Turns out TFC’s newest Designated Players were in complete agreement.
Both Bradley and Defoe admitted they had other options with clubs in Europe, but both were also quick to state that they simply could not turn down the opportunity to be part of something they perceived as “really special, something unique and something different,” as Bradley put it, that is now being built in Toronto by TFC head honcho Tim Leiweke, general manager Tim Bezbatchenko and head coach Ryan Nelsen.
“As a player, you want to be a part of something like that and at a place where the people share your ambition, you goals and your drive,” said Bradley, whose signing was made official on Monday. “It took all of two seconds for me to understand that I was going to be coming to place where I would be surrounded by people with that motivation and commitment.”
It was a big decision to leave AS Roma behind, Bradley admitted. Defoe, a native Londoner, felt the same about leaving the club where he spent the majority of his professional career.
“It wasn’t easy [to change clubs] because of the relationship I’ve got with Tottenham,” the 31-year-old striker said. I’ve got a year left on my contract there and [Leiweke] just said to me, ‘I want you to be a part of something special.’
“When someone says that to you, it’s hard to turn it down. You want to look back at the end of your career and say, ‘I went to this club and I made a difference, I helped the club do something special, something they’ve never done before.’ I’m delighted to be here to go on this fantastic journey. The drive and ambition that [Leiweke] has, I’m very similar in that way. I’m a winner and I’ve always been that way.”
While TFC are coming off a season in which they struggled and missed the postseason for the seventh straight year, both Defoe and Bradley were quick to admit that they only see unrealized potential at a club that has everything in place to be an MLS super club and an organization with the global status of a club like the LA Galaxy.
Both players were quick to cite the opportunity to change the fortunes of one of MLS’ most ambitious, yet least successful, franchises, and give Canada’s most populous market a championship team.
Bezbatchenko concurred with his new signings in stating his belief that the possibilities and challenges inherent at TFC make the club a particularly enticing opportunity for players of the caliber of Bradley and Defoe.
“It wasn’t about a lot of convincing or selling,” he said. “It was really about collaboration on a project that could be historic and an epic turnaround in North American sports history. We like the challenge and the pressure and the target that is on our backs now.”
“Michael said something interesting to us,” he added. “He said, ‘I’m coming back with a vengeance.’ He still has a lot to prove in his mind and he wants to go down as one of the greatest North American soccer players ever. He can achieve that in Toronto.”