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Interview: Jermain Defoe on becoming a manager, Harry Kane and his career highlights

Interview: Jermain Defoe on becoming a manager, Harry Kane and his career highlights
© Reuters
Jermain Defoe speaks to Sports Mole about his ambition to become a manager, Harry Kane's loyalty to Tottenham Hotspur and the fondest memories of his 22-year playing career.

After 22 years, more than 320 career goals and a whopping 820 appearances for club and country, former England international striker Jermain Defoe officially hung up his boots in March 2022.

Having turned professional as a 16-year-old at West Ham United in 1999, it brought the curtain down on a lengthy yet prolific career at the top of the game which lasted more than two decades.

Supporters of Tottenham Hotspur, Portsmouth, Sunderland and Rangers, amongst others, will have fond memories of the diminutive goal-getter, who featured for seven different clubs throughout his playing days and had more than one stint at five of those - proof that he left a lasting impression everywhere he went.

Twenty goals in 57 games for England, during which time he featured and scored at a World Cup, meant that he also left his mark on the international stage.

Defoe's place among the best English strikers of his generation is evidenced by the fact that only six Englishmen have scored more goals in the Premier League era; indeed, his tally of 162 is beaten by only Alan Shearer, Wayne Rooney, Harry Kane, Andy Cole, Sergio Aguero, Frank Lampard, Thierry Henry and Robbie Fowler overall in the competition's history.

The likes of Michael Owen, Les Ferdinand, Teddy Sheringham, Robin van Persie and Mohamed Salah all trail Defoe in the all-time Premier League scoring charts, but not content with forging a career as a formidable goalscorer, he is now keen to further enhance his reputation in football as a coach and manager.

Jermain Defoe pictured in February 2022© Reuters

Now 40, Defoe is currently an academy coach at Tottenham - the club for whom he scored more goals and made more appearances than any other in his career - where he hopes to learn his trade before moving into a first-team management position of his own.

Defoe is documenting the start of that journey through his BBC Sounds podcast 'Jermain Defoe: Outside The Box', and he admits that discovering the differences between playing and managing has been eye-opening.

Speaking to Sports Mole, Defoe said: "The podcast is about the transition from player to coach and manager. What I've done is gone round and picked the brains of managers I've played under, people I've played with that have gone on to manage, and just trying to get as much from these people as possible.

"What do I need to expect in terms of managing and coaching, the ups and downs, the pressure, the things you have to cope with as a manager? I think there are a lot of things which a lot of players don't know to be honest, because it's completely different to playing.

"We've got some amazing people on there and I've really enjoyed it. It's a good listen, I've enjoyed doing it."

One of those guests is Harry Redknapp, under whom Defoe played at three different clubs - West Ham, Portsmouth and Tottenham - and Defoe cites his former boss as the manager he learned most from during his playing days.

"While I was playing I always looked at Harry Redknapp and I always thought - 'you know what, you're a special human'. Forget about the managing, because that speaks for itself, but in terms of a human being I always felt that he was special. When I signed for West Ham, just how he was with me, my family, Joe Cole and his family - all the younger players - I just thought he was special," he said.

Harry Redknapp with Jermain Defoe in October 2010© Reuters

"A lot of time with managers, yes there is an interest in the academy, but for him it was: 'Alright who am I bringing through? Who is the next young player to come through?' And sort of change your life. Someone who I can relate to, someone from the East End - he just always wanted the best for me. Always wanted to give me that opportunity to fulfil my potential.

"I made my debut at 17, left school and the next year I'm playing in the first team at West Ham. It happened so fast for me, so he was the one really. I see the way he used to manage the group, how he was with the senior players, that freedom to go and express yourself - 'you know what you need to do' - and with the younger players just wanting to bring you through and give you an opportunity.

"I remember when Harry went to Portsmouth - I left Tottenham and went to Portsmouth, and I had a conversation with him about the contract. I remember speaking to the manager and literally, no word of a lie, we agreed it within five minutes. 'What do you want?', 'OK boss, this is what I'm looking for, this is what I feel like I'm worth', and it was just no problem.

"I played for Portsmouth, he got the Tottenham job, I came back to Tottenham again, contract, 'Yeah, I'm going to get you what you want so you can look after your family, set yourself up', all that sort of stuff. That was the conversation I had with him. I wasn't just like, 'you're earning good money, go on', it was, 'you're earning good money - invest and look after your family'. That was always the message to me that he had."

Defoe also revealed that he almost reunited with Redknapp at a fourth different club, only for a switch to Queens Park Rangers to fall through in 2014.

"I remember being at Toronto and he was at QPR, and I remember being on the phone to Harry every single day trying to get that [move] done. I remember him saying to me, at that age (31) he wanted to give me a four-year contract," he told Sports Mole.

Jermain Defoe for Toronto FC in May 2014© Reuters

"He just wanted to look after me and my family: 'Yeah we'll give you a four-year contract, come and play'. That's just always how he was - he never complicated anything, just come and score goals, come and play.

"I remember coming back to London, I was in Pizza Express with my agent for about five, six hours, the deal was done and then I spoke to Toronto and they said: 'No we can't do it'. But yeah I was close to signing for QPR."

Episode three of the podcast sees Defoe travel to Derby County's training ground to speak to Paul Warne, who gave a brutally honest assessment of how difficult being a manager is.

The Rams boss described the job as "soul-destroying" at times, even admitting that the thought had crossed his mind to deliberately crash his car in order to escape the relentless nature of management, and that he had been left crying on his office floor after having to release a player.

"No [Warne] didn't [give a positive impression of being a manager]! He basically asked me why I want to do it and started laughing. I was like, 'wow'! But I'm one of those people who always loves a challenge, nothing really fazes me," Defoe said.

"I've always looked at it, even as a player, and it's part and parcel of everything you have to deal with. Obviously it's completely different being a manager because when you're a player you're so focused on yourself and how you make things better, the people you're competing against.

Derby County manager Paul Warne after the match on January 8, 2023© Reuters

"When you're a manager it's, 'How do I control this dressing room? How do I manage this group of players, a squad of 25 or whatever it is?' There are times when you have to leave a player out, so 'How do I speak to this player?' You have to deal with new contracts - there's so much stuff that goes with it, stuff that you don't have to deal with as a player.

"Some managers see it as just pure stress, some managers might enjoy that more. Everyone is different, everyone's got different journeys, but it was interesting - he was honest, and I appreciate that. It was really good."

Despite the overall bleak picture Warne painted of the job, Defoe insists that it has not put him off, and that he remains keen to follow in the footsteps of former teammates such as Wayne Rooney, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard, all of whom have gone into management since retiring.

"You know when you just love football? Everything that comes with it. Even towards the back end of my career, I did a little bit of coaching at training where I've just pulled someone, one of the younger players, and did a bit of finishing. I've always had a good feeling doing it, helping the next generation, helping another player," he said.

"I always thought when I finish I'd like to go into coaching. I think sitting back and watching other players I played with - like Wayne Rooney, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Scott Parker - there's been many more, Sol Campbell - when I look back at others players who have done it it does make you want to do it more.

"I want to take my time with it, complete my badges, learn as much as I can, and that's why doing this podcast is really good for me because there's so much I can take away from it which I didn't know before. As a player you're so focused on playing, nothing else really - you don't even think about anything else. But doing this podcast, there are a lot of things that the managers have said to me where I'm like, 'oh, wow, that's interesting'."

Jermain Defoe with a pair of balls on November 10, 2018© Reuters

Recent speculation linked Defoe with the Oxford United job which has since been taken by Liam Manning, but the London-born forward is happy to take his time to make sure that he is ready for his first job when it comes along.

"Day by day, taking it step by step. Learning as much as I can from the coaches at Tottenham, the people around me, and then see where it takes me. Just take my time really - I don't want to rush into things. When you do get that job, you need to be ready," he added.

"[As a coach at Spurs] you have to get in early, prepare training, plan the sessions, do the numbers, after training there is a review of the session, there are meetings, you might pull individuals about maybe the game you played on the weekend or a game that's coming up.

"There's a lot of stuff that is completely different to playing, but it's just more game prep, training prep. I'm enjoying it, it's been different but I've really enjoyed it being on the other side."

Defoe also talked up the quality of some of the players coming through the Tottenham academy and hinted that there could be future international and Spurs superstars in their ranks.

However, he also stressed that the number one priority as an academy coach was to set up the player for a successful career in the game, even if that lies away from North London.

"There are a few good ones to be honest. I don't want to name names because there's so many of them and I hate just picking individuals, but there are a few that have really excited me since I've been in," Defoe told Sports Mole.

Jermaine Defoe pictured in Rangers gear in March 2019© Reuters

"They're really young - a couple of Under-15 players that are playing in the Under-18s - there are a few that really excite me, and it's nice to see that next generation coming through. Hopefully one day these are the next superstars and these are the ones that will play for Tottenham one day.

"Coaching these young players - I can imagine as a coach there's no better feeling than when you've coached a young player and they've gone on to get into the first team and make appearances and play for England or whatever country they're from.

"You're more focused on what's important [in academy football], and what's important is the football, improving every day and not wasting a session. The main goal is obviously to have a career in the game, whether that's at Tottenham or somewhere else, you want to have a career in the game. As coaches, we're there to help the players develop - we're development coaches in academy football, and it's about developing and improving the players every single day.

"When you're at an academy at a club, not everyone is going to make it at that club, but what you want to do is give yourself some opportunity to have a career in the game.

"You look at when Man United had all those players come through at the same time, and [Alan] Hansen came out and said, 'You don't win championships with kids', and they went on to dominate English football. But how many times have you seen that many players come through at the same time? You just want the players to have that mentality.

"Of course, you want to play for Tottenham because you love Tottenham, you're in the academy, you could be a Tottenham fan, or your family are from Tottenham. But give yourself an opportunity that you have a career in the game, whatever club that's at, you have a career in the game."

Jermain Defoe at Bournemouth in 2000© Reuters

Defoe's own experience of breaking into professional football at just 16 years old no doubt helps him to handle the young players under his tutelage, but the former England international also talked up the benefit of loan spells at lower-league clubs.

Defoe himself went to Bournemouth on loan from West Ham early in his career and subsequently scored 18 goals in 29 league games, including a record-equalling run of scoring in 10 successive matches.

That spell helped catapult him into the West Ham first team on a more regular basis, and he believes that getting experience of first-team senior football can be hugely beneficial to the development of younger players.

"Sometimes it is good to go on loan. When I went on loan I enjoyed it, having that experience of playing first-team football, playing league football. I really enjoyed it, it helped me a lot in terms of confidence," he said.

"Coming back more confident - I was 18 when I went on loan to Bournemouth, so really young - but for me I'd rather have done that. Going on loan and playing league football, every game means something.

"You walk into a changing room with a group of men that are looking to win. They've got mortgages to pay, they've got families. It's completely different to playing youth-team football - the games are so important. The fact I got that so young, it helped me going back to West Ham, and I just kicked on from there."

Harry Kane celebrates scoring for Tottenham Hotspur on February 5, 2023© Reuters

Undoubtedly the biggest inspiration for the current crop of Tottenham youngsters is Harry Kane, who came through the ranks at the club but also spent four separate spells out on loan before breaking into the first team.

The 29-year-old has since gone on to become the club's all-time record goalscorer, England captain and joint-record scorer and one of only three players to score more than 200 Premier League goals.

Kane's breakthrough into the senior setup at Spurs overlapped with Defoe's final years at the club, and Defoe revealed that his fellow striker's quality was evident from early on.

"I knew from the beginning to be honest. I remember when he used to train with the first team and he was really young, but you could see that appetite, that hunger to score goals, and you don't always see that with young players," Defoe told Sports Mole.

"I looked at him and I thought, he just reminds me of myself. When I was at West Ham and used to train with the first team I wasn't scared, I always used to go with the first team and didn't change my game - I just wanted to score goals, and I saw that with Harry.

"I remember having a conversation with Brad Friedel, and Brad said exactly the same. The rest is history really, what he's achieved is just phenomenal."

Harry Kane celebrates with Jermain Defoe (L) after scoring the second goal for Tottenham in October 2013© Reuters

Kane's future has come under scrutiny once again in recent weeks after Tottenham's quickfire exits from the FA Cup and Champions League left them facing yet another trophyless season, with their last piece of silverware coming in 2008.

For all of Kane's individual records, he remains without a team trophy during his illustrious career, and with the Spurs scoring record now under his belt, speculation is growing that he could push for an exit with the likes of Manchester United thought to be interested.

Like Kane, Defoe's legacy is perhaps more defined by his goal tally rather than his trophy collection, although Defoe was in that 2008 League Cup-winning Spurs side, and also helped Rangers to their record 55th Scottish Premiership title - and a first in 10 years - during his time at Ibrox in 2020-21.

Defoe believes that Kane's loyalty to Spurs will make it difficult to leave, but acknowledged that picking up a league title with Rangers was one of the highlights of his own career and admits that he wished he had more medals to show for his success.

"I know there's been lots said about Harry with the trophies and all that sort of stuff, and sometimes that loyalty, where you're so loyal to a football club and the relationship you've got with the fans, sometimes it's not easy to just walk away," he told Sports Mole.

"You get approached by other clubs with more money, but at the same time that sort of loyalty will keep you at the football club. I believe when I was at Tottenham, with some of the teams I played in we should have won a lot more, 100%. I've had this conversation with ex-teammates, and they've all said the same thing - 'How did we not win more with the quality we had in that dressing room?'

Gareth Bale of Tottenham Hotspur celebrates his goal with Jermain Defoe in December 2012© Reuters

"I think it was just that knowhow, how to get over the line. We always got close, but then that final hurdle we just couldn't do it. I look at other players, and you see the trophies they've won, and you think that's mad because, no disrespect, but playing with players on that same level or maybe better, we didn't win the FA Cup.

"We won the League Cup, didn't win the FA Cup, Premier League is always difficult to win for any player. You look at Man City now, when I was playing it was Chelsea that were dominating, so that was always going to be a difficult one to win. I remember when AVB (Andre Villas-Boas) was at Tottenham and at one point we were flying, and people were saying Tottenham could win the league - Gareth Bale was flying for us, and again that final hurdle was difficult, just that knowhow to do it.

"But you do look back and think, 'I wish I had won a lot more'. For me, going to Rangers was massive, winning that league title. When I won that league title with Rangers, I knew before I went that was the one the club was craving. Fifty-five league titles, it was probably one of the biggest ones in the club's history, and to be a part of that was really special.

"I look at how respected the likes of Ally McCoist and all these legends are, that didn't even play in the Premier League, well respected in the game because they won. Obviously in Scotland it's a different league, a huge club, but winning a league title in any league is difficult. It doesn't matter where you go, and having that experience, for me it was brilliant.

"I always felt like I deserved to win a league title with all the hard work that I put in, all the goals I scored - I always felt like I deserved it to be honest, whether that's the English Premier League or the Scottish Premier League. Wherever it was, I felt like I deserved it.

"And I felt like it was better than winning a domestic cup because winning a league title means you're the best team throughout the whole campaign, you've shown that consistency when it gets tough, that resilience to keep going and to finish after 38 games and you're number one, that was big."

Rangers manager Steven Gerrard and Jermain Defoe celebrate with the Scottish Premiership trophy on May 15, 2021© Reuters

Rangers was one of a number of clubs Defoe played for with famously passionate supporters, and he reserved special praise for the Scottish giants as well as Sunderland, where he scored 37 goals in 100 games over two spells and was named the club's player of the year for 2015-16.

"Sunderland was really special. The goals I scored there, the fans just took to me. From day one, I just felt like it was a special place. The atmosphere, that stadium was always rocking, and the Bradley [Lowery] story, so that will always be a special place for me," he told Sports Mole.

"I don't like how it ended because I left Rangers and went back to Sunderland, and the manager at the time wasn't on the same page. The fact of the matter is I love that football club and there were other people around who I just didn't believe loved the club as much as I did. That actually got revealed after I left, and people know what I'm saying, so I decided to retire. But I love that football club and I love the fans - special people, really special people.

"I went from that high of being there and then I went to Rangers, and there it was like 'wow' - again, on another level. I always knew it was a big club, but you don't know until you go there, and again from the first game against Kilmarnock - yeah, I scored on my debut - but from that first game I remember the fans singing my name, and just that noise around the stadium.

"Away from home, we had more fans around the stadium, and just that noise when they were singing my name. I was just like, 'wow, I've been a Rangers player for 30 minutes!' When I scored I'd been a Rangers player for like 30 minutes and this is the sort of love I'm getting from these fans already - it was just incredible. After that experience, winning a title and seeing the fans react to that, was just next level."

Defoe's breakthrough into senior professional football at the age of 16 mirrors that of Jude Bellingham, who has established himself as one of the brightest prospects in world football since coming through the ranks at Birmingham City.

Borussia Dortmund's Jude Bellingham pictured on February 4, 2023© Reuters

Still only 19 years old, Bellingham is nonetheless expected to break the British record transfer fee should he leave Borussia Dortmund this summer, with a who's who of top European clubs thought to be interested in his signature.

Liverpool and Real Madrid are reportedly leading the race, but Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain are among the other giants to have been credited with an interest.

Defoe played with two of the greatest English midfielders of all time in Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, and he believes that Bellingham has the potential to be considered in that bracket if he keeps developing as he has done in his short career so far.

"I hope so. I'm not going to say that he can be in that bracket now, because I think what Lamps and Stevie did, that's unique. We're talking about some of the greatest players to play the game," Defoe said.

"Frank Lampard scoring 20 goals from midfield for six consecutive seasons I think it was - that's a special player. And Steven Gerrard, what can I say about Stevie? One of the best players I played with - had everything. I'm trying to think if he had a weakness, I don't think he had a weakness. He had everything. Could pass, could run, could tackle, could score, could head, could do everything - aggressive, could lead. He had everything. We're talking about two of the greatest.

"I would like to think that he could get to that level and we saw it in the World Cup how good he is. He's so young, and he's just like a man - it's frightening. How good he'll become, who knows? He might even be better, we don't know, but just let the boy develop, let him enjoy his football, but the way he's going, the sky's the limit because he is a special talent."

New episodes of Jermain Defoe: Outside The Box are released on Thursdays and are available to listen to on BBC Sounds.

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2Manchester CityMan City25175358263256
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5Tottenham HotspurSpurs25145652381447
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