Hooray! England are on the road to Russia and there’s a new driver at the wheel! Toot toot! Of course when we say new, what we mean is old: it’s Jermain Defoe, 34-year-old darling of the footballing-focused chattering class, hoary sharpshooter de luxe, golden-booted highwayman who can always be relied upon to stand and deliver: long-in-the-tooth Jermain Silver.
All this is because, on top of the 14 he has bashed in for his club this season, he scored a goal at Wembley against Lithuania, which was one of very few interesting events to take place during the game and, of all of them, probably the first and thus the easiest to remember because most viewers were not yet asleep by then.
Defoe’s all-round contribution to the match was remarkable: in 60 minutes he attempted eight passes, completing six. One of those was from the kick-off, so it doesn’t really count. Even Jamie Vardy, who was on the field for half as long, completed more passes than he did. In Lithuania’s half of the pitch, where Defoe spent most of his time, he completed three passes, none of which were very important. By way of comparison Eric Dier, a defensive midfielder, completed 17 times as many passes in Lithuania’s half; Marcus Rashford, who played on the left for only half an hour, completed eight times as many. Given that when Defoe scored his goal – brilliantly dispatched into the top corner well out of a flailing goalkeeper’s desperately diving reach, to give the man his due – dead-eye Dele Alli was standing behind him with foot cocked, it is not a massive exaggeration to suggest that Defoe’s influence on the match was essentially non-existent; he might as well not have been there at all. And yet, because of a rush of blood to ITV co-commentator Glenn Hoddle’s head, he left clutching the man of the match award, and has since become the subject of endless laudatory post-match analysis.
Eight passes in 60 minutes works out at one every seven minutes and 30 seconds. This thus goes down as one of Defoe’s more dynamic performances this season: in Sunderland’s league matches he has played for 2,513 minutes and attempted 327 passes, at the rate of one every 7min41secs. This puts him at No12 in the club’s passing rankings, one place below 35-year-old Steven Pienaar (357 passes in 754 minutes at one every 2min18secs). Given that Sunderland have kicked off 78 times this season, 23.9% of his passes might have been gentle roll-backs from the centre circle. But still, those goals!
“Defoe did what Defoe does,” Joe Hart said at Wembley, which is hard to argue with. “He is all about goals,” Adam Lallana said, “but I think his link-up play at times was superb.” Hmm.
After the game Gareth Southgate was asked whether Defoe was likely to be in his squad for next year’s World Cup, assuming England qualify. “I think we’ve got to look every time we get together as to who is in form,” he said. “I don’t know if we can have a distinct pecking order. The reality is we will always lose players to injury, so it’s really important that we are able to call upon the likes of Jermain.”
In reporting these words, the Press Association topped the story with the interpretation of their meaning: ’Gareth Southgate: Jermain Defoe has every chance of making World Cup squad.’ And in doing the same, the Fiver would like to end ours with our own interpretation: ’Gareth Southgate: Get well soon, Harry Kane.’
QUOTE OF THE DAY
23 February: “I’m just going to wait here until they come with a good solution. Local people tell me that if I leave without a payment, most likely I will never get paid. They say I will get paid and I believe them. They are nice people and I trust them but it’s one day, another day, another day and another day - and the issue is not getting sorted out. I will be here as long as it takes.”
27 March: “All of this was more about having principles and claiming for the right things more than the money itself.”
Avram Grant’s assistant for Ghana during the recent Afcon, Gerard Nus, has finally ended his seven-week sit-in at a hotel in Accra over a dispute concerning unpaid wages. The Ghana Football Association “finally managed to raise the funds to pay all his outstanding bonuses on Saturday.”
“Re: footballers who went on to better things (Thursday’s Fiver letters). Homes under the Hammer’s Dion Dublin? No?” – Tim Grey.
“I saw Kevin McKee’s letter (Thursday’s Fiver) about Neil Finn and thought “now we’re getting somewhere”. Prior to Crowded House, Finn was in Split Enz, where he wrote “History Never Repeats” – I’m surely the 1,057th person to point out (with no irony whatsoever) the same cannot be said about the Fiver” – Ed Taylor.
Listen and learn kids, it’s Football Weekly! James Richardson asks his podders: what the heck’s happened to Holland?
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BITS AND BOBS
Holland have their eyes on a new man after booting Danny Blind through an orange door marked “Do One”. “A foreign trainer is also an option,” honked KNVB suit Jean-Paul Decossaux. “Our list of candidates can be made up of whoever is going to take Dutch football forwards. That will undoubtedly include Ronald Koeman although we know he is also under contract with his club.”
Scotland match-winner Chris Martin did nae hear the boos. “I wasn’t aware of it, no, but I’ve been told about it since,” the Scotland striker mused, oblivious to his unwelcoming introduction.
Ireland and Everton’s Séamus Coleman is “still pretty down” about the double leg break he suffered on Friday night against Wales, according to Martin O’Neill. “I think he’s just beginning to come to terms with it,” he said.
Round-up! Get your World Cup 2018 qualifying round-up!
The Nigeria Football Federation has announced that their friendly against Burkino Faso, to be played at Barnet’s stadium The Hive on Monday evening, has been canned after seven Burkino Faso players failed to get a visa for the UK.
Gonnnnnnng! Chris Wood, Dwight Gayle and Anthony Knockaert have been nominated for the Championship player-of-the-season award. Billy Sharp, Josh Morris and John Fleck will battle it out for the League One prize while John Marquis, James Coppinger and Danny Hylton are shortlisted in League Two.
STILL WANT MORE?
Ed Aarons and Fabrizio Romano have cherry-picked the most in-demand players this summer so you don’t have to.
Read Gregg Bakowski’s love letter to the corner-kick.
Meet Graham Stack, the Arsenal Invincible idolised in India.
Swindon Town are treading dangerous ground, with Tim Sherwood nowhere to be seen, writes Nick Ames.
It’s (still) international week, so naturally we’ve rounded up fans from all the Premier League clubs – from Arsenal to Manchester City, from Manchester United to West Ham – and had a little chat about how things are going.
Might Chelsea make a good old-fashioned double swoop for Álvaro Morata and Tiemoué Bakayoko? That and more in today’s Rumour Mill.
In light of Tony Yeboah’s pud-eating bonanzas, Sean Ingle asks: is it time to scrap goal bonuses?
And, if you missed it, read Daniel Taylor’s column on why Séamus Coleman’s horrific injury demands a rethink of misplaced tolerance.