Evergreen Jermain Defoe has unfinished business with England.
The 34-year-old hasn’t given up on his dream of wearing the Three Lions again but remains unsure whether it will happen given his near four-year absence from the squad.
When Defoe made the decision to leave the Premier League for MLS outfit Toronto FC many pundits and observers thought it spelt the end of his international career.
But Harry Kane’s ankle injury has opened the door to a possible recall, with a space now available in Gareth Southgate’s squad.
Southgate is due to name his squad tomorrow for a friendly with Germany on March 22 and a World Cup qualifier against Lithuania four days later.
Defoe’s age may go against him but based on his goalscoring record, he should be in every England squad.
Sunderland brought Defoe back to the Premier League in 2015 and has played key roles in the club’s successful battles against relegation – scoring 33 league goals in 72 appearances.
An impressive record at any level and when you consider the North East Football Writers’ Player of the Year has been playing for a struggling Sunderland side it makes it all the more.
Sunderland have scored 24 goals this season, Defoe has netted 14 and is well on his way to breaking his best ever top flight haul of 18 goals in one season for Spurs in 2010.
Defoe, still fit as a fiddle, is the second top scoring Englishman in the Premier League, five goals behind Kane’s 19-goal haul.
Despite hitting the woodwork in his last two games, Defoe remains as clinical as ever with a goal every 173 minutes on average – way better than Jamie Vardy, Marcus Rashford, Wayne Rooney or Daniel Sturridge this season.
Rooney is another injury doubt for Southgate after picking up a knock in training. Sturridge is out of form.
Arsenal’s injury-hit Danny Welbeck (three goals in seven appearances) and West Ham United striker Andy Carroll (six goals in 18) are two other options for Southgate but in-form Defoe offers more of a goal threat. Targetman Carroll is a different type of striker to Defoe but Southgate isn’t flush with goalscorers in form.
Opta stats, supplied in this infographic by www.oulala.com, show just how ruthless Defoe has been in front of goal.
The ex-West Ham United, Spurs and Portsmouth forward has played 27 league games, scoring 14 goals from 66 attempts at goal giving him a shot accuracy of 58 per cent. Only Sturridge can better that out of the other available strikers.
And when it comes to conversion rate, Defoe’s is 21 per cent level with Vardy and way ahead of Rashford, Rooney or Sturridge.
Defoe hasn’t scored with his head this season (he only has one headed goal in his 157 top flight strikes), no real surprise given he only stands at 5ft 7ins tall but he has scored nine with his right boot and five with his left including five penalties.
With Tottenham Hotspur striker Kane facing a spell out with an ankle injury picked up in his side’s 6-0 FA Cup quarter final win over Millwall, who will replace him?
Could Southgate hand Defoe a recall after his spell in the international wilderness?
You have to go back to 2013 for the last of Defoe’s 55 England caps, as a second-half sub against Chile at Wembley. The last of his 19 goals England goals came in March 2013, when he bagged a brace away to San Marino.
He was overlooked by Roy Hodgson for the European Championship last summer and was not included in his World Cup squad two years ago either.
You certainly wouldn’t bet your mortgage on a return to the England squad for Defoe tomorrow but his form this season won’t have gone unnoticed.
Southgate, England Under-21 manager before he was handed the chance to succeed Sam Allardyce in the hotseat, watched Defoe in action at Goodison Park for the 2-0 defeat to Everton – a game in which Defoe almost snatched a point late only to see his effort hit the bar.
Southgate is understood to have been keeping tabs on Everton duo Ross Barkley and Tom Davies and Jordan Pickford – who was man of the match in the defeat to Manchester City a week later.
With Joe Hart, Fraser Forster and Tom Heaton vying for the three goalkeeping places in the squad, England Under-21 international Pickford has tough competition to make the senior squad.
Washington-born Pickford was, however, drafted in earlier in the season so it would be no surprise should the 23-year-old be named in the squad.
His England future is very much ahead of him.
For Defoe, it is a different story with the prolific striker at the other end of the age spectrum.
While it wouldn’t necessarily be good news for Sunderland were Defoe to be picked ahead of a hectic April with the Black Cats scrapping for survival at the bottom of the Premier League, Defoe would understandably jump at the chance to represent his country again.
On goals alone, he deserves his place.
“I feel like I should have been involved last season if it’s based on merit and stats – on who’s scoring goals,” Defoe said recently.
“I’ve always been a positive person, but there comes a time where you think, ‘Is it really going to happen?’
“All I can do is keep playing well. The English fans – I read some nice stuff on social media and in the press too.
“So for me it’s a nice feeling that people want me back into the squad. At the end of the day it’s up to the manager so we’ll see.”
Defoe, Sunderland and England fans wait with baited breath. Over to you Southgate.
* The Jermain Defoe infographic was supplied by Oulala Fantasy Football www.oulala.com