TORONTO (Reuters) - England forward Jermain Defoe will wait for a phone call this weekend that will determine if his North American adventure has cost him a World Cup dream.
The goalscorer left Tottenham Hotspur for Toronto in January to follow a path to Major League Soccer (MLS) previously paved by the likes of David Beckham, Thierry Henry and Defoe’s former Spurs strike partner Robbie Keane.
Defoe grabbed both goals in a 2-1 win over Seattle Sounders on his debut in March and a week later netted again in a 1-0 victory over DC United.
Toronto’s fans were impressed but the striker hopes it is not a case of out-of-sight, out-of-mind for England manager Roy Hodgson who announces a 23-man group plus standby players on Monday before his eventual World Cup squad is finalised by June 2.
“It’s down to the manager,” Defoe told reporters of his England prospects.
“I’m sure he knows what every player can do, even before he was the England manager he probably knew all the players anyway.
As players you just concentrate on playing for your club and then ... you wait for the call.”
The 31-year-old Defoe’s decision to quit one of English soccer’s top six clubs was viewed by many European observers as a dead-end move into semi-retirement, albeit a handsomely comfortable one at $8 million a season.
Not only did he say farewell to the Premier League but he also risked waving goodbye to his hopes of an England place at next month’s World Cup in Brazil to close out his career in a soccer backwater with struggling Toronto.
Defoe’s credentials as a leading striker for club and country are impeccable.
The diminutive forward left White Hart Lane as Tottenham’s fifth-highest scorer with 143 goals, having netted more times for the club in Europe than any other player.
Defoe has also scored 19 goals for England in 55 games, having represented his country at the 2010 World Cup and 2012 European Championship.
His predatory instincts and quick-fire shooting prompted Toronto owners Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment (MLSE) to pursue Defoe.
The striker was eventually lured to North America with an eye-popping, four-year $32 million deal that even MLSE chief Tim Leiweke, the man who orchestrated Beckham’s move to the Los Angeles Galaxy, conceded made no financial sense.
Still, it is an investment that is producing instant dividends on the pitch.
One thing seems certain - Defoe will not be sitting around this weekend waiting anxiously for his phone to ring.
Speaking as a supremely confident sportsman with nothing to prove, Defoe said he had no regrets about moving to MLS and if he is not called up, England’s loss will be Toronto’s gain.
Unlike most other leagues around the world, the MLS does not shut down for the World Cup and if the forward is not in England’s plans he will still be playing, albeit far removed from the spotlight he once commanded.
Toronto manager Ryan Nelsen, who captained New Zealand at the 2010 World Cup, had some advice for Hodgson, saying he would include his former Spurs team mate if he was picking England’s World Cup squad.
“For Toronto FC I’d love him to stay obviously because he’s a quality player,” said Nelsen. “But for Jermain, if I was the England manager I probably would pick him because you know what you’re going to get with him.”
Defoe’s role in Brazil would likely be a supporting one, with Liverpool’s Daniel Sturridge and Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney guaranteed places in the squad.
Rooney’s team mate Danny Welbeck and Rickie Lambert of Southampton are also options while West Ham United’s Andy Carroll has returned from injury to stake a late claim.
While Defoe does not provide the same physical presence, he is quick and a natural goalscorer who could provide a spark off the bench.
Hodgson may decide to take a young striker as an investment in England’s future but in the cauldron of a World Cup, Nelsen believes his striker’s experience and calmness in front of goal are valuable commodities.
Defoe certainly gave the England manager something to think about when he scored and set up U.S. captain Michael Bradley for the winner in Toronto’s 2-1 victory over the Vancouver Whitecaps on Wednesday in his final match before Hodgson names his squad.
“The other young guys that are coming through, the names that have been thrown about, there are a few ifs on that stage and under that pressure,” said Nelsen.
“Probably the Brazil and the England national team are the hardest teams in world sport to play for in terms of expectation and pressure. You know Jermain can handle that.
“On the world’s biggest stage you want to kind off knock out the variables and I think Jermain does that.”
Editing by Ken Ferris