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Star forward Defoe says he's happy to be back in Toronto but can't predict future

09/24/2014 11:47 EDT | Updated 11/24/2014 05:59 EST
TORONTO - After weeks of rumour and speculation about his future in MLS, star striker Jermain Defoe presented his side of the story Wednesday.

Bottom line? The 31-year-old English international is happy to be back in Toronto and any transfer talk was out of his hands.

Toronto FC has acknowledged turning down a franchise-record bid for Defoe at the closing of the summer transfer window and the talk did not stop there. Such speculation, said Defoe, is part of football and players have no control over offers from other clubs.

"In England, it's normal — where there's speculation about players leaving, players going ... At the end of the day I'm still a TFC player and I'm totally committed to the cause," he told a news conference Wednesday, his first public comments since returning from England where he had been nursing a groin injury.

"For me it was sort of like 'Oh here we go again,'" he added. "It was just normal. I didn't really pay too much attention to it because I think my main focus was trying to get fit. People that know me, they know I love playing football and I find it really it difficult to be on the sidelines. Especially at such a crucial time, pushing for the playoffs. I want to be involved, I want to score goals, I want to push the club forward."

It was a polished 17 1/2-minute solo performance from Defoe, sitting at a table in front of a sizable media corps in the upstairs lounge at TFC's training centre. Defoe had shrugged off help from handlers in advance, saying he knew what he wanted to say.

"I never came out anyway and said I wanted to leave," Defoe, tattoos peeking out from a black T-shirt above jeans, said by way of summary.

One suspects Defoe's agent did not sit on his hands during the transfer window and who can blame him. Goal-scoring strikers are always in demand and Defoe has ties to the likes of Queens Park Rangers manager Harry Redknapp.

Still Defoe single-handedly managed to stuff the transfer genie back into the bottle, at least for a while.

"I don't know what's going to happen in the future. All I can say to the fans is I'm fully committed," he said.

And with a salary listed at US$6.18 million this season, not to mention a reported list of perks that would do Van Halen proud, the five-foot-seven striker is not exactly roughing it on this side of the Atlantic.

He is back but not yet fully healthy.

Defoe ran Tuesday, only the second time since the injury, and said there was no negative reaction. He did some work in the gym Wednesday and hopes to be back in full training Monday. An Oct. 4 game against the Galaxy in Los Angeles seems the first possible return date.

He said patience is the key, given he had made the mistake of coming back too fast in the past.

Toronto (10-11-7) could use him. With six games remaining, the seventh-place team is three points out of the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

Defoe has missed 12 games this season through injury or suspension but still leads the team in scoring with 11 goals in 16 MLS contests. He has played 150 minutes, appearing in two of TFC's 11 league games since July 19.

If anything, he says he wants more football. He said going out on loan to another club to keep sharp for the next MLS season was not out of the question, with Redknapp having already made the suggestion.

"It's something I've thought about doing before I come back, so I'm ready to go and I'm sharp and I'm fit," Defoe said.

Given his recent health problems, which have been blamed on playing back-to-back English and MLS seasons, adding to his football schedule would seem to be a gamble, however.

He himself acknowledged he had played 14-15 months straight

"Again I love my football and I've always tried to look after my body. I'm someone who's tee-total, I don't drink, I always do my stuff in the gym."

Defoe insisted he has enjoyed his North American experience, calling it amazing.

"I think I'm lucky enough to be at a fantastic football club with special fans. I've said that many times. And there's some fantastic people at the football club. From Day 1, I walked into the changing rooms, the players downstairs, all the boys have been fantastic. I think that helped me settle in and I felt at home.

"It's then just down to me to get on the pitch and perform. I love scoring goals. I love playing football."

There have been no shortage of stories about Defoe's future on either side of the Atlantic and some made their way through to Defoe despite his best efforts.

"I just tried to blank it out," he said. "Obviously you see things on the TV. Social media's powerful when you see things. But I just tried to block it out and just concentrate on getting myself fit so I can come back and push for the playoffs."

Some stories left a mark. The former West Ham, Portsmouth and Tottenham striker made a point of denying one story that had him texting former manager Ryan Nelsen to say "If you're gone, I'm gone."

"That's not true," said Defoe. "That's hard to sit back and read something like that when I know that's not true. I would never do anything like that."

Defoe said he went back to England to get a second opinion on a lingering groin injury. An initial scan had shown a strained adductor and a lower abdominal muscle strain. He kept playing though it and it got to the point, where he could feel it while running and it was sore shooting. A second scan showed the same.

Fearing he had a hernia, he went to see a specialist and was a day away from going under the knife. Instead he went to a physio he had worked with before in England and was told the problem related to his hip.

He had several injections, did rehab and worked on strengthening his core.

"It feels a lot better," he said.

Since returning, Defoe said he had met with manager Greg Vanney and came away "really impressed" by what he heard.

As to comments from outgoing MLSE CEO Tim Leiweke that he did not expect Defoe to be back next season, Defoe said Leiweke had reached out to say "he didn't mean it like that."

"At the end of the day, Tim knows what sort of character and what sort of person I am, otherwise I wouldn't be here in the first place," he said.

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