Toronto FC has Plan B if Jermain Defoe leaves
Tim Leiweke: 'We're not going to give him away'
If England striker Jermain Defoe doesn't return, Toronto FC already knows who it is going after next.
But MLSE boss Tim Leiweke says any deal involving Defoe will have to be worth it for the MLS club. And any move will be at the behest of the team and not the player.
"We know this is a great place to play, we know we have guys like Michael Bradley that love Toronto. Gilberto loves Toronto," Leiweke told The Canadian Press in an interview Tuesday.
"In fact when I look at the basketball team and the hockey team, we've got a group of guys now that all want to be here and all want to be a part of the Leafs, the Raptors and TFC. That's what we want. That's how you build winning teams.
"Jermain needs to decide if he wants to be here. If he does, then I think he's one of the great strikers in MLS. If he does not, then that situation is ours to ultimately decide — not his — because we own his contract. We're not going to give him away. And so we're in a good spot.
"The one thing I can promise our fans — one way or another, this will end well for TFC. (I) guarantee it."
Queens Park Rangers still keen on Defoe
The London Evening Standard reported Tuesday that Queens Park Rangers, who reportedly have been after Defoe for months, have a deal in place to sign the 32-year-old forward when the transfer window reopens in January.
Leiweke suggested that anyone who goes after Defoe will have to dig deep into its wallet to get him.
"As I've said before, Jermain Defoe was not a mistake," said Leiweke, who led the chase for the former Spurs star. "He is a very good player and I think in his heart, in his soul, a good man. But we have to determine does he want to be here. There's no DP that is ultimately going to leave this organization and we go backwards on the capital invested. That's not going to happen."
Leiweke's comments seem to ramp up the Defoe stakes.
Previously, club officials had said they only want players who want to be here. Leiweke's message Tuesday was if you want Defoe, you will have to pay for him.
Leiweke, whose term as president and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment is slated to end by next June, went so far as to say Plan B is already drawn up.
And he went even further.
"We know where we are going. If we have a DP (designated player) slot open, we already know who we're going after. And I am 100 per cent convinced we're going to be a better team on the pitch next year — without a lot of changes.
Toronto (11-15-8) failed to make the playoffs for an eighth straight year, despite setting club single-season records for wins (11) and points (41).
The English report is just the latest scuttlebutt surrounding the 32-year-old Defoe, who led Toronto with 11 goals in an injury-plagued debut season in North America.
Toronto turned down a club-record transfer bid for Defoe at the end of the summer transfer window, reportedly from QPR.
For his part, Defoe has said he likes Toronto and never asked publicly to leave. But he has been hazy over what lies ahead, saying only he can't predict the future.