TORONTO – Interest in Toronto FC forward Jermain Defoe doesn't seem to be waning any time soon in his native England.
A report in The London Evening Standard links Defoe with a move to EPL side Queens Park Rangers and a potential reunion with manager Harry Redknapp, who has worked with Defoe in three different stints in England.
The potential of a return to the English Premier League first came up at the close of the European transfer window in August, but Toronto FC turned down a record transfer fee and held on to the 32-year-old forward as they pushed for their first-ever MLS postseason berth.
Defoe's status with the club hasn't changed much since then, according to TFC general manager Tim Bezbatchenko who addressed the topic last week, confirming that Defoe is “under contract with Toronto FC. So until that changes, he’s with Toronto FC.”
Bezbatchenko added: “We’ve all said that we don’t want players who don’t want to be here, but we haven’t heard that from Jermain yet.
“There’s really nothing to talk about now,” he continued. “There are no offers, there’s no planned move. It’s just too early for that.”
Team president and CEO, Tim Leiweke, echoed his GM's comments in a Canadian Press report published Tuesday.
"Jermain needs to decide if he wants to be here,” Leiweke said to the Canadian outlet. “If he does, then I think he's one of the great strikers in MLS. If he does not, then that situation is ours to ultimately decide, not his, because we own his contract. We're not going to give him away.
"The one thing I can promise our fans, one way or another, this will end well for TFC,” Leiweke said. “[I] guarantee it."
Defoe wrapped up his first MLS season with 11 goals in 19 matches, missing 14 games due to a nagging groin injury. He felt all the summer rumors about a move to England misrepresented his feelings about Toronto and the club.
“In football, I’ve never come out and said publicly that I want to leave a football club,” Defoe said last week during player exit interviews. “In the end of the day, I don’t know what the future holds, but I will say that I was desperate to get into the playoffs and it’s something that I would love to experience.”
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"As I've said before, Jermain Defoe was not a mistake," Leiweke told the Canadian Press. "He is a very good player and I think in his heart, in his soul, a good man. But we have to determine does he want to be here. There's no DP that is ultimately going to leave this organization and we go backwards on the capital invested. That's not going to happen."
But just in case circumstances change and Toronto FC opt to move one of their maximum total of three Designated Players (Defoe, Michael Bradley, Gilberto), the MLS side already has a target in mind to help in the now eight-year chase for a postseason berth.
"We know where we are going,” Leiweke said. “If we have a DP slot open, we already know who we're going after. And I am 100 percent convinced we're going to be a better team on the pitch next year, without a lot of changes.”
Armen Bedakian covers Toronto FC for MLSsoccer.com.