Jermain Defoe sold by Toronto FC to Sunderland
Ends speculation on striker's future
The Jermain Defoe transfer saga is finally over with Toronto FC selling the England star striker to Sunderland.
A source confirmed the long-awaited deal, which ends Defoe's roller-coaster year in Major League Soccer.
Toronto had been looking to send the 32-year-old Defoe to Sunderland with 25-year-old U.S. international forward Jozy Altidore and cash coming back to TFC.
That is expected to still happen. But Altidore's journey to Toronto will have to go through the league's allocation process which governs the return of players to MLS.
Goals have been hard to come by for Altidore in England but he remains a key player in the U.S. national team setup.
Cash from the Defoe sale is expected to trigger a series of moves as Toronto, a franchise yet to make the playoffs since entering the league in 2007, looks to fill key defensive and midfield holes on its roster.
Looking for another designated player
Toronto is looking to add another designated player in a creative attacking midfield role, with two targets currently playing in Europe. Neither will be available until July 1 and the MLS club may find itself with a logjam of DPs unless something gives.
Star midfielder Michael Bradley isn't going anywhere. Toronto execs look to make the intense American the team leader on and off the field.
Reports in Italy have also suggested an interest in 27-year-old Juventus forward Sebastian Giovinco. Toronto also has its sights set on Real Betis defender Damien Perquis, a 30-year-old French-born Poland international.
Sunderland (3-7-11) currently stands 16th in the English Premier League, one point above the relegation zone. The move to the northeast of England reunites Defoe with Black Cats manager Gus Poyet, who was both a player and assistant manager at Tottenham.
Sky Sports reported earlier Tuesday that up to 10 Premier League clubs had been in the hunt for Defoe. Toronto GM Tim Bezbatchenko said last week that most of the interest came from teams in the bottom half of the standings.
The January transfer window is a seller's markets. Reliable strikers are hard to come by, even if they are on the wrong side of 30 and coming off a groin injury.
The price of a player like Defoe may be high in January but it pales compared to the financial losses of falling out of the tony Premier League.
A cloudy future
Defoe's future has been cloudy since Toronto turned down a franchise-record transfer fee from an English team at the end of the summer transfer window. That turned into a soap opera and Toronto execs were determined to resolve the matter in the January transfer window before Defoe's return date of Jan. 17.
Defoe seems to have landed on his feet, with Sunderland reportedly willing to take on wages of 80,000 pounds (C$145,000) a week. The MLS Players Union listed Defoe's Toronto salary at US$6.18 million (which equals C$142,375 a week).
Some will say Defoe was a disappointment in Toronto. But he was a striker, not a saviour.
When healthy, Defoe was a force to be reckoned with in North America. Toronto did not lose (6-0-2) when he scored in league play.
It speaks volumes about Toronto's woeful offence in the past that Defoe, who ranked fifth on Tottenham's career scoring list with 142 goals in two spells, exits No. 5 on Toronto's all-time scoring chart with 11 goals — a feat he achieved in 13 MLS games.
He scored three goals in his first two games. But after potting a goal July 16 in a 1-1 tie with Vancouver, he did not score again, missing 12 of the next 18 games through suspension (one game) or injury (11).
Defoe returned to England for injury rehab as rumours swirled about his future. And Toronto (11-15-8) failed to make the playoffs for the eighth straight year.
That's not on him. But Toronto oversold the quiet striker.
Tim Leiweke, president and CEO of Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment, brought David Beckham to the Los Angeles Galaxy and led the way in luring Defoe to town. Toronto pulled out all the stops, even enlisting Raptors global ambassador Drake to bend Defoe's ear.
Not the face of the franchise
Leiweke did not expect Defoe to be Beckham. But the English forward did not become the face of the franchise and was seemingly ill-prepared for what awaited him.
When he was surrounded by cameras and reporters in the Toronto locker-room at the first home game, he looked aghast as he walked out of the showers.
Defoe was polite with the media — the biggest complaint was the occasional mild beef over how long he took to moisturize before talking to assembled reporters — and his teammates said he had little ego in the dressing room. But when he left for treatment in England, the soap opera surrounding his future was a distraction.