He that is rich is wise. All men would be tyrants if they could. It is better to have a lion at the head of an army of sheep, than a sheep at the head of an army of lions. Just some of the wise words spoken by Daniel Defoe in his lifetime.
Jermain Defoe, on the other hand, famously declared the other day: “I’ve always wanted to play for Rangers, gawp at the uppermost floors of the Big Hoose, quake at the primal roar of the Copland Road cognoscenti.”
Well, not in quite so many words. The “I’ve always wanted to play for Celtic/Rangers” line has become a risible one through overuse and a new signing’s PR fluffers will invariably red-pen it from the official statement confirming the player’s arrival in Glasgow, knowing it would only provoke a mass outbreak of snorting.
Down the years, bright young things from Scotland’s diddy rump have declared they would “crawl over broken glass” to join one of the Big Two. Then, upon joining, they have stepped on to the turf at the great citadels and discreetly sprinkled the ashes of their Old Firm-supporting forefathers. Foreigners – some famous, some not, but all with names ending in vowels – have rocked up with fetching smiles and affecting words about the stature of their new employers in a world football context.
We may have sneered and, yes, we may have snorted – same when the latest beat-up old legend from “the Prem” has been unveiled in Govan or the East End, scarf above head, as the man to revive a challenge and at the same time derail the other lot. But still they come, and tomorrow in Tenerife at Rangers’ winter training camp Defoe will start to show his new team-mates how he’s still mad for goals at 36 after almost 700 games for his various former clubs and the England national team. All men would be tyrants if they could and all men would be Old Firm players if they could? Apparently so.
Whenever Defoe’s name is mentioned I smile and think of Dave Mackay. In 2009 I interviewed the Hearts legend at his home near Nottingham just as he’d unwrapped his complimentary copy of a giant paving stone of a book called The Tottenham Hotspur Opus, a pictorial celebration of Mackay’s other club on the occasion of their 125th birthday. Inside were past and present Spurs players including old muckers of Mackay, all smartly suited, while the recent crop sported ripped jeans and tattoos. Iron Man didn’t approve. “Ledley King – scruffy bastard … Aaron Lennon - scruffy bastard.” Then: “Jermain Defoe – scruffy bastard.” When he was at White Hart Lane, the great Scot lent his name to possibly the first footballer boutique. “This lot need to get themselves along to Dave Mackay Ties,” he grumbled.
Mackay disapproved of the fashions and informalities of this era but he surely must have admired Defoe’s dedication to the striker’s craft and a sharp eye for goal which, who knows, might have reminded him of Jimmy Greaves.
The dedication aspect was highlighted in yesterday’s Scotsman by Christian Dailly, a senior player at West Ham United when Defoe was a bright young thing. “Cocky but respectful” was Dailly’s verdict. Defoe was hungry for knowledge and experience and, viewing Dailly as a combative and clever defender, would ask for the chance to go up against him at training. “He used to say: ‘I want to play against Christian.’ It was a compliment,” Dailly said.
Details emerged elsewhere of the secrets of Defoe’s longevity. A teetotaller who will only drink coffee on matchdays, he swears by green tea and smoothies blended from spinach, kale and nettles. Rangers fans over their fry-up breakfasts could read about their new man’s passion for yoga and ice chambers and how he hires the contraptions at a rate of £1,000 a day, even though a session only lasts three minutes.
Jermain Defoe seems to be trying to disprove the philosophies of Daniel Defoe. “The best of men cannot defend their fate/The good die early and the bad die late,” declared the Robinson Crusoe author, who also wrote: “An Englishman will fairly drink as much/As will maintain two families of Dutch.” Or maybe it’s simply that the player wants to get his hands on a medal before his career goes into an ice chamber for good.
In a career studded with goals, left foot and right if you rev up YouTube and play his showreels, Defoe has still to win something tangible. Most recently he’s been playing for Bournemouth, or rather warming the bench down on England’s south coast, unable to get a start in the league where he’s been such a dynamic presence for so long. With respect, the Cherries have a Trumpton-esque stadium. Behind Pugh, Pugh, Barney McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble and Grubb for a place in the team, Defoe may have watched the recent Old Firm clash and been knocked out by Ibrox’s vast walls of seething humanity and the unholy racket that spilled from them. Either that or he’s always wanted to play for Rangers.
Archie Knox, assistant to Walter Smith for the club’s nine-in-a-row title supremacy, isn’t surprised that Defoe has been lured north. “He could sit on the bench at Bournemouth in front of 12,000 or come to Ibrox and play before 50,000, so it’s a no-brainer,” Knox said. “No matter how old you are, you will still get a boost from appearing in front of fanatical fans like Rangers have.”
Over the last few days Defoe and his ice chamber and his nettles and his determination to endure have received some great publicity. On paper he looks like a serious contender for what’s become a serious title race, with Celtic now being invited to match or better their rivals’ ambition in the transfer window.
But games aren’t played on paper. In Scotland they happen at places like Central Park, Cowdenbeath, venue for Rangers’ first match after the break in the Scottish Cup. The latest name from the Prem, self-styled best league in the world, should remember what happened to Roy Keane when he swanned into the Celtic team for a debut, also in the cup, away to Clyde. “Welcome to Hell,” Keano told himself surveying Broadwood, and the result was to bear out his assessment.