Week 31 in the Barclays Premier League saw some absolutely sensational strikes. From Charlie Adam’s blockbuster in his own half, to Wayne Rooney’s turn and volley and Bobby Zamora’s majestically dinked effort for QPR, it was a weekend of stunning goals.
But one goal which was equally as impressive and somewhat went under the radar due to the competition came in the Tyne-Wear derby. It was scored by a man who has been recognised as a fox-in-the-box throughout his career, but last Sunday Jermain Defoe showed a side of his game that not many have seen before, and why he is the key to keeping Sunderland in this division.
In Dick Advocaat’s first two games in charge of The Black Cats, Defoe has started on the right-wing in a 4-3-3 formation, a position he has rarely even been played in. On Sunday we saw a different Sunderland performance coming in a game that mattered so much, not only because it was the big derby, but because of how significant the 3 points are for Sunderland’s survival bid.
Defoe’s performance against Newcastle was the prime example of everything that has been missing on Wearside this season. He was obviously asked to do a job for the team, tracking back and helping out his side defensively. When he scored that 20 yard volley right on half-time, you could see just how much it meant to him. The former Spurs frontman was moved to tears when he walked down the tunnel, which must have been great to see from a Sunderland fans perspective.
As a neutral watching at home, I found this refreshing to see. Especially in a week where Raheem Sterling has rejected a new Liverpool deal, despite being offered a staggering amount of money.
Quite often in the media people are quick to criticise footballers like Sterling for being too greedy, but when a story reminds us that there are some good folk too, it gets nowhere near the same level of coverage.
We saw Defoe put in a huge defensive shift against Newcastle; at some points during the match he was making slide tackles in the left-back area of the pitch, something which is completely alien to his game. It is very unlikely that Defoe wished to play this role, because he’s a goal-scorer, he goes about his business further up the pitch. But did we see him sulk, moan and make a fuss? No, he simply got on and did a job for his team.
It’s this attitude and desire that fans want to see every week. Another Englishman who is showing this similar work ethic is Harry Kane.
Kane has burst on to the scene at Spurs this season, scoring goals for fun and has becoming the darling of English football. To keep big money foreign signings out of the team in place of ‘one of their own’ bodes well with supporters, and this is exactly what has happened at Spurs. Roberto Soldado sits on the bench every week due to the form of Kane.
Everyone seems to love a bit of Harry Kane. Whether it’s Spurs fans, neutral fans or the media, people can’t get enough of him at the moment. The question is; why?
You don’t see any stories about Kane demanding a pay raise a la Sterling. He’s just a young man who loves playing football. The fact that Kane has had loan spells in the lower leagues and stepped away from the Premier League bubble probably helped him to realise just how privileged he is.
When you watch his interviews he comes across as a humble young lad, and such is his presence you almost feel like you know him! The same can’t be said about Sterling; he doesn’t share the same warmth the Kane does, he doesn’t show his emotions like Defoe.
With modern football now, we hear too many stories of how player power has taken over the game. So when we see Defoe cry after scoring such an important and stunning goal, and when we see young Harry Kane come from nowhere to England’s new number 9, it makes us appreciate the good things the game can offer us.
Defoe is 32 years old now, he’s had his fair share of clubs and has achieved some great feats in his career. On the flipside, Sterling’s career is only just beginning. Maybe young Raheem should step back for a minute and realise just how lucky he is. It could be worse, he could be asked to put a shift in at left-back.