TORONTO—The Jermain Defoe soap opera is over—for now—as the English forward has rejoined Toronto FC, and he maintains that he is firmly committed to the Major League Soccer club.
Defoe was back at TFC practice for the first time on Wednesday, less than a month after the MLS team turned down a lucrative transfer bid for his services. He returned to town on Monday after spending several weeks in his native England rehabbing a nagging groin injury.
While Defoe was away, the Reds declined an $11 million offer for him tabled by Premier League club Queens Park Rangers just before the Aug. 31 transfer deadline. Other English clubs were also reportedly interested in buying Defoe from TFC before the deadline.
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Defoe’s future at Toronto FC and in MLS has been a hot topic of discussion ever since, as QPR manager Harry Redknapp publically said he hoped to sign Defoe in January when the transfer window re-opens. Also Tim Leiweke, CEO of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, recently said that he does not expect Defoe to be back next season.
Defoe, who is in the first year of a four-year deal he signed in January, insisted that he is committed to TFC.
“I never came out anywhere and said I wanted to leave. In England [transfer speculation] is normal. … At the end of the day, I’m still a TFC player and I’m totally committed to the cause,” Defoe told reporters during an afternoon press conference.
The former Spurs star was less committal when asked if he expects to be back in Toronto for the 2015 MLS season.
“That’s out of my control. I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future. All I can say to the fans is that I’m fully committed, and looking forward to getting back and looking forward to this playoff push,” Defoe offered.
He downplayed the significance of media reports linking him with QPR and other English teams, saying that he didn’t think he would leave Toronto even though the MLS club received transfer offers for him.
“For me it was normal. Especially when the transfer window opens, it doesn’t matter what club I’m at, there’s always been speculation about my future—‘is he going to stay or is he going to go?’ For me this [was a case] of ‘here we go again.’ I didn’t pay too much attention to it because my main focus was trying to get fit,” Defoe said.
He later added: “The [transfer bid by QPR] is out of my control. If a club comes in for a player then as a player you sit back and let your team deal with it. It’s not my fault that a club [makes a transfer offer]. … In my heart, I didn’t think anything was going to happen anyway.”
He hinted that he might go on loan during the off-season, such as Robbie Keane and other MLS stars have done in the past.
Defoe, 31, hasn’t appeared for TFC since being subbed off in a 2-2 draw with the Chicago Fire on Aug. 23. He has missed Toronto’s last five games, and was out for the three games prior to the Chicago contest. In total, he’s missed 12 matches through injury or suspension.
Defoe worked out by himself on Wednesday and is expected to return to full training next Monday. TFC hosts the Portland Timbers on Saturday but it’s more likely he’ll make his return on Oct. 4 away to the L.A. Galaxy.
The English striker leads TFC in scoring this season with 11 goals in 16 appearances, and if he plays the last five games of the campaign—assuming he’s cleared for the L.A. contest—it would be a big boost for a Toronto side that is on the outside looking in with regards to the playoff race.
The Reds currently sit seventh in the Eastern Conference, three points back of the fifth-place Columbus Crew, although Toronto has a game in hand. The top five teams in the East qualify for the playoffs.
“I want to get myself fit and sharp. I’m looking forward to this playoff push because it’s an exciting time. I want to be involved,” Defoe offered.
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Defoe decided not to have a minor operation while in England, and instead underwent physiotherapy and rehab to address his lingering groin injury. He also had a number of injections over several weeks.
“It feels a lot better. I’m at the stage where I can run. Hopefully tomorrow I can twist and turn and not have any problems and then go straight back into full training,” Defoe said.
During Defoe’s time in England, Toronto FC fired coach Ryan Nelsen and replaced him with Greg Vanney. The new manager prefers a more attacking and aggressive brand of soccer, compared to the counterattacking game preached by Nelsen.
“I spoke to [Vanney] and he said he wants to play a high-tempo [style]. He wants the players to move the ball quickly,” Defoe said.