AT 36, Jermain Defoe has plenty of experiences and decisions to look back on. When it comes to Rangers, his only regret is that he didn’t make the move long before he put pen-to-paper on a deal at Ibrox.
Defoe is in the twilight of his career but there is a twinkle in his eye when he talks about working under Steven Gerrard in Light Blue. Having joined from Bournemouth in January, he is now looking forward to his first full season in Scotland.
That switch will probably prove to be the last that Defoe makes. It is one he has never regretted committing himself to as his former team-mates look across the border with envy.
“I wish I had come here three years ago,” Defoe said. “It’s a special place to be honest. I know players say that but I’m not saying that because I have to say it. Even with the new signings, I speak with them every day and ask them if they are enjoying it and all the new signings can’t believe it.
“It’s like ‘wow’, it’s a special place to play football. Even the game the other night, midweek, the tie all but done, and it was unbelievable to draw that level of support. You’ve got to enjoy every day, embrace it, I enjoy training every day, every game . It’s a special football club.
“Whether you are playing away at home or in Europe, there is that expectation and demand from the fans, which is a good thing.
“I have had a lot of players that I have played with who have messaged me saying they want to come. I’m not mentioning any names but, seriously, I have had a lot of messages saying ‘speak to the manager’ because they can see that I have really enjoyed it.”
His time with the likes of West Ham and Tottenham Hotspur saw Defoe make his name at the top of the English game. But it is in Scotland where he has the chance to earn the medals that are missing from his CV.
He was left empty-handed at the end of last term but he is encouraged and enthused heading into the new Premiershipcampaign.
Defoe said: “I always knew Rangers were a massive football club, even as a kid I always used to speak about Ally McCoist. I never thought I would be playing up here. I had my time at Tottenham and then went to the MLS and thought I’d probably finish over there and then returned to Sunderland and Bournemouth.
“Then I got the call to come here. It was an easy decision to be honest. I spoke to the manager and said to my agent, just get it done because I want to come and experience this, I want to play with the added pressure of knowing you’re with such a big club and have to win every game, home, away or in Europe.
“There is expectation and demand from the fans. It’s a good thing and I’ve had a lot of my ex team-mates, guys I’ve played with who have messaged me and want to come here too. I’m not mentioning any names but, seriously, I’ve had a lot of messages from people asking me to speak to the manager because they can see I’ve really enjoyed it.”
If Rangers can step forward once again, there could be plenty more for Defoe to savour in the coming months. The title is in their sights.
Defoe said: “It’s funny. Even from that first day of pre-season when we came back, everyone was speaking about it. There were encouraging signs in the game against Celtic, the way we dominated.
“Even though it was last season, playing in that game felt quite comfortable. They are a top team of course, but I just felt like during that game they sort of ran out of ideas. We really showed people that there is a lot of potential there.
“I just hope that the lads understand and realise that they are actually a good team, especially with the new signings coming in.
“There are some quality signings. I feel like we are improving, the team look fit. Everyone worked so hard pre-season. Everyone is hungry. It’s a massive year for us.”
Before Rangers begin their Premiership title bid, they have business to take care of in the Europa League. There are mixed memories for Defoe in Euro action.
“I remember a massive disappointment after the World Cup in 2010 when I came back and injured my ankle ligaments,” Defoe said.
“It kept me out of the group stage of the Champions League when Gareth Bale was on fire. That was hard because I had played all the games the season before and so to miss out the Champions League through injury was tough. Inter – Gareth scored a hat-trick, it was tough because I wanted to play.
“European games are different, under the lights, the atmosphere is always good, playing against the top teams.They are special nights and the ones you’ll remember when you stop playing.”