When Jermain Defoe was 18 he scored 10 goals in 35 Premier League appearances (many of them coming from the bench) and he was West Ham's top goalscorer in all competitions with 14. His goals steered a young but very talented West Ham team to seventh and it seemed he and West Ham were destined for big things.
Even on the international front it appeared possible for Defoe to garner over 100 caps by the time his career winded down. By 2002, fans were cruelly beginning to compare Emile Heskey to the football equivalent of a donkey; Andy Cole, Robbie Fowler and Teddy Sheringham were long past their best; Michael Bridges was taking an eternity to come back from injury; it was becoming blinding obvious Francis Jeffers, Darius Vassell and Alan Smith were nothing more than average forwards; Michael Ricketts was a flash in the pan and with Alan Shearer refusing to come back from retirement, Michael Owen was the only world class striker England had - and he was injury prone!
Indeed, before Defoe's breakout year in the 2001-02 season at West Ham, then West Ham manager Harry Redknapp had this to say:
"He's done great. I sent him out to Bournemouth to get some experience playing league football and he's coped marvellously.
To score 10 goals in 10 games is a terrific achievement.
He's a bright lad who's full of confidence. Nothing knocks him, he's a typical goal-scorer. If he misses, he'll be there the next time looking for a goal.
He's a kid with a big future. Hopefully, he'll come back to West Ham and establish himself in our first team."
*quotes via BBC Sport
That quote was taken on the 24th January 2001, fast-forward almost 13 years and Defoe has arguably failed to reach to fullest of his potential. As he prepares to leave the Premier League, he has yet to score over 20 goals in a league campaign - 18 being his highest; the majority of his career has seen him play second fiddle to a striking line up; and he has yet to win a trophy.
Compare Defoe's lack of medals to his West Ham alumni, which includes: David James, Rio Ferdinand, Michael Carrick, Frank Lampard, Joe Cole, Paolo Di Canio and Frederic Kanoute, Defoe will be disappointed the way his career turned out.
Even on the international stage, despite having several opportunities to make a name for himself, Defoe was routinely upstaged by players who were no better than he was. Defoe's international career begin in 2004 - for those of you wondering why Defoe took so long to get his first cap, West Ham had a terrible season in 2002-03 earning them the unenviable record of the best team to go down, consequentially he spent the majority of 2003 in the Championship until Tottenham brought him in 2004.
Yet despite the delay, 2004 was the perfect year to come in. Michael Owen had ceased being world class since 2002 and was wasting away at Liverpool; in the eyes of the fans Emile Heskey had fully confirmed himself as the laughing stock of the England team; meanwhile Darius Vassell was the personification of average and was only in the squad as Owen's pacey back up.
As Heskey was in the squad purely for his ability to offer something different as a target man, Vassell's place in the squad was most under threat. As it turned out, Wayne Rooney's meteoric rise displaced Defoe. As harsh as it may have been to leave him out, (Defoe's record of 7 goals in 15 games for Tottenham in 2004 is far superior to Vassell's record of 9 goals in 32 games for Aston Villa in the whole of the 2003-04 season) going into a tournament with two inexperienced strikers who have been foolish and as Rooney's talent was great than Defoe's, Defoe had to make way. Rooney had a blinding tournament in Euro 2004 to further vindicate Sven-Goran Eriksson's decision.
World Cup 2006
However, if Defoe missing out in Euro 2004 was justified, him missing out on World 2006 was downright farcical - yet Defoe did himself no favours - a trend I will elaborate later. Of the four strikers to make it into that tournament, only Peter Crouch deserved his place. Wayne Rooney had a fantastic year for United but he was injured coming into the tournament. He was rushed back ahead of schedule but played the whole tournament like he had not gotten over the injury. To add insult to injury, his childish antics got himself sent-off.
Yet if Rooney was worth taking due to his talents, Michael Owen had no business in the team. He may have scored a hat-trick against Columbia in a friendly before the tournament begin, but he only played 11 matches for Newcastle that whole campaign. Predictably, he got injured against Sweden and never played again until April 2007.
The less said about Theo Walcott the better. While Defoe had every right to be angry at Eriksson, he has to look at himself. Tottenham may have gone close to finishing in the top four in the 2005-06 season but Defoe was firmly third choice behind Robbie Keane and Mido.
Defoe's record of 9 goals in 36 Premier League games is poor when you look at Owen's record of 7 goals in 11 games for Newcastle. In that sense, can you really blame Eriksson for choosing the reputations of Owen and Rooney over Defoe? In fact, strictly going by the code form over reputation, Defoe should have been no where near the squad in 2006.
World Cup 2010
The next tournament England qualified for was World Cup 2010. Defoe went into this tournament in the best form of his career with 18 goals in 34 Premier League games and 24 in 43 games in all competitions. Yet despite this, Defoe was benched (unfairly) for most of the tournament. The tournament started poorly for England and after a 1-1 draw against USA and a 0-0 draw against Algeria, (where Defoe game in as a late substitution) Capello finally gave in and gave Defoe a start. Ironically, the only game he started during the group stage (Slovenia) he scored in. He also started against Germany, though England were thoroughly outclassed.
Euro 2012 was an even worse experience for Defoe. Aside from his father passing away during the tournament, Defoe only played in one match - as a 13 minute substitute against France. In this tournament, Andy Carroll, Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck were firmly ahead of Defoe. Again, considering Defoe had better seasons than both Carroll and Welbeck and was fitter than Rooney coming into the tournament, Defoe only has himself to blame.
After a enjoying his best season in 2009-10, he opted to have his worst footballing season in 2010-11. This prompted Redknapp to buy Emmanuel Adebayor on loan for the 2011-12 season. Adebayor had now taken the sole striker slot, whilst Van Der Vaart was playing in behind him. Defoe may have had better seasons than Carroll and Welbeck, but they were both regulars for their respective clubs.
What went wrong and where did it go wrong?
What went wrong is that Defoe has rarely been a regular for any of his clubs apart from Portsmouth. For the most part, Di Canio and Kanoute were ahead of Defoe at West Ham. When he transferred to Tottenham in 2004, he alongside with Robbie Keane were ahead of Helder Postiga and Frederic Kanoute in the pecking order. This only lasted until 2005 when Mido usurped Defoe. After Mido left, Berbatov and Darrent Bent came in, demoting Defoe to fourth choice.
Tired of the situation at White Hart Lane, he packed his bags for Portsmouth, enjoying a fruitful relationship with Benjani and later Peter Crouch.
He then moved back to Tottenham and after an initial good start, his poor form saw Crouch, Adebayor and now Soldado usurp him at different stages. Consequentially, he is now second in the Premier League all time list for substitutions. Furthermore, as his England career mirrors his club career, he also holds the record for the most substitutions in England history.
Obviously from the chronological order, the most obvious place to look for where it all wrong for Defoe is his second stint at Tottenham. Whilst it is certainly true had he remained consistent during his tenure there, there would have been no need to sign Adebayor or Soldado.
However, I would argue he should have never gone to Tottenham. In 2003 Manchester United wanted him and only after they could not get him did they switch targets to Louis Saha in 2004. Defoe might have been worried about first team football, but Ferguson has a panache for rotating his strikers and keeping them satisfied.
Furthermore, United were in a transitional phase between 2003 and 2006 and that alone would have enabled Defoe to have lasted a long time. Saha and Solksjaer were injury prone for most of their duration at United and they enjoyed fruitful careers until 2008 and 2007 respectively. A move to United would have also boosted Defoe's reputation (something that hurt him immensely in during the reign of Eriksson). He almost certainly would have made the Euro 2004 and World Cup 2006 squads.
In either case, Defoe has wasted much of his career being on the White Hart Lane bench and this is why a move to Canada makes so much sense. Many pundits have claimed Defoe's place in the World Cup is now in jeopardy - I would argue even Defoe was never going to play anyway. If there is anything tournaments have told us when it comes to Defoe, it is that he is not rated enough to be anything other than fourth choice.
We all know Rooney is very much first choice, whilst Sturridge and Welbeck are fighting for the position next to him. That leaves Defoe very much isolated in fourth spot - Hodgson will do well to give the position of fourth striker to a fresh face full of potential.
Even if injuries were to occur pushing Defoe up the ladder, England are not going to do much in Brazil so moving to another Premier League team just to ensure his World Cup place would be pointless.
Another reason why a move to Canada would be good for Defoe is down to wages. He is estimated to earn around £90,000 a week; at Tottenham, due to their strict wage caps, Defoe would not have earned anything like that amount. A move to Canada would be good for his bank balance, besides, he has nothing to prove in the Premier League anymore.
We all know Defoe for being the striker who is good enough to be an indispensable player for any team in the league apart from the top six: Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and as evidenced throughout his career, Tottenham. A move to the likes of Cardiff will not tell us anything we do not know already.
What Defoe needs is trophies to cap off a decent career, he has very little chance of doing that outside of Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Man City and Man Utd. With that being the case ending his career at Toronto and earning bucket loads of money is the next best thing.