The signing of Jermain Defoe by Toronto FC back in January of 2014 was a bloody big deal.
TFC signed a legitimate English Premier League striker from Tottenham who was a regular in the England squad and they produced the most outlandish marketing campaign in the history of Toronto sports to announce his arrival.
No player in the history of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Blue Jays, Raptors or TFC had ever seen that amount of media hype prior to their arrival.
Then, after just 11 months in Toronto Defoe was gone. He requested a transfer back to England where he signed with Sunderland.
Many were caught by surprise with Defoe’s short stint in Toronto but I was not among them.
After seeing a video posted this week on social media of Defoe telling Peter Crouch the story of Drake calling him in an effort to recruit him to Toronto it reminded me of the moment I knew Defoe would leave Toronto long before the four-year contract he signed would expire.
On June 15, 2014, I attended the Much Music Video Awards (MMVA’s) in Toronto and was backstage in the VIP lounge doing my best trying to impress the lovely TV host Melissa Grelo (she couldn’t have been more friendly) when out of the corner of my eye I spotted Defoe.
He was standing alone in a room full of music industry executives and performers including the likes of Ed Sheeran, Ariana Grande and more. NHL player P.K. Subban was also there surrounded by a large group of admirers. Subban was shaking hands and posing for pictures with what seemed like an endless stream of people.
Meanwhile, Defoe stood awkwardly alone in the room with not a soul around him.
Being a Liverpool and TFC fan and the son of Liverpool immigrants I recognized Defoe and was surprised to see him standing alone so I walked up and introduced myself.
Defoe seemed to breathe a sigh of relief that somebody in the room finally recognized him.
We chatted TFC and some premier league for a few moments and he told me about the difficult time he was given just to get himself into the award show. He explained how he wasn’t on any guest list but thought he would be able to blag his way into the party just like he had with ease a dozen times before in London while playing for Tottenham and West Ham.
However, none of the security or staff knew who he was. After standing around for a few minutes someone with a headset eventually recognized Defoe and pushed him past security explaining to the bouncers, “he is the guy in the bloody big deal soccer commercials.”
The bouncers didn’t seem too impressed.
After chatting with Defoe for a few minutes I didn’t want to seem like a bother so I shook his hand thanking him for his time and walked away (hey, I wanted to get a pic with Subban too).
As I looked back at Defoe standing there alone in that room I immediately thought to myself that there was no way in the world this guy was going to stick around Toronto as an almost anonymous athlete.
To go from experiencing the level of fame and advantages that come with being a premier league footballer in England to being anonymous is a tough pill to swallow.
I could sense that Defoe was nowhere near that point in his career where he was willing to accept being anonymous. He just seemed so uncomfortable that night at the MMVA’s.
It was a small sign but somehow it encapsulated Defoe’s 11 months in Toronto.
That was the moment I knew he would soon be gone from Toronto.