Christian Dailly used to look around the dressing room before games with Rangers and Scotland and draw instant comfort if Kris Boyd was playing.
It was the same he recalls with Jermain Defoe, who is set to follow Dailly’s lead in making a late career move to Rangers. The pair’s paths crossed at West Ham United in the early 2000s, when Defoe was making his way in the game.
Dailly, meanwhile, was already an established performer in the English top flight as well as a Scotland international. But these contrasting characters, with different lifestyles and from different backgrounds, struck up an instant bond.
According to Dailly, Defoe was “cocky but also respectful of the senior players”. As well as Dailly, these senior players included Paolo Di Canio and Don Hutchison, another Scot. Michael Carrick was also establishing himself at the time.
Even at this early stage, Defoe was conscious of fitness and conditioning. He also wanted to get better. Everyone knew he was blessed with a goal- scorer’s instinct but what good was this if he wasn’t making the right runs, if he wasn’t able to get the better of his opposite man? Defoe, then just a teenager, realised this.
He reckoned Dailly, who started his career as a striker, was a perfect foil and quickly recruited the Scot in his on-going quest for self-improvement. This arrangement proved mutually beneficial. Dailly found it’s never too late to learn how to cope with such a penalty box livewire.
“He used to ask to play against me in training on quite a regular basis,” recalled Dailly yesterday. “He explained that he found it tough and a challenge. He liked that. He was always looking to work on things. I was reasonably taken aback, I had never had that before. He used to say: ‘I want to play against Christian, I want to play in the other team’.
“It was a compliment so long as you don’t take it the other way – he just wanted an easy day! He was great for me. His movement was fantastic – he was doing opposites all the time. And if he gets a yard on you he is finishing with either foot. So you cannot switch off. He forces you to move your feet and be in the right position all the time.
“One of my favourite players I ever played with was at Rangers – Kris Boyd,” continued Dailly. “You hardly ever see that type, you hardly ever get them anywhere – those who literally just live off goals. In training it’s goal after goal. Sometimes what comes with it is frustration as well but you take that. Jermain plays on the shoulder so he gets caught offside a few times. He might look to shoot when he can play someone in. He is much better at holding the ball up now but it wasn’t always part of his game. He was always looking just to score. You basically have to forgo a lot of the other things because you know if he gets the chance it’s a goal or at the very least there’s a good chance it’s on target.
“That type of player is invaluable,” added Dailly. “The other players are just so thankful. I used to feel like that when playing with Kris Boyd and I always wanted him playing for Scotland when I was there because nobody else could score goals out of nothing like him. It’s the same thing if you have someone in your side who can score free-kicks – I played with very few. When you have one you feel blessed.
“Goalscorers like Jermain, let’s just say there’s not many of that type around. I am just really hoping he enjoys it [at Rangers] and does well. It would be great to see that happening – both for Rangers and for Scottish football.”
Dailly’s recollections of Defoe date back a long time so would have little relevance now if it wasn’t for the Scot’s confidence that his old teammate has retained his physical prowess as well as the goal threat that comes so naturally. With no children, Defoe is able to commit fully to the move to Ibrox – he has, after all, agreed an 18-month loan deal from Bournemouth, where he has played only sporadically of late.
“He will do it in a better way than me,” said Dailly. “I was actually commuting, I was in a messy situation life-wise. I did my best. What I did do is made sure I looked after myself to an extreme level: I was able to do the right type of strength training, aerobic work mixed with bits of football. You almost looked after the athletic side of things first.
“He will move up there, and there’s no reason why he can’t have a year or two doing well. Let’s face it, opponents are not going to be thinking: ‘Oh it is Jermain Defoe, he is 30 something – this will be alright, I can give him a yard’.
“It is not as if he is a central midfield player who covers 14kms in a match three times a week,” he adds. “It is a different type of attribute he is bringing.”
Dailly himself is an instructive case study. Like Defoe, he joined Rangers in his mid 30s – 34 in his case – and relished the chance to win trophies, having then lifted only a Scottish Cup while at Dundee United. Defoe is still waiting for his first major honour, though there’s been compensations such as 57 caps for England and sixth place in the Spurs all-time top scorers list. The only question is how quickly he can regain match fitness. Dailly is confident his old team-mate can slip back into gear.
Despite having already played more than 50 times for Scotland and been an ever-present for West Ham when they finished seventh in the Premier League in 2001-02, Dailly reckons he reached his peak at Charlton Athletic aged 36 – the age Defoe is now.
“It was about trial and error, by the time I got to Charlton I had worked it all out – probably 22 years too late!” he said. “But at the same time it was about having the base knowledge of having tried all these things in my career. It was like an experiment. I ranged from 12 stone to 14 and-a-half, so there was different types of training, trying different things. When I got to Charlton I was able to implement what worked for me.”