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Defoe recalls EFL Cup debut

6 February 2019

It may be 18 years since Jermain Defoe made his professional debut, but he still has vivid memories of the day.

The former England striker’s first taste of the senior game came in the EFL Cup at Walsall in the year 2000.

He was under the guidance of Harry Redknapp at West Ham at the time, a manager he has gone on to play for again at Portsmouth and during his second spell at Tottenham Hotspur.

“I was 17 at the time and I remember the day before the game. Harry said 'you’re training with the first team',” recalled Defoe, with excitement in his voice.

“I didn’t think I was going to play but [Paolo] Di Canio was injured and Freddie Kanoute was injured, and they said 'you’re travelling'. I was like 'wow!', but even so you think 'I’ll be on the bench and I’m not going to get on'.”

He might not have been a starter, but that didn’t deter Defoe from making an impact.

“I kept looking at the clock just wanted to get on," he added. "There were six minutes to go and Harry just said to me ‘warm up’. 

“I was like 'wow' - I was buzzing. It was pouring down with rain, I went out to warm up and he called me back and said ‘you’re coming on’.

“I remember thinking 'make sure your first touch is a good one and the second touch was the goal'.

“It was a corner and it came to Rio [Ferdinand], whose shot hit the crossbar and came at a perfect height, and I just volleyed it in.”

So often in his career, Defoe has been in the right place at the right time – but his ability to hit the back of the net isn’t all natural talent. He believes he has reaped the rewards of working tirelessly on the training ground.

“It was special because, leading up to that point of scoring that debut goal, every day I’d do finishing practice. I’d do it with both feet every single day," he said. 

“People say when you practice you get your rewards and that little bit of luck. All the practice I did up until that point on that day paid off, so it was a special moment because it was my first goal.”

Defoe is now 36 years old, but his meticulous preparation in training has not stopped, and he hopes that by setting a good example, he can help inspire younger players to have the same dedication.

“You have to enjoy every training session,” he added. “Sometimes I don’t think you have to be going round and schooling people, talking to people like a teacher.

“I think I like to set an example, so obviously I know as a senior player the younger lads are looking at what you do, how you train and how you recover.

“Over the years I’ve had a lot of younger players come up to me and say ‘obviously you’re 36, you’re still playing and still sharp, what do you do?’ For me, it’s a nice feeling.

"I can sit them down and say ‘you’ve got to do this, you’ve got to do this and you’ve got to do this’ and hopefully they’ll take it on board and have long careers because it goes quickly, which is what Trevor Sinclair said to me when I was young.

“I was probably 16-17 years old - I was like 'oh, whatever', but it does go quickly. That’s why you’ve got to enjoy it and embrace it and when you get the opportunity; you’ve got to grab in with both hands."

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