Sunderland new boy’s a smooth operator

Jermain Defoe
Jermain Defoe
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IT WAS a cool, calm and polished performance from Jermain Defoe on his first media call as a Sunderland player.

That came as no surprise.

Defoe has regularly faced the microscopic scrutiny stemming from the press circus following England, while his stint at Spurs saw him feature heavily on the national news agenda.

The new signing said all the right things at the Academy of Light yesterday, while allowing his genuine enthusiasm to shine through for making his mark at Sunderland, being back in the Premier League and playing under his ex-Spurs team-mate Gus Poyet.

But there was one question where Defoe bristled.

Having signed a three-and-a-half year deal at 32, it was legitimate to ask Defoe about his advancing years.

Yet when BBC Newcastle’s Sunderland commentator Nick Barnes began a question with: “A lot of people have expressed concern about your age,” he was swiftly interrupted.

“Who has expressed concern?” said Defoe.

“It’s strange people talk about age. What’s age got to do with anything?

“If you look after your body and do everything right, there’s no reason why I can’t do the things I was doing five years ago.

“I still feel sharp.

“If you look at Prozone and distance covered in games, I think I’m probably covering the same distance.

“Ryan Giggs is the prime example. He did everything right and he was playing for so long.

“I feel sharper and fitter than I did maybe two or three years ago.”

The teetotal Defoe clearly sees age as no barrier, and neither does he see joining a club lying just a point above the relegation zone as a hindrance towards his lust for goals.

Despite Sunderland’s precarious league position – a state not improved by a late defeat on Defoe’s debut at Spurs last weekend – the England international insists he already feels settled on Wearside.

He says it seems like he has been here for years, rather than a week.

But he suspected that might be the case after years of speculation linking him with Sunderland finally rang true.

A phone call earlier this month from Poyet – briefly a team-mate at Spurs and again briefly his assistant manager at White Hart Lane – whetted his appetite for a move to Sunderland.

But it was a club that he had always heard good things about after conversations with friends, ex-Spurs team-mates and former Sunderland duo Darren Bent and Danny Rose.

“Even before I played for Tottenham, I admired Gus for what he achieved in the game – a great goalscorer from midfield,” said Defoe.

“He’s been there and done it, and it’s not only me, I think a lot of the players look at Gus and think it’s good for this football club to have someone like that.

“He didn’t have to say much because I knew from before.

“Over the years, something nearly happened with speculation about me coming here.

“I’ve spoken with Darren Bent and Danny Rose, who both said it’s a great club and I’ll love it.

“Even coming here with Tottenham, I’ve enjoyed it because the atmosphere in the stadium is electric.

“It was an easy decision to make.”

Defoe is charged with solving Sunderland’s goal worries, with only Aston Villa netting fewer times in the top flight this season than the Black Cats.

But that is not a challenge which phases the single-minded Defoe in the least after scoring 124 top flight goals during his career.

He said: “Even when I was really young, I’ve always had that buzz about scoring goals.

“I’ve always loved it.

“It’s something I’ve always loved to do and I’ve always worked on it, stayed behind after training to do finishing.

“Even when I score in training, I get a buzz.

“To come here and score goals for this club would be amazing. It’s something I’m looking forward to doing.”

There were a couple of half chances for Defoe on his Sunderland bow at White Hart Lane, while he had also a strong penalty appeal turned down.

But despite the late blow, there was sufficient encouragement for Defoe to indicate that Sunderland can get out of their current predicament, albeit the relegation dogfight goes on the back-burner this weekend when Fulham visit the Stadium of Light in the FA Cup fourth round.

“It was strange (going back to Spurs) although it was obviously nice to go back and see the fans, who were unbelievable to me,” he added.

“The players are my friends, but I so desperately wanted to win and score.

“At the time I thought it was a penalty. As I went down, I thought whose taking it!

“There were spells of the game where we did well. It was always going to be difficult because Tottenham were at home and had a lot of possession.

“But with that same performance against a different team, we can pick up points.”