Jermain Defoe: I Always Knew Eddie Was a Leader, Now I’d Like to Follow


London- It does not take Jermain Defoe long to roll back the years after walking back into a pocket of Dean Court. It was here where it all started for a raw, tenacious teenage striker looking to make his mark on loan from West Ham United in October 2000.

He scored on his debut against Stoke City and went on to equal a post-war record, scoring in 10 consecutive league games. “I remember every goal but my favourite was the chip against Oxford – that was special,” he says, beaming.

“I remember Harry Redknapp calling me into the office saying, ‘you’re going to Bournemouth’,” he says. “I was like, ‘where’s that’?’” He recalls his mother, Sandra, being so baffled by the move that she phoned Redknapp to ask why her 18-year-old son was being sent to the south coast to aide Sean O’Driscoll’s struggling side in the old Division Two.

He recalls Eddie Howe, then captain, and Jason Tindall “just kicking people” and admits the experience forced him to “toughen up quickly. Even back then he was a natural leader, somebody I looked at and thought that he’d go on to be a manager,” Defoe says of his new manager.

“Sitting here like this, I feel like a manager already,” he laughs, sitting in Howe’s chair in the media suite at the club’s stadium. “I’d love to [follow in his footsteps]. As you get older, of course you think on that sort of level. You always look at a manager and think, ‘I like the way you do this or the way you do that’ and if I was a manager I’d do the same. That is the way I am beginning to think. I would like to take my coaching badges and I would like to try and take a lot from Eddie this year.”

Seventeen years on, for Defoe this simultaneously feels worlds apart and eerily familiar: Howe, Tindall and five more from the team that played under O’Driscoll and Mel Machin that season are still at the club as part of the backroom staff.

“Normally you know some of the players but none of the coaches and you’ve probably just spoken to the manager,” he says. “It helps you settle in and relax a lot more.”

Tindall’s father, Jimmy, established the Senrab east London boys’ club, where Defoe, among others including Sol Campbell and John Terry, excelled before breaking into professional football. Jimmy would pick Defoe up and take him to training while at Bournemouth. Jason would cook them a pre-match meal at a house where the two lodged together close to Kings Park.

“We had toast, baked beans and spaghetti,” he says, shortly after his eyes light up at the thought of desserts made by his former landlady, Audrey Sullivan. “Jase was cooking. He would probably kill me for saying this … We used to go for a walk to the shop, come back, have the pre-match [meal] and then go together to the game.”

Redknapp, who lives in nearby Sandbanks, has already invited the 34-year-old around for dinner. Tindall, meanwhile, is the club’s assistant manager. Steve Fletcher, a bona fide club legend, is now the first-team coach. “Big Fletch used to flick everything down for me,” Defoe recalls, smiling.

Defoe, who flies out to Marbella for an eight-day training camp on Friday with his new team-mates, is visibly excited at his career coming full circle. Driving down to Bournemouth on Wednesday night, the striker said he was so excitable, he was “screaming in the car”.

The evergreen striker looks fresh-faced and believes – after signing a lucrative three-year contract at Bournemouth – he remains in great shape for club and country. He references yoga, the gym and the importance of the Cryotherapy chamber but does not underestimate his hard work and dedication. “I’m not perfect and I’m not an angel but I’ve always taken my football really seriously,” he says. Of his England hopes, Defoe has spoken to Gareth Southgate, whom he says is “delighted” with his summer move.

It must be said, though, that for much of this interview, football plays second fiddle. When asked about Bradley Lowery, the terminally ill Sunderland fan who idolises him, Defoe breaks into tears before sipping some water and taking two deep intakes of breath. “I’ve kept so much in because I’ve always been like that. In this industry as a footballer, you are [seen as] tough and stuff but I’m only human and it’s really touched me,” he says. “It’s been difficult to see him struggle how he has and there is nothing you can do.

“Every morning I wake up and check my phone and I know at some point I am going to get a message and it will be tough. It’s an important time for me with pre-season but there is more to life than football and just being with Bradley the other day and having the opportunity to spend time with him, it was special. I enjoyed that.”

Defoe speaks with the six-year-old’s family every day and they exchange messages. “I was away and did a little video for him,” he says. “He did one for me just before England played France. He did a message, which was nice. Even at this stage where he is in pain, he always seems to find a smile.”

But what did Bradley say about his move to Bournemouth? “He didn’t really say anything,” Defoe says. “I thought he was going to tell me off.”

The Guardian Sport

Garry Monk Targets Instant Return to Premier League with Middlesbrough


London – Garry Monk insists the immediate target for Middlesbrough is to gain an instant passage back to the Premier League, although the newly appointed manager realizes it will not be a straightforward task.

Middlesbrough were relegated to the Championship after finishing 19th in the top flight with just five league wins all season, but Monk is adamant the club can achieve a swift return to the Premier League.

“This club is equipped, it is ready and the ambition from all of us is to get back at the first time of asking,” Monk said at his formal unveiling on Monday. “Promotion has to be the ambition. It’s a competitive and difficult league but this club is equipped and we’re all determined to do it. That is the ambition, the objective. There is no getting away from that. That is the challenge, I would like to make it at the first attempt, but in this league it is very difficult for the teams that come down to make it back.

“Last season was one of the most competitive in the Championship in years – there’s real quality. But you have to trust your own ability. I’ve worked under pressure throughout my career. That’s how I work best. After a difficult season it’s my job to restore confidence.”

Monk resigned from his role as the Leeds United head coach at the end of the season, stating he was “unable to reach an agreement” with the new owner, Andrea Radrizzani, despite an impressive 12 months at the helm, with the club narrowly missing out on the Championship play-offs. Monk was linked with numerous jobs but after assessing his options following a short holiday he said the Middlesbrough job was hard to turn down.

“I wanted to find a club that aligned with my ambition and Middlesbrough is definitely that club,” the 38-year-old said. “My focus is doing my very best here. I had left Leeds and went away on a family holiday. Then you try to assess what your options are but as soon as I spoke to Middlesbrough I knew that was the job I wanted to take.

“Everyone knows the passion and desire Steve Gibson [the owner] has for this club. Once I spoke to him it was clear this was the right opportunity. This club has strong foundations and there’s everything in place to do well. I wanted the right challenge and all the boxes were ticked at Middlesbrough.”

The Guardian Sport

Tammy Abraham: the Brightest Light among Chelsea’s 38 Loan Stars


Tammy Abraham is one of 38 players on loan from Chelsea but none has made a bigger splash. The 18-year-old is the Championship’s top scorer after two goals for Bristol City against Sheffield Wednesday on Tuesday took his tally to six in seven league games – eight in nine in all competitions. The future looks bright for a striker who scored 74 goals in 98 youth appearances for Chelsea and still enjoys kicking a ball around the garden of his family home.

It was at that house in Surrey where Abraham’s loan move was sealed. City’s head coach, Lee Johnson, encouraged by a meeting with the Chelsea technical director, Michael Emenalo, travelled to Epsom to convince Abraham’s mother, Marian, and father, Anthony, of his vision for their son.

“It was a relationship we built in pre-season,” says Abraham, who joined City the day before their Championship campaign began. “The manager came to my house, saw my family and I got to meet him then as well. That’s when he earned my family’s trust and my trust really. He told me about the stadium, the players, who I would get on with and it was from there I knew it was Bristol City where I wanted to be.”

Abraham joined the Chelsea academy at the age of seven and acknowledges the countless miles driven by his parents to and from the club’s Cobham training base and beyond. “After a while you have to start paying them back really for what they have done for you,” he says in his first national newspaper interview. “Luckily I have had parents who could take me places.”

Labelling Abraham’s journey as non-stop may be an understatement. Until recently he had not had more than four consecutive days off at any point over the past three years. After being handed his first-team Chelsea debut by Guus Hiddink against Liverpool in May, Abraham shone for England at the Uefa Under-19 championships in Germany before linking up with Antonio Conte’s squad on the pre-season tour of the United States. Abraham joined Diego Costa and Michy Batshuayi as one of five strikers in Conte’s 30-man squad.

“I had just come back into England on the plane and the academy coach at Chelsea texted me to say I was going on tour with the first team in two days’ time,” he says. “I was excited, I thought I needed rest at the time but then I got out there and it was fantastic. It was a great experience for me, it was great to be with the new manager and his style of play and that really gave me confidence going into the season.

“Costa is a great character – not everybody gets to see his character but he likes talking to the young players as much as he can because he does not speak great English really. He does what he can to communicate with us and he’s a funny lad.”

Abraham counts Hiddink among those who have played a key part in his career, together with Chelsea’s development squad manager, Adi Viveash, and the under-18 coach, Joe Edwards, who keep in touch via WhatsApp as well as attending matches. “The coaches are texting us, calling us and visiting us to find out how we are. That’s really good for me because I know that somebody’s out there watching me.”

There is healthy competition between his Chelsea colleagues and friends Kasey Palmer and Isaiah Brown, on loan at Huddersfield Town and Rotherham United respectively, over the number of goals they score. But perhaps the most valuable shoulder to lean on has been that of the Chelsea captain, John Terry, the last player to break through the academy and cement a regular place in the first team.

“When I got into the first team they made me feel welcome and coming out on loan people like John Terry still find out how I’m doing and say well done after games, so you still feel really involved, even being in Bristol,” Abraham says.

“Players like John really care about the young players. He’s somebody who broke into the academy so he knows. As well as being a leader, he’s a good friend. I’ve watched him so many times and I have had great models like Didier Drogba growing up. I’ve been brought up in the Chelsea way and I’ve had to adapt too.”

Abraham’s packed schedule – described by Johnson as “80 games on the spin” – led to the striker being given 11 days off over the last international break. “I think it’s even more than that,” says Abraham, who was forced to pull out of Aidy Boothroyd’s England Under-20 squad with an ankle injury. “The last year or so, I have played quite a few games. I’ve gone from the Chelsea academy, to the first team, to England and then Bristol City. It’s been a lot of games.”

Remarkably, Abraham did not play football full-time until the age of 16. He was educated at the Pimlico Academy in Westminster and played football twice a week, plus a match on the weekend, while the bulk of his friends and Chelsea’s academy players enrolled in the full-time programme.

“It was something I chose to do,” he says. “It worked for me and it worked for my family. Even though I was not playing football as much as the other boys, I still think that I was coping well and getting a good balance. I enjoyed every minute of being at school. I was doing my work but still playing football. I knew I had to get my grades so that I could focus on football.”

Abraham has recently moved into an apartment in Bristol’s city centre, although he still likes to find time for a kickaround in the back garden of the family home, sometimes with his 15-year-old brother, Timmy, a forward on the books of Charlton Athletic. “I love doing that, when I’m by myself or with my brother, so that I can keep improving where I need to improve.”

City host Derby County at Ashton Gate on Saturday in search of their fourth league win of the season after surrendering a two-goal lead when losing 3-2 at Hillsborough on Tuesday. Abraham was the standout performer but Johnson was frustrated by others and may well have sent some players towards their smartphones as part of the debrief.

“We have an app where we can watch our clips, games and minutes,” says Abraham. “Even if you want to watch your opponents you can watch it on there, so it’s very beneficial.

“I’m really feeling at home in Bristol right now – it’s a great stadium and a great city. It’s a nice experience getting out there, meeting new people and getting to grips with the life of a first-team player.

The aim for this season is nothing less than promotion. We are going to do whatever we can to push to get promoted and get into that top six.”

Abraham’s upward trajectory is showing no sign of stopping and the teenager has a refreshingly healthy air of confidence. Can he be the one to buck the trend and hold down a regular place in the Chelsea first team? “Yes, that’s the confidence I have in myself and I know what I am capable of,” he says. “No matter where I am I know I have to keep trying my best.”

The Guardian Sport

Jaap Stam: ‘The Player Who Talks a Lot may not Always Become a Good Manager’


As Jaap Stam strolls into a bland portable building at Reading’s training ground, the memories start flooding back. The 6ft 3in Dutchman was part of the Manchester United furniture: an unforgiving, aggressive and old-fashioned central defender.

Those days, during which Stam won the Champions League, Premier League and FA Cup Treble in his debut season after arriving from PSV Eindhoven in 1998, are never too far away at his new place of work either.

There is a quote from Sir Alex Ferguson in the canteen at Hogwood Park, the Championship club’s training ground, and on the field Niall Keown, the son of the former Arsenal defender Martin is among those in Stam’s squad.

“It’s nice to be back in England, I always enjoyed my time as a player over here,” says the 44-year-old. “Those games we had against Arsenal when Martin Keown was playing: those were great games and the rivalry between the two teams was enormous. I knew his son was playing here when I signed but I do not talk to him now about his dad.”

Stam will be long remembered as one of the best defenders of the Premier League era, although how he will be recalled as a manager remains to be seen. After his appointment in June, on a two-year contract as a replacement for the sacked Brian McDermott, with the option of a third year, Stam became the 31st United player of the Ferguson era to enter management.

Going into coaching was never planned nor natural for Stam, though.

“A lot of people say: ‘You can already see that this player will become a manager’ but I think sometimes that’s a load of crap,” says Stam, who called time on his playing career in 2007 after a season with Ajax. “It’s not always the player that’s talking in the dressing room that becomes a good manager.

It’s a feeling that you need to develop, it’s a feeling that needs to grow on you. Of course, when you play football yourself you can think you want to become a manager but it does not make you a good manager. I was a player, after that I wanted to do nothing with football for a year and see what I wanted to do.”

After retiring, Stam enjoyed time with his family, going on holiday across Europe and contemplated TV and punditry work. Although a coaching career never beckoned, once his first club, PEC Zwolle, invited him to help out for a couple of days a week, there was no looking back. “Eventually you go for your badges and before you know it, six years down the road, you’re coaching a team and now I’m at Reading,” he says.

Several of Stam’s team-mates from the Treble season, Roy Keane, Teddy Sheringham and Gary Neville among them, set foot into management before him. “It sounds strange, maybe, because I have played with a lot of big players but I never thought: ‘OK, they’re going to go into management,’” he says.

“Maybe there was only one, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, because he was always talking about football but I did not have a feeling with the other players.”

Reading were a third-tier side, still five years away from promotion to the Premier League under Steve Coppell, when Stam left England acrimoniously for Lazio in 2001. Stam had plenty of homework to do before his interview at Reading and admits he read into the club’s ups and downs, as well as sounding out his compatriots Ronald Koeman and Guus Hiddink before taking the job.

Stam cites Hiddink among the most influential men in his career, alongside Ferguson, Dick Advocaat and Theo de Jong, his first manager at Zwolle.

“Hiddink was very important because he is a man-manager and is very good with players,” Stam adds. “He gives the whole squad a good feeling and what they need to do to perform together. What I learned from Ferguson was how to build a team. As a manager, you need to have your own vision and what you want to do with the team.

You need to have certain players with certain qualities in your team, to create your own style of play and I think Fergie was very good at that.

“Ferguson did not look at names because you see a lot of managers buy big names because they think if they get this player then because he’s already a name he will perform for me. Ferguson was the type of manager that looked at the qualities of a player he needs in a certain position at a time and he was world-class at that. I think it brought him a lot of trophies at the time.”

Manchester United have won only one major trophy – the FA Cup last season – since Ferguson retired in 2013. Stam is at his most relaxed during the half-hour interview answering questions about his former club. “Of course, everybody was watching to see what the next manager [David Moyes] could do, can he be successful as well and can he bring the same quality of football and players that Ferguson did? Everybody needs to know that it is very, very difficult to accomplish.

They were struggling after that for quite a while but eventually they did quite well and they got higher up the table.

“Louis van Gaal came in as well – everybody had their hopes up with him joining the club – but you see how difficult it is for a manager to win the league again. It’s a hard job being the manager of United and now José Mourinho steps in and everybody is expecting a lot from him.

They are spending, again, probably a lot of money to get quality players in, so hopefully for the fans he is going to bring the prizes and trophies again.”

The Dutchman grins at the mention of Zlatan Ibrahimovic – a striker he clashed with in Serie A a decade ago – who will lead the line for United this year.

“Maybe he was excited to play against me because I was older than he was,” he says, with a wry smile. “As a player, he has grown and grown in his status. Everybody knows his qualities. His Ibrahimovic brand was not as big then as it is now but for myself, as a defender, it’s always been good to play against those types of players – it was a nice challenge.”

Stam is acutely aware of the challenge in store at Reading, who kick off their season at home to Preston on Saturday. He has been quick to stamp his own footprint on a squad who performed below expectations last season, finishing 17th in the Championship.

The England Under-21 midfielder John Swift has signed from Chelsea, the strikers Joseph Mendes and Yakou Méïte have arrived from Le Havre and Paris Saint-Germain respectively, and the Dutch pair Roy Beerens and Joey van den Berg – the latter a tough-tackling midfielder whom Stam has likened to Roy Keane – have bolstered his squad.

Chris Gunter and Oliver Norwood, who played at Euro 2016 for Wales and Northern Ireland respectively, and the former Bournemouth striker Yann Kermorgant offer crucial experience.

“We have to be honest with ourselves,” says Stam. “Nobody can expect Reading for next season to get promotion or get into the play-offs. Aston Villa are back and Newcastle, Norwich and many other big teams are in this league. It would be nice to get into the top 10 but even that is going to be a hard job.”

Despite upheaval in recent years, Reading’s trump card remains their category one status academy, which will enter a team into the revamped Football League Trophy this season.

The latest academy export, Aaron Tshibola, was reluctantly sold to Aston Villa over the summer but Jake Cooper, Jordan Obita and Josh Barrett form a fresh nucleus in the first team after excelling in the academy.

Eamonn Dolan, who lost his battle with cancer in June, aided all those players as academy manager, as well as Gylfi Sigurdsson and Shane Long, who have since moved on. To mark Dolan’s overwhelming legacy from 12 years at Reading, the club recently announced plans to rename the north stand after him.

“I think it’s very good to do something special for him,” says Stam. “The youth academy, for a club like Reading, is very important because we do not have the finances at the moment like big clubs like the Newcastles to buy big players to try to win the league.

“We want to be bringing players from the academy and bring them through to the first team. Hopefully we can keep it up like how it has been going and hopefully get a lot of talented players into the first-team squad. I hope we can enjoy to see them play – and you never know what will happen after that.”

The Guardian