Before the MLS Cup has even been played, Toronto F.C. have made the first big splash of the Major League Soccer off-season, with the announcement that the struggling Canadian club has agreed to sign England national team striker Jermaine Defoe for a reported $9.75 million transfer fee from EPL club Tottenham. If accurate that would eclipse the $9 million fee that Spurs received from the Seattle Sounders for Clint Dempsey.
With this move Defoe becomes the second Tottenham star to join MLS via transfer in the past three months, joining Dempsey as the highest salaried player in the league, his $8 million yearly salary matching Dempsey’s recent record signing with the Sounders.
Defoe has fallen down the pecking order at Tottenham this year, with Andre Villas-Boas preferring Spanish striker Roberto Salgado to Defoe, limiting Defoe to Cup competitions, where the England man has notched nine goals this season.
Perhaps Defoe realized that his time was up at Spurs, where he has spent most of his career over two stints, when Villas-Boas turned to seldom used striker Emmanuel Adebayor, during Spurs 6-0 humiliation Sunday versus Manchester City.
Defoe’s inactivity with Spurs has cost him playing time with the English national team and it is an interesting facet of this move, that Defoe would chance a move to MLS, while attempting to work his way back into the English team, just seven months before Brazil 2014.
A supreme poacher, Defoe has always displayed a nose for goal, and at times has been preferred off of the bench by coaches looking to provide a late match lift for their side. Defoe’s season high is 18 league goals for Spurs in the 2009-10 and he has amassed 134 English Premier League goals in 394 appearances. Defoe has also hit the target 19 times in 55 international games for England, including the lone goal in England’s 1-0 win at the 2010 World Cup vs. Slovenia.
Defoe reportedly had options in England, with former manager Harry Redknapp, now at Championship club Queens Park Rangers, leading the queue. West Ham was one Premier League side also said to be interested in signing Defoe during the January transfer window.
Defoe turned his back on those options to sign with TFC, a team that is managed by Ryan Nelsen, briefly a Spurs teammate. Defoe will have his work cut out for him if he is turn this franchise around. Despite excellent fan support Toronto has never qualified for the MLS playoffs since beginning play in 2007, finishing 20 points out of the post season in ninth place in the 10 team Eastern Conference, in the just concluded 2013 regular season.
This move doesn’t quite measure up to Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment Group CEO Tim Leiweke’s recent boast that Toronto were about to make the biggest signing in league history, something Leiweke should know all about, having played a role in bringing David Beckham to L.A.
Still, this is another big day for Major League Soccer, and an even bigger one for Toronto FC (owned by MLSE). Formerly with the Anschutz Entertainment Group that owned the the L.A. Galaxy among other’s, Leiweke is not expected to indulge in any half measures in improving TFC.
With that in mind, bringing in Defoe may just be step one in a busy offseason for TFC.