Sunderland have endured another difficult Premier League campaign and are currently rooted to the foot of the table, seven points adrift of safety.
But Defoe – who joined the club three years ago from MLS side Toronto FC – has been in outstanding form, hitting 14 goals in just 28 Premier League appearances. No player in the top five divisions across England, France, Germany, Italy or Spain has had a hand in a higher share of their team’s goals this season.
So good has his recent form been that Gareth Southgate handed Defoe his first international cap in over three years in the World Cup qualification match against Lithuania. It took Defoe just 20 minutes to open the scoring, in a game England won 2-0.
However it has now emerged that Sunderland risk losing their most influential player for free this summer if they are unsuccessful in their battle against the drop.
The Daily Mail report that there is a clause in the 34-year-old’s contract stipulating he can move away from the club on a free transfer should they finish in the bottom three.
Should Sunderland be relegated Defoe will likely think it necessary to leave the club and sign for a top-flight team. After England’s match against Lithuania, he said he had been encouraged by comments made by Southgate about his chances of playing at the 2018 World Cup.
Defoe will surely not want to jeopardise that chance by playing his club football in the Championship next season.
But which clubs will be leading the race to sign the veteran striker?
We profile the teams most likely to sign Defoe this summer.