I won't give up on England, and Alli, Kane critics need to wise up - Defoe
LONDON -- Jermain Defoe is not about to abandon hope. The last player to send England to the knockout stages at the World Cup still believes he can do it again in Russia, despite "a stop-start, frustrating season" at Bournemouth.
"I got a letter. All the players that are in contention get a letter to tell you the schedule for the summer," Defoe told ESPN FC. "I don't feel like I have anything to prove. I'm quite relaxed about it to be honest. The manager knows what I'm about and, if I'm called on, I'm ready to go to another tournament."
Defoe's chances are slim. He is 35 and has started just 11 Premier League games in a season disrupted by an ankle injury. Ahead of him in Gareth Southgate's thinking are at least four forwards in Harry Kane, Jamie Vardy, Marcus Rashford and Danny Welbeck, and Defoe has not played for England since scoring in the 2-0 qualifying win over Lithuania in March 2017.
He was overlooked by Sven-Goran Eriksson for uncapped wildcard Theo Walcott in 2006 and in 2014 Roy Hodgson opted for Rickie Lambert instead. Defoe's only World Cup came under Fabio Capello in 2010, when his winning goal against Slovenia delayed England's embarrassment and set up the fateful round-of-16 clash with rivals Germany. England were humiliated 4-1.
Although few England players have fond memories of South Africa, for Defoe it was a positive experience, untainted even by a rollocking from "Iron Sergeant" Capello. The former Tottenham and Sunderland forward respected the Italian's "presence" and believes Southgate, in his own way, commands a similar respect from squad, despite his Mr. Nice Guy image.
"Fabio was alright. He was strict. One day I was late for a meeting, I got the times wrong, and oh my God my heart was beating," said Defoe, who was speaking at the JDF Cup, a junior charity football tournament hosted by The Jermain Defoe Foundation in aid of homeless and vulnerable children.
"I thought, 'I'll never do that again'. But, you know what, I liked it. You're not scared but you know you have to listen and he's got that respect, he's got that presence as soon as you walk into the changing rooms.
"With Gareth, he's got respect because he's been there and done it. How many tournaments has Gareth played in? Fabio played but his presence came as manager who has managed top clubs.
"Gareth's got that presence in that he can say, 'I've been to European Championships and played every game and I've been to tournaments and not kicked a ball.' Being a nice guy is important, too. He's approachable. You can talk to him about anything."
Among the many problems with England's 2010 campaign was boredom during the long hours spent in eternal sunshine at their remote training complex near Rustenburg. This summer, England are based in the village of Repino, some 30 miles from St. Petersburg and hardly a hub of activity, raising concerns that cabin-fever could strike again.
"It's part and parcel. You can't make excuses -- it's a dream, you're at a World Cup," Defoe said. "They'll play PlayStation, I imagine Gareth will put on quiz nights -- you've got to do things.
"When we were in South Africa, I remember one night I was bored, so me and Wayne Rooney sat in his room and watched his whole wedding on DVD. It was nice to spend quality time with a teammate. Wayne had something like a flash mob -- the waiters were singing, dancing -- if I can remember. It was good because he was my strike-partner. Yeah, you do get bored but all the teams get bored."
While Defoe can put a positive spin on Capello and even Rustenburg, he makes no excuses for the English media's treatment of some of his teammates. Kane, surely England's best hope in Russia, has accused the national game of a having "weaker mentality" than other countries, after he faced jibes from supporters and the media just months before the World Cup.
Defoe, who has endured his share of media scrutiny in an 18-year career, struggles to comprehend the criticism aimed at Raheem Sterling and Dele Alli, in particular.
"Everyone knows that it's different in other countries," he said. "It would make a massive difference if the press got behind us more. Instead, when things go wrong, you get players getting crucified.
"When Raheem came back [from Euro 2016], people were destroying him. That's why I'm so happy for him. It's nice when you have that fire to prove people wrong. He's done that.
"Dele Alli -- I just can't understand why people give him stick. He's English and when you look at the numbers, the stats, they don't lie. Why would you say something negative about a young boy that's done so well?
"I just don't understand it. These people don't know him as a person. I do. He's one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet. He's just normal, a nice guy who loves his football. And that's it. He's gets a lot of stick and I think it's harsh.
"I'm a massive Floyd Mayweather fan. This is someone who grew up in Michigan, had loads of issues when he was young, like his dad in prison. And he's gone from that to what he's achieved. You have to appreciate greatness. That's all hard work.
"It's like Dele. He came from MK Dons to Tottenham, a massive football club, and got thrown in deep end. You can't do it without hard work. I signed for Tottenham when I was 21 and you have to produce."
Defoe is more outspoken now than as a younger player, and he is also eager to discuss the "ruthless" Son Heung-Min, Arsene Wenger -- "a legend, a humble guy" -- and Sir Alex Ferguson -- "that's a manager that I would have loved to have played for, the best" -- as well as the death of the traditional No.9.
Eventually, though, he returns to England, the World Cup and the one thing he has always focussed on: scoring goals. He believes he would be in closer contention for Southgate's squad if he had been given a run of games at Bournemouth and it is possible to detect a note of accusation toward Eddie Howe, the Cherries manager.
"I feel like if I'd played more games, we'd be sitting here and it'd be a different conversation," he said. "Throughout my career whenever I've played and got rhythm, that's when I get my goals. And I've proved it.
"Against Lithuania at Wembley, I had about four touches and scored," he said. "Did anyone see that coming? No. I wasn't meant to be back in the squad at 34. I've never really thought about retiring from international football because I still feel sharp, I still feel in my heart I can score goals at that level."
Dan is ESPN FC's Tottenham correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Dan_KP.