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Wasteful United frustrate LVG

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Crunch time for Defoe

When Jermain Defoe looks back on the season that was always going to define his career, he needs to ensure that the events of Sunday, November 22, 2009 were used as his springboard to a life less ordinary.

• Tottenham 9-1 Wigan
• Harris: Spurs return to the glory game

On one remarkable afternoon of goalscoring brilliance, Defoe may have propelled himself from a striker on the fringe of so much, to the man who could emerge from the pack as a star in World Cup year, with his five goal haul in Tottenham's stunning 9-1 win against Wigan suggesting he is ready to become so much more than a bit part player in a story of near misses.

At the ripening age of 27, the Tottenham and England striker has found himself marooned very much in unfulfilled category in recent times, as he has yet to land a major honour in the game and remains a first choice bench warmer at international level. Being good enough to play for a side with ambitions of a top six finish is very different to having the class to excel in the Champions League or at the World Cup finals and the fact that no 'top four' Premier League club has taken the plunge and signed Defoe suggests the game's elite managers are unsure that he has what it takes.

Such a mediocrity was not what Defoe had in mind when he burst onto the scene at West Ham a decade ago and even though he has scored goals in every step of his career in two spells with Tottenham and also during a stint at Portsmouth, question marks still hang over whether he has matured into the player many predicted he would be.

Then, as if his moment of awakening had arrived, Defoe turned in a display of the class to silence even his fiercest critic, with manager Harry Redknapp insisting such brilliance has always been bubbling under the surface of the striker he has worked with at three different clubs.

"Jermain was fantastic against Wigan and we all know that he will take the chances if you serve them up to him," says Redknapp. "I have seen games when this boy is close to unplayable and there is no question in my mind that he is as good as any striker in the Premier League and when he gets on a roll, he is a real handful for any defender.

"I've known Jermain since he was 14 and what he now has is a strength that was never there before. He has worked so hard on his physical conditioning and it has given him another dimension. I think he has a great chance to finish as the Premier League's top scorer this season as he is playing in a team that will create a lot of chances."

Defoe's ambitions to claim the prized accolade Redknapp mentions were certainly boosted by the five-star show that propelled him to the top of the Premier League scoring charts and if he were to finish at the head of the pack come the end of the campaign, his England hopes would receive a timely boost.

However, he must avoid the most memorable performance of his career to date becoming the sole highlight of his season, as Defoe's critics have long suggested he can be at his most prolific against modest opposition or when his side are well on top. When the chips are down, some have questioned whether this is a striker who will dig deep to find you a goal and he has to prove those doubters wrong.

In many ways, Defoe has been a master of false dawns down the years, with his occasional brilliance being countered by a reality that his consistency has never been that of a top tier performer. It means many neutrals would still tick still the undecided box if they were asked whether he will ever carve himself a place as a great of the game, with his image as a superstar bridesmaid a tough one to shift.

His ill-fortune was confirmed last year as he left Tottenham in the season that saw them claim glory in the Carling Cup to join Portsmouth a few weeks after he had played for Spurs in the early rounds of the FA Cup. He went on to become a frustrated spectator at Wembley as Pompey lifted their first major trophy in 69 years.

Bad luck maybe, but such setbacks appear to follow Defoe as he was also the odd man out when Sven Goran Eriksson opted to pick a teenager who had never played a first-team game for his club (in Theo Walcott), as he finalised his England World Cup squad back in 2006. Kicks in the teeth don't come much more humiliating than that.

Four years on and there is a theory that Defoe is not the man to partner England's first choice striker, Wayne Rooney, at the World Cup next summer. If coach Fabio Capello is among those who believes as much, the best the Spurs man can hope for in 2010 from his trip to South Africa will be the occasional cameo entrance onto centre stage.

Naturally, Defoe is aiming for more, but he also seems to suspect his place in the England pecking order is well set. "I think I can play well with Wayne Rooney, but it's up to the manager to decide whether we work well together," is the view of the Tottenham striker.

"Wayne makes great runs and you also know that if you find the space ahead of him, he will give you the perfect through ball. All strike partnerships need time to develop and the problem at international level is you don't get too much time, but the truth is anyone could play with Rooney.

"I don't want to be viewed as a super-sub, so it means I have to take my chances when they come with England. Obviously, I have not started an international in 2009 and that's disappointing, but I'd like to think I have done okay when I have come off the bench. Peter Crouch has done well when he has been a starter and the same can be said of Emile Heskey, but I think I can do just as good a job if I get my opportunity."

A little like former Manchester United hitman Andy Cole - who also scored five goals in a Premier League game back in 1995 - Defoe currently finds himself lacking the gloss that an international success story brings, but he has finally found a home in an upwardly mobile team that are offering him the chance to confirm he is worthy of more recognition.

He needs to make 2010 the year when he finally becomes a winner for club and country because if he fails this time, his status as a nearly man may be set in stone for good.

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