"I never wanted to leave," said Jermain Defoe of Tottenham Hotspur when he was prematurely unveiled at White Hart Lane on Tuesday. And his reception from the Spurs faithful showed that absence has clearly made the heart grow fonder. Eleven months at Portsmouth have seen his stock rise and rise in north London as a club that once boasted the best strike force outside the top four yearned for his goalscoring talents. Now, at a considerable loss, Spurs have the third-choice hitman from that fabled foursome back in their ranks.
In paying a fee that is mooted to be £15m for a player that was sold for £7.5m just a year ago, Spurs' chief executive Daniel Levy has again showed his incompetence in the transfer market. While £20.3m for Robbie Keane now looks decent business, as does £30.75m for Dimitar Berbatov, Spurs have since been found wanting in their efforts to replace a pairing that was a cast-iron guarantee of 40 goals a season. And now are forced to buy what they already had.
Reports of a panic-stricken Levy offering silly money for Emile Heskey, Kevin Doyle and Carlton Cole in the last hours of the summer transfer window have been echoed by the progress of the Defoe deal. Thursday saw reports escaping of the deal not actually being completed, two days after his parading on the pitch, as regulations over his legitimacy to play for his new/old club were brought into play. Portsmouth also stated they had not yet agreed a fee.
The deal may now be done but its stilted completion is further evidence of Spurs' failings in buying and selling players. Harry Redknapp may have been granted total control of footballing affairs after stepping in to sort out the broken home left by the failed marriage of Juande Ramos and Damien Comoli but this latest deal bears all the hallmarks of previous over-exposed and tedious farces.
Going back to the summer-long farrago surrounding Michael Carrick's sale to Manchester United in 2006 right through to the bizarre £16.5m purchase of Darren Bent in the summer of 2007 when the club had three quality strikers and a series of holes in the rest of their team, Spurs have rarely got it right in the January and end-of-summer sales. For every Berbatov there has been a Kevin-Prince Boateng, a Gilberto, a Ricardo Rocha and a Hossam Ghaly. An approach of quantity not quality has changed Spurs, as they were under Martin Jol, from a settled team competing for a place in the top four to an outfit needing proven Premier League players to save them from relegation. The Champions League may as well take place in another galaxy.
Defoe's signing has the look of an attempt to rectify previous mistakes. Bent is still at the club, as is Roman Pavlyuchenko, signed for £14m as a replacement for Berbatov. Frazier Campbell, an afterthought in the Berbatov deal, is still on loan from Manchester United and finds himself fourth choice. Redknapp himself noted the ridiculousness of the situation when he said: "I hope Defoe can play with Pavlyuchenko. They [Spurs] paid £16m for Bent and £14m for Pavlyuchenko, then they say they couldn't play together."
Bent, at that price-tag, becomes an expensive reserve, just as Defoe was a year ago. He joins the fading David Bentley in slipping down the pecking order. The midfielder cost £15m in the summer yet his half-time replacement against Burnley in midweek showed that he, save for that goal against Arsenal, has failed to approach looking anything like value for money. Meanwhile, Middlesbrough have all but refused to do business over Stewart Downing, which will see Spurs either eventually overpay once again or fail to get him and risk further imbalance in their team. And then there's the goalkeeper...
Harry Redknapp reportedly won a recent battle with Levy over getting an injection of cash in this latest window. Few could argue that it was required. So far, he has done a decent job righting the club after its previous excesses. There is much to do but perhaps his toughest test is to return Tottenham to any sense of credibility in the transfer market.