Jermain Defoe: Talentspotter
“I’m enjoying it at the moment,” says 18-year-old West Ham striker Jermain Defoe. “It’s been good.”
The latest young star to emerge from Upton Park’s conveyor belt of talent is clearly in the mood for understatement, given that his form had been “good” to the tune of 14 goals in only 15 games by mid-February – in his first season of professional football. That 13 of the goals have been scored for Division Two play-off hopefuls Bournemouth, and not for his Premiership employers, doesn’t seem to bother the livewire striker, who is just happy to be playing.
“I think it helps a lot,” says Defoe of his time on the south coast, which was originally meant to last a month, but has now been extended until the end of the season. “I think it’s good to get experience playing in the Second Division and I’m playing first-team football as well. I’ve spoken to Harry Redknapp quite a few times and he says it’ll be good for me. It’s helped me a lot, physically and mentally. Yeah, it is tough. At first, I didn’t get time on the ball, but now I’m adapting to it and enjoying it.”
Not that Defoe took much time to find his feet in first-team football. After scoring the winner against Walsall in the Worthington Cup in September, his only West Ham appearance so far, Defoe scored in his first game for Bournemouth – a 2-1 league defeat at Stoke in October – before netting in each of his next nine league games (12 goals altogether, plus one against Gillingham in the Cup). This set a post-war goalscoring record, although there are now claims that Southampton’s Ron Davies and Manchester City’s Billy McAdams have also scored in 10 consecutive league games.
“I’ve set myself a target of at least 20 goals for this season,” says Defoe, obviously not one to rest on his laurels. And what about next season? “My ambition is to get back and play in the West Ham first team, even if it means only coming on for ten minutes. I speak to Joe Cole and Michael Carrick and ask them what it’s like playing in the Premiership. They’re enjoying it so hopefully, if I do get to play with them, it will be good.”
If he does get the chance his talent deserves and plays against the big boys in the top flight next season, Defoe will be hoping to emulate the goalscoring feats of his hero, Ian Wright. “They call me Wrighty at West Ham, because of the way I play,” says Defoe, who picked up a few tips from Wright during his time at West Ham. “We stayed behind after training to practice our shooting quite few times.”
So who was the better finisher, student or teacher? “It’s gotta be me, hasn’t it?” chuckles Defoe. Only time will tell.
Interview: Louis Massarella. From the April 2001 issue of FourFourTwo.