The recent swirl around Jermain Defoe has centred on the 37-year-old striker’s desire to remain at Rangers beyond the end of this season. Steven Gerrard is a man who seems keen to grant the striker his wish. It would be obtuse for the Ibrox manager to form any other view.
The on-loan Bournemouth predator – whose £65,000-a-week contract with the south coast of England club ends next summer – boasts six goals in his past three games alone, following a second hat-trick of the season in the 5-0 doing of Hamilton Accies. In all, he has found the net 12 times this season… doing so across only seven starts and seven substitute appearances.
All that would be enough for any manager to prize a player’s retention. Defoe offers even more, though, courtesy of his big personality and big-time experience as a former player for Tottenham Hotspur, West Ham, Portsmouth and Sunderland. What doesn’t count against him, as far as Gerrard is concerned, is his advancing years.
“If he stays in the form he’s in then of course I would want him around here for as long as possible,” said the Rangers manager. “It’s definitely something that’s on all our minds as a staff and a club. He’s in terrific form. I’m sure he’s frustrated with me in terms of his game time at the moment – which I love. That’s what I love about him. He wants to play every minute.
“He’s just as hungry now as he was when I bumped into him probably around 22, 23. First on the training pitch, last off. That’s the reason why I think he can go on because he’s still got the hunger and the drive to carry on. Jermain will be satisfied with his appearances if he stays fit and in this form come the end of the season, I’ve told him that. To keep going because he’s a huge help to us. Having two forwards in form at the moment is fantastic for myself.”
Defoe is offering himself up as a sounding board for the young players at Rangers “without us even asking”, revealed Gerrard. “That is the part of Jermain that we are so lucky to have. He’s got time to help the younger lads, to guide them in the right way, to talk about his own experiences,” he said. “When we always take academy players over, the No 9s and those in similar positions to him, he’s always got his arm around them and he stays behind, gives his own time up to coach them without any push from ourselves. We watch and just think: ‘Wow. That’s superb from him.’”
Gerrard believes it is possible then that any future deal could include the opportunity for Defoe to be given a player/coaching role. “We are open to that side of Jermain. I can help centre forwards, of course I can,” said the Rangers manager. “That’s why I am in the game. But Jermain Defoe will know certain situations in a game and certain things to look out for in his specific position more than any coach in the world because he’s doing it every day and he’s learned from playing against these defenders, different defenders. The quick ones, the aggressive ones. Jermain Defoe has got a catalogue of knowledge that he can pass on.
“Now whether that ends up being with us as a staff or out there, I would love to see him carry on giving something back to the game. But he’s still got so much to offer as a player just yet. Jermain Defoe would be well within his rights to say to me, look, I am feeling a bit tired at my age. He’s never ever come to me with stuff like that. It’s always us saying: ‘Come on, Jermain, you’ve done enough’.
“He’s always out there still working on his left foot, his right foot. Trying to create situations that he’s going to face in the game. He asks defenders to defend against him in a certain way. He asks goalkeepers to create certain situations. He is a bona fide superstar but not just as a player, as a professional. We are so lucky as a club to have him here. For many different reasons.”
With Gerrard only two years older than Defoe, from the outside it seemed there was potential for awkwardness in the former Liverpool captain exerting the necessary authority over a playing contemporary in his first job. The Ibrox manager has been spared any difficulties because his veteran striker is no agitator.
“I think it [the age similarity] could be [a problem] with a certain personality, someone with a certain character. But before I make those decisions of course I am well aware of the person – ie Steven Davis, Gareth McAuley, Jermain Defoe. They are top professionals. Better professionals than I was myself. That is involved with the decision before they come in. Can I work with someone who I’ve played against or played with? Or who I’ve been a friend or team-mate with? Those questions I have to process before making the decision but Jermain was an absolute no-brainer for me.
“There’s no falseness with Jermain. He’s honest, open. The younger guys in the group, Jermain is like a magnet. They are all round him. They are looking up to him. They see the career that he’s had but also what he’s like as a person, what he gives them back around the place. Ask all the staff – the laundry girls, the physios. How are you finding Jermain? Across the board it is always the same.”