Toronto FC is opening the Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment vault, with a jumbo deal for England striker Jermain Defoe already done and another reportedly in the works for U.S. international midfielder Michael Bradley.
A source confirmed that Defoe, currently with Tottenham, will be introduced as a Toronto FC player next Monday. Multiple reports said the MLS club was also going after Bradley, who is currently with Italy’s AS Roma.
A Toronto FC spokesman declined comment on both players Wednesday.
But the MLS team started to set the scene for the Defoe signing by releasing two short videos titled “It’s Bloody Big Deal!” Parts 1 and 2. Both show a man — one sitting in a diner and presumably watching TV, the other reading a newspaper — spitting out their drink in seeming shock.
The words “It’s a Bloody Big Deal” along with next Monday’s date and the MLS club’s logo, are shown at the end of the videos.
Toronto manager Ryan Nelsen played with the 31-year-old Defoe at Tottenham and a megabucks deals to reunite the two in the MLS has been rumoured for months. The signing of Defoe follows last month’s acquisition of Brazilian forward Gilberto to a designated player deal.
Former U.S. internationals Tyler Twellman and Alexi Lalas, both now working for ESPN, said Toronto was on the verge of adding Bradley. The U.S. international midfielder has been vying for playing time in a crowded Roma midfield this season.
Capped 82 times by the U.S., Bradley is the son of former American national team coach Bob Bradley.
The 26-year-old cerebral midfield schemer from Manhattan Beach, Calif., has played for the MetroStars in MLS, Heerenveen in the Netherlands, Borussia Moenchengladbach in Germany, Aston Villa in England and Chievo Verona and Roma in Italy.
The future of Argentine midfielder Matias Laba would appear to be up in the air, given the Bradley reports. Laba and Gilberto both have designated player deals, as will Defoe. Teams are limited to three designated players, meaning something would have to give if Bradley, who would also require a DP deal, came on board.
Toronto has scheduled a news conference for Thursday to mark the return of former league MVP Dwayne De Rosario, a star Canadian attacking midfielder who played in Toronto from 2009 to 2011.
The club also sent out an email Wednesday to fans, inviting them to enter a draw for an “exclusive Toronto FC supporter event” scheduled for Monday at the MLSE-owned Real Sports Bar & Grill — no doubt a chance to see Defoe.
Such high-profile acquisitions during the January transfer window are timely for Toronto, which pushed back season-ticket renewals to this month is a bid to show its ticket base that the underachieving team was finally moving in the right direction.
Toronto needs an upgrade, especially up front.
The struggling club scored just 30 goals in going 6-17-11 last season, the seventh straight that has ended without post-season play.
The 5-foot-7 Defoe has scored more than 200 goals in all competitions in his club career. He has 19 goals in 55 appearances for England, scoring the winner against Slovenia at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
In the summer of 2012, Defoe signed a one-year contract extension that would have kept him at Spurs until July 2015. But his club career stalled this season under recently fired manager Andre Villas-Boas.
When Defoe came on to earn his 55th cap in England’s 2-0 loss to Chile in November, he had made only one Premier League start for Spurs this season.
“Getting into a World Cup squad is based on merit and you have to play for your club,” he told reporters at the time. “As a forward, if you are not getting the chances, it will be difficult.”
He has yet to score in 12 league appearance this season. But he has nine goals in a combined eight League and Europa Cup appearances.
His 20 appearances this season include nine games off the bench. Spain’s Roberto Soldado, who came with a 26-million-pound price tag ($46.2-million), has been the favoured striker at Tottenham this season.
In addition to getting all the playing time he can handle in Toronto, Defoe will serve as the face of the franchise.
MLSE president and CEO Tim Leiweke, who brought David Beckham to the MLS, has spoken of how the right designated player can serve as a key ambassador for the club.
Gilberto doesn’t speak English so doesn’t tick that box at this time. But Leiweke was unconcerned when asked about that at the Brazilian’s introductory news conference Dec. 13.
“We have someone else coming in to do that for us,” said Leiweke.
That would be the charismatic Defoe, whose various past transfer fees total more than 30 million pounds ($53.3-million).
Defoe doesn’t come cheap.
England’s Daily Mirror reported Defoe will make 90,000 pounds ($160.050) a week with Toronto. At C$8.3 million a year, that would exceed the league-leading $5,038,566.50 made by Seattle Sounders striker Clint Dempsey last season. French star Thierry Henry made $4.35-million last season with the New York Red Bulls.
The Mirror reported that Spurs will get six million pounds ($10.7-million) in the Toronto deal. If the report is correct, the total cost for a four-year deal would be $43-million.
Born in East London, Defoe was 14 when left home for two years upon winning a scholarship to the F.A. National School of Excellence at Lilleshall.
He signed a pro contract at 16 with West Ham United, where he scored on his debut for the first team. Sent out on loan to Bournemouth, he scored 10 goals in his first 10 games.
“There are many things that I have achieved in my career but nothing meant more to me than being able to buy my mum a house,” he says on his official website.
He joined Tottenham in 2004 before moving to Portsmouth in 2008, rejoining Spurs the next year.
Defoe has had to endure personal tragedy in recent years.
The Express newspaper reported his preparations for Euro 2012 were marred by the death of his father, while his cousin Hannah was electrocuted later that summer in a pool in St Lucia.
Brother Jade died after a street attack in 2009, while a cousin was stabbed to death in 2011.
Since the end of the 2013 season, Toronto has also acquired MLS experience in the form of Brazilian midfielder Jackson and defender Justin Morrow while picking up draft picks in trading away the rights of goalkeeper Stefan Frei and midfielder Bobby Convey.