Jermain Defoe would like to honour the man who brought him to Toronto with his team’s first ever playoff appearance.
The Toronto FC striker was surprised by the news Tim Leiweke is leaving Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment, but said he owes a lot to the organization’s CEO who lured him to Toronto as part of the team’s splashy off-season signing spree.
“He was a massive part of bringing me here,” Defoe said after Friday’s practice. “But I think it’s important for me to help the boys drive forward now, push on and get unto the playoffs, because that was Tim’s vision. In a way, we want to try and get there and give that back to him, get into the playoffs, and when we get there, hopefully compete.”
Leiweke announced Thursday he will exit MLSE by June 30 at the latest. One of his most memorable legacies will sure to be overhauling the Major League Soccer club that is poised for its first playoff appearance in its nearly-eight years of existence.
Leiweke lured Defoe from Tottenham Hotspur and also signed American midfielder Michael Bradley, trumpeting their arrival with their “It’s a bloody big deal” ad campaign.
Toronto took a woeful 51-105-66 all-time record into this season. But on the eve of Saturday’s game against the visiting Chicago Fire, TFC was 9-8-5 and third in the Eastern Conference.
At some $10-million apiece, Defoe and Bradley each broke the MLS record for transfer fees.
TFC coach Ryan Nelsen said the organization is much better off for having Leiweke — even if for a short time.
“Like in any of kind of workplace, Tim came in with an idea of what he wanted to do, and in that time, he’s put his fingerprint on this organization, hasn’t he, in such a fantastic way,” Nelsen said. “All four clubs (TFC, NBA’s Raptors, NHL’s Maple Leafs and AHL’s Marlies), they’ve all benefited and the whole organization, it’s like a bolt of lightning, isn’t it? It’s fantastic for the organization.
“And now this legacy, what’s he’s kind of left here, now it’s got to be taken and run with it from the individuals who will take his place. Is MLSE better off that he came in, even if it was for two years? Oh my god, yeah. Everybody can say that. And that’s what everybody should be embracing.”
When asked if he was disappointed in Leiweke’s brief time in Toronto, Nelsen said “Not at all. He’s no disappointment at all.”
“You talk about destinies, people have their own lives, and their own kind of things to do,” Nelsen said. “What I do as an individual, I try to suck the bone marrow of any kind of person that I can, that I know I can learn from. I look at it as a privilege just to work alongside him for X amount of time, instead of being disgruntled or disappointed. On the contrary, I feel honoured and delighted that I had the opportunity to work alongside him.”
While surprised by the news, the 31-year-old Defoe knows that sports teams can be a revolving door for front-office staff.
“It’s part and parcel of playing soccer. It happens,” he said. “People come and go.”