Jermain Defoe has named the two players who made him realise he had made the right decision to join West Ham back in 1999. At the age of 16, Defoe joined the Hammers in a controversial move from Charlton Athletic, having originally been spotted by the Addicks, who enrolled him in the FA National School of Excellence at Lilleshall in 1997. But just two years later, he was signed by Harry Redknapp at West Ham, with Defoe embarking on a professional career that has seen him play for several different clubs, including Tottenham, Portsmouth, Sunderland and now Rangers. And Defoe has been recalling his decision to join West Ham as a teenager, with the former England international admitting that he knew he had made the right call when he met to players at the training ground on his first day at the club.
Jermain Defoe said: “At the time, I didn’t really understand it, but I had to go and sit at a tribunal. They said it was an illegal approach. I was at Charlton and I can imagine they had high hopes for me to go on and play in the Charlton first team, but I had to go to the tribunal. When I signed for the club and met Harry [Redknapp] and he took me round, the first person I saw was Wrighty [Ian Wright] and you can imagine I was in my element, this was a dream, someone who I had idolised as a young kid, with all the posters on my wall, all the goals that he scored for club and country. The next person I saw was Rio [Ferdinand] and it was an unbelievable welcome, and from that moment I knew I had made the right decision, especially being such a young kid, and the first team manager showing that sort of interest, it was amazing. I couldn’t believe it, this was going to be my workplace, and someone I was trying to emulate in my school days in the playground, and knowing that he could be there, it was amazing.”
During his time at West Ham, Defoe scored 41 goals in 105 games in all competitions, before going on to join London rivals Tottenham in February 2004. Jermain Defoe has also described handing a transfer request at West Ham United as a massive regret in his career. The striker submitted a transfer request less than 24 hours following the Hammers’ relegation from the Premier League in 2003, upsetting fans after West Ham had dropped down in to the Championship.
Jermain Defoe said “I remember my agent phoning me, and he said he had a phone call from Daniel Levy. I was thinking about the greats who have played for that club, [Gary] Lineker, [Jurgen] Klinsmann, [Paul] Gascoigne. Of course it was going to be tough to leave West Ham, but it was going to happen at some point. I thought, I want to be playing back in the Premier League and to be playing for a club like Tottenham, I thought, yes come on, let’s make it happen. I remember getting a phone call about Leeds, but when I got the Tottenham call, I thought that’s where I want to go. I remember thinking it was such a good opportunity at a massive football club, and it just felt right. You want to be playing in the Premier League, you have done well, and if you hand in a transfer request, it gives you a better chance to leave the football club. When I look back on it now, maybe I was naive at the time. Maybe if I had asked more questions, like do I really need to do this? Surely if someone wants me, they will come and get me. But because I didn’t know about transfer requests and the consequences, when it happened and I got the backlash, I was shocked and surprised, and I didn’t really know what was going on. I thought is this not normal what players do? I felt like I was on my own to be honest, from sitting in a room with my agent writing it to then taking it on my own to the stadium, I felt like I was at school knocking on the headmaster’s door. I felt like I was betraying a family member, these people who had given me an opportunity, and years later I am handing in a transfer reqest. Of course it was a massive regret, but I just didn’t know what I was doing at the time. It is from the heart, at the end of the day I didn’t realize, I felt like I was on my own. It is you, front page of the paper, my face on a rat, it is hard because you are young. All of a sudden you have to deal with this. There were offers, but to be honest when I did it I thought I had to get my head down and win back the support of the fans. I had made a big mistake, I shouldn’t have trusted my agent, but I feel like I did that with the goals I scored, before I left to join Tottenham.”
The request was turned down and Defoe stayed at West Ham, with the striker later apologizing to supporters over his handling of the situation. He did score 15 goals in 22 appearances for West Ham following their relegation, before departing to join Tottenham in February 2004.