It could be the transfer storyline of January if Jermain Defoe makes a return to east London to sign for Manuel Pellegrini’s Hammers. The rumour mill is already turning and the suggestion is that the former West Ham striker is desperate for a return to the club he first signed for age 16.
However, the circumstances surrounding Defoe’s exit back in 2004 followed a difficult start to the 03/04 season after West Ham were relegated in 2003. His transfer request, received by the club less than 24 hours after heartbreak, caused a storm amongst fans. Following such a troubled conclusion to his West Ham career, the big question is whether the club and the fans can welcome back someone who riled us at a time when we were most in need.
In modern history, there are a few former players that we’ve vented our frustrations on, long after their exit. However, unlike Lampard Jnr, I’ve personally come to forgive Defoe over the years and even grown to actually like him. So in that sense, for me, his return isn’t an issue. We can easily see how, at 20 years of age, the east London-born teenager was led astray.
Let’s face it, who at that age wants to play at a lower level of football if they know they have the potential to go on to bigger and better things? And if your agent tells you that handing in a transfer request is the right thing to do, what experience do you have to argue? I’m a few years younger than Defoe and at the time of relegation I was a season ticket holder. I hated him for what he’d done.
I couldn’t see why this thought would even cross his mind; the money-grabbing, ignorant, horrible little…well, you know the rest. But as I saw him play through his career and as I got closer to the age he had been, I found myself trying too hard to dislike him. It got to the point where I understood what he’d done and why he’d done it. He’s only got one short opportunity in his footballing life and he wanted to make the most of it. Fair play to him.
He went about it in absolutely the wrong way but I believe it wasn’t his fault. We’ve read accounts recently of how he regrets his actions. We’ve also come to find that he’s a really nice, decent guy, so I see no reason to not believe his words. Come to think of it, this scenario probably would be glossed over a lot more now with fickle footballers becoming more common than not.
Plenty of players have handed in transfer requests in recent years, albeit more tactfully than Jermain did, and it doesn’t cause as much unrest as it once did. One man who would welcome Defoe back is Mark Noble. Hailing from the same area of London, Noble has recently voiced his admiration for the striker.
He said: ‘I don’t know if [the rumours are] true but the one thing I’ve always felt about him is that he should have played for a title-winning club in his career. His scoring record anyway is phenomenal, but if he had played for one of those clubs, it would have gone through the roof.’
I don’t think he’ll be winning too many titles now Mark, but there’s always that Champions League to look forward to back at the London Stadium! Noble is right to admire Defoe — he’s been a 10+ goalscorer in the Premier League eight times. His career goal tally stands at 273 and that’s from 679 appearances across leagues and competitions. That averages at a goal every two and a half games, which is decent.
The issue with Defoe coming back though is his age. As a striker, 36 is on the boundary of ancient. The reality is that he’d be used as a substitute and his return would be mostly for sentimental value. But do you know what? He’s still capable of scoring goals if he keeps fit. I mean look, we’re paying Andy Carroll to make zero appearances, surely the club’s pockets are deep enough to pay a former player a few quid to knock in a few nice goals towards the end of the season?
I’d rather see someone who cares about West Ham sitting on the bench and being excited about getting on the pitch than a young, inexperienced striker who’s just waiting for his next move. That being said, this shouldn’t open the door to all former players. It’s always nice to welcome back players of old if they can still serve a purpose. Jermain Defoe can do a job for a short while and I don’t see any losers from his potential return.