Jermain Defoe has expressed his desire to remain at Rangers next season despite his difficulties in securing a place in Steven Gerrard’s starting line-up.
The former England striker agreed an 18-month loan deal when he joined Rangers from Bournemouth in January but his parent club have the option to cut that short in either of the next two transfer windows.
Defoe scored his sixth goal for Gerrard’s side in their 3-0 win over Hearts at Ibrox on Wednesday night as he replaced the suspended Alfredo Morelos. It was only the seventh starting appearance the 36-year-old has made for Rangers and his first since 24 February.
But any notion that he will be content to return to English football this summer has been dismissed out of hand by Defoe, who is determined to remain part of a Rangers squad he believes are primed for silverware next season.
“I want to stay here, for sure,” he said. “I want a full season to try to achieve something special here. Bournemouth can call me back in the summer and again in January, but for me I am focused on being here and scoring goals for Rangers.
“I want to help the team, it’s as simple as that. So far it’s been great, there have been ups and downs, but that’s football. I believe next season we can really kick on and achieve something.”
With top scorer Morelos absent for another three games, Defoe now has the opportunity to prove he can deliver goals on a consistent basis for Rangers.
“It has been difficult not playing as much as I would have liked,” he admitted. “But you will always get moments when you are playing every game and then you find yourself out of the team.
“But you keep your head down and you stay positive. I always train hard because you need to make sure you are ready when you’re called upon.
“That’s what I have done. Even when you are not playing, as a forward you can come on and make a difference. You can always get your goals.
“I don’t need to knock on the manager’s door and ask why I’m not playing, maybe when I was younger I did that. But now, I wait for my chance, I don’t get too emotional because you need to be ready.
“It was good to play on Wednesday and it was good to win the game. I thought the first half an hour was brilliant, the gameplan worked and we controlled things. We created a lot of chances and moved the ball quickly. We scored good goals, too, and it was an important win for us.
“I’m really enjoying it here. I love coming into training every day, even at my age. This is a massive club and I said a couple of weeks ago I wouldn’t want to be in any other dressing room.
“We have some unbelievable players, I actually didn’t realise we had so many internationals until the last break.
“Of course, you truly realise how big this club is when you are here. I always knew about the history, but you don’t actually appreciate how big the club is until you experience it for yourself.
“Even before the game on Wednesday, we turned up and all the fans are there outside. It’s raining but they are there to get autographs.
“I remember saying to one of the players, ‘It’s unbelievable – can you imagine what it would be like if we could actually win the league?’ It is an unbelievable support and something that surprised me, to be honest.
“We are lucky as players to have that support. Why would you not want to be a part of that? We now want to finish this season strong and then look ahead to the next one.
“The demands and the pressure are both always there at this club. You need to win every game and I love that. As players that’s what you want. I thrive on that because in every game you want that fire in your belly.
“I go into every game believing I can score. I still have that edge going into games. Having been out the team you realise it’s an opportunity and you want to do well.
“But I want the team to play well and win. To get a goal is a bonus. As forwards that’s what you’re judged on. You can have the best game in the world but if you don’t score as a striker that’s what you’re judged on.”
Defoe will celebrate his 37th birthday in October but Rangers manager Gerrard has no doubt his former England team-mate can continue to operate at a top level next season. He insists he wants Defoe as part of his squad regardless of whether Rangers decide to cash in on Morelos this summer.
“You are looking at a player with a body which is defying the odds,” said Gerrard. “Jermain has never had a sip of alcohol in his life and he has been impeccable around the training ground since he walked into this club.
“After training sessions, he pulls the young strikers like Josh McPake and Dapo Mebude aside and does an extra 15 minutes with them from a coaching perspective. No-one has asked him to do it, he just wants to give something back to up and coming players.
“That’s gold dust for us as a staff. He is a special person as well as a special footballer. That goes a long way. They are the type of people I want with me moving forward.
“There are a lot of reasons why Jermain hasn’t had as much game time as he’d like, obviously the main one being when Alfredo is scoring freely and I favour playing with one main striker. But, moving forward, if we get the right people around him, then Jermain can do that job as a single number nine.
“If Alfredo is here or not next season, I want Jermain here right alongside me on this journey to try and achieve something special for Rangers.”