporters can expect in the coming weeks and months from him, it could be hard for Hodgson not to include Defoe in his World Cup plans.