In Jermain Defoe Rangers have signed a genuine Premier League star. Joel Sked looks at why he will not follow in the footsteps of previous big names who have flopped in Glasgow.
The list of Premier League stars, many entering the final stages of their career, to try their hand at Scottish football doesn’t make for good reading for Jermain Defoe.
Carlton Cole, Freddie Ljunberg, James Beattie, Niko Kranjcar, Joey Barton, Roy Keane and Juninho. Add in Amdy Faye, Francis Jeffers, Olivier Kapo, Oliver Bernard and perhaps Thomas Gravesen.
There is a belief, strongly held south of the border, that after hundreds of games in England a move to Scotland equates to a walk in the park. A walk in the park where everyone else is either blindfolded, asleep or subservient.
It didn’t take long for fans of clubs from England to take to Twitter to predict that Defoe would uncover new scoring levels, a continuation of their belief that their granny would score for fun in Scotland.
In turn, there are those in Scottish football who take great pleasure in seeing such players flop. It acts as both a middle finger to those who scoff at the game here and proof that the Ladbrokes Premiership is not easy.
Sceptics of Defoe’s potential for a positive impact at Ibrox will look at his previous 18 months.
Having left Sunderland to rejoin Bournemouth, where the striker enjoyed a productive loan spell during the embryonic stages of his career, there was an expectation that he would spearhead the attack with Callum Wilson.
Yet, he started just 11 Premier League games, playing only 21 minutes in the league this campaign. On face value, it suggests a striker, drastically on the wane, who has lost the confidence of his manager.
On the pitch his impact was limited, but not negligible. The four goals he hit last season all proved crucial, earning his side four points. Then there are the intangibles.
“The deal has been a good one from our perspective,” said Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe earlier this month. “I would do it again in a heartbeat.
“He scored some massive goals for us last season – I don’t think anyone should forget that. Then you add the other value he brings in the changing room and on the training pitch. He’s been a role model for a lot of our younger players.”
Defoe is a consummate professional who has confounded critics since turning 30.
In 2014 he made a move which to some is still seen as the brandishing of the white flag; the throwing in of the towel. He put his England career in jeopardy by joining MLS side Toronto, helped by a phone call from eminent rapper Drake.
Later that year, out of sight and largely out of mind in Canada, the player faced question marks regarding his commitment to Toronto and MLS. He had missed a large chunk of games and the local press had made their mind up that the player wanted to go home.
Still, in the face of negativity, Defoe was defiant. “Eight years,” was the answer when asked how long he had left in the professional game.
“It’s about being dedicated and looking after your body”, he told Donald McRae. “When I’m fit I feel so sharp. As you get older you feel stronger because you know your body. You know the days when you need to train or rest.”
He was 32 at the time, meaning, in essence, he joins Rangers with four more years in the tank. It is a tank which is well looked after, filled with the right fuel.
In recent years Defoe has made the switch to a vegan diet on the demand of his girlfriend, while he has extensively used ice chambers and cryotherapy, even paying for it himself.
This is a player who is trying to eke out every morsel of a talent he has honed and crafted from a young age. In an interview with journalist Graham Hunter, Defoe revealed his penchant for scoring goals goes back to being a toddler, putting together makeshift goals in the house.
He said: “Just being around the house I’d sort of make a little goal, whether it was a chair or anything that has got that little space, and I used to throw the ball off the wall and volley it in between the post of the chair, the settee or whatever it was, concentrating on the connection of the volley with both feet, directing it to where I wanted it to go.
“That’s all I wanted to do, that’s all I was interested in, didn’t care about anything else.
“When I was eight, nine (it was) all about goals, all about goals. I wanna score goals. If I scored three I wanted to score four. If I scored four I wanted to score five. That fire in my belly that I had from day one, where that buzz of scoring goals on a Sunday morning was so important to me.”
It is a fire which still burns, a buzz which remains. It is that which should strike fear into Scottish defences.
From his days in East London through revered youth side Senrab, West Ham to Spurs, with England, he scored goals. Frequently.
Even in Toronto he still hit 11 in 19 MLS appearances. Any doubts about his ability to score goals in the Premier League after his hiatus were quietened with 30 goals across two full seasons at Sunderland. A rank rotten Sunderland at that.
Fifteen in consecutive seasons when the team finished 17th then 20th amounted to nearly 40 per cent of the team’s goals.
It may not have been enough to save Sunderland in 2017 but his form earned him an England recall at 34 years of age after more than three years in the international wilderness. Of course, he scored in his first game back.
Such a career, nearly 300 goals, with a propensity to silence critics and doubters makes those scoffing at his age on signing for Rangers at best brave but more realistically foolish.
The striker is still in fine shape, more than robust enough to deal with the unique physical challenges which Scotland presents. He has operated at the highest level for so long, the intelligence and experience to not only survive but thrive in such an environment won’t be lost on crossing the border.
But more than anything, Defoe is a goalscorer. He is a student of the game, especially when it comes to the art of finishing. For long parts of his career all he seemed to do was strike the ball as hard as possible, but over years it has become more rounded, finesse as well as ferocity.
His excitement will likely have piqued on looking at Rangers’ stats so far this season in the league. The second most shots, the most crosses and the most touches in the box.
He will be raring to go and most of Scottish football will be watching on with intrigue when he gets started. Only, this time, expect a Premier League star to flourish, rather than flop.