It was a very long day for Tim Bezbatchenko and one that he won’t necessarily forget any time soon. Just a day after sacking manager Ryan Nelsen and his entire coaching staff for what he deemed as a run of poor results, the Toronto FC general manager was back in the trenches again trying to prevent Jermain Defoe from leaving the club. Three English Premiership clubs including QPR were actively pursuing the England striker during transfer deadline day, in the hopes of persuading him to move back home. Defoe appeared to be keen to move given his timely yet unnecessary flight back to England for apparent treatment on a groin injury. Indeed a bid was made by QPR and their Defoe loving boss Harry Redknapp but Bezbatchenko and Toronto rejected it outright insisting the player was staying. Rumours began to circulate that Defoe was unhappy in Toronto and in the general direction that the club was going in which given the sacking of his friend Nelsen the day before makes sense.
Back tracking eight months, Defoe’s arrival in Toronto was a spectacular affair, a bloody big deal as defined by MLSE (Toronto FC’s owners, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment). Defoe became one of the league’s highest paid players, alongside fellow new signing Michael Bradley and spoke of his excitement about joining the club and the massive opportunity it presented. His reason behind leaving Tottenham for the MLS was the challenge it presented and the chance to make an impact in a league that was flourishing. But in truth Defoe moved to Toronto for one reason – to get regular first team football in order to secure a spot in the England squad for the World Cup in Brazil. Things started brightly with a debut brace for Defoe in his first match in March against Seattle. However despite some good performances and another five goals, Defoe was eventually overlooked by England boss Roy Hodgson. Defoe now had a dilemma. At 31, he has still a lot to offer and the MLS wasn’t challenging him. Yes he was the clubs top goal scorer with 11 and Toronto looked good for a playoff place in the Eastern Conference but was this really where he wanted to be? Given the chance, a move back to the Premiership would be his real dream so that he could once again get the chance to play for his country. All he needed was an exit strategy, and one that Bezbatchenko handed to him on a plate with the sacking of Nelson. Now “disgruntled” by the direction the club was going in, Toronto would surely sell him on at a healthy profit in order to protect face right?
The irony that Defoe was in the UK on transfer deadline day looks to have been missed by most in the media. For the injury Defoe has, there was no real reason for him to travel to the UK for specialist treatment as he could have received that in Canada. More likely, his agent convinced his want away client to be in England so that he could attend signing talks in person with any potential suitors on deadline day. When Harry came calling, Defoe was London bound with QPR the destination. Personal terms were agreed swiftly with Redknapp keen to sign the striker who has played for him three times before at West Ham, Portsmouth and Spurs. Now the only thing that stood in the way was the transfer fee. A bid was formally made, rumoured to be in the £11million mark almost double what Toronto paid Spurs but was rejected. Toronto refused to part with the player as they chased a coveted playoff berth. The deal was dead and Defoe is staying in Toronto, well for the time being. During a hastily arranged press conference, Bezbatchenko reassured Toronto fans that Defoe was committed to the cause but refused to give them what they wanted to hear – that Defoe was staying for the long term.
What has likely happened is that Defoe and Bezbatchenko have made an unwritten agreement for the England striker to stay at the club until the end of the MLS season and help the club into the play offs before he is sold back to England (and QPR) during the January transfer window. The deal works for everyone, giving Defoe the route back to England he so desperately wants and Toronto the time to find yet another bloody big deal signing. Bezbatchenko and Toronto get to keep face and will spin it in January that they gained a healthy profit from the sale of Defoe and have reinvested it in their new to be announced star striker. The plan is flawless except for one potential problem – Harry Redknapps long term future. Given QPR’s stuttering start to the season, Redknapp knows that he must improve the team’s results or face the axe which in turn could kill any potential deal for Defoe. Other suitors may appear but whether they are as an attractive an opportunity to Defoe as working again with Redknapp is unsure. Defoe may end up being stuck in Toronto and in turn Toronto may be stuck with a designated player who doesn’t want to be at the club. It will be then that Bezbatchenko will look back on the events of September 1st 2014 and wonder whether he should have just accepted that bid from QPR and let go of his troublesome headache once and for all.