Jermain Defoe is your prototypical “fox in the box” striker. Though he is well capable of scoring goals from long range, as he did last season with a couple of blistering strikes against Hull City, his bread and butter is finding a way to get on the end of a loose ball in the penalty area and slamming it into the net.
If you want to play like Defoe you'll have to strive to have some of the qualities that he possesses:
Finishing ability with both feet
Split second reaction time
Intelligent runs off the ball
Vision to assess space
The trend in the game these days seems to have almost gone away from this type of player, especially at international level. Defoe however, proved his worth to England in midweek, as no matter how many “pretty” players you have on the field you will always need someone who is able to finish the chances you create.
Defoe is the latest in a long line of England strikers who have perfected the art of scoring messy goals. Gary Lineker, who was a Spurs hero himself, is perhaps the prime example of this type of player in the last forty or so years and the two men have a lot in common. There is one huge characteristic that set Defoe and Lineker apart from the “fox in the box” wannabees, and that is desire.
To be this kind of striker you have to live and breathe goals. You have to be willing to throw yourself at any ball that is near the goalmouth in an effort to force the ball over the line. Defoe has scored so many goals over the years from inside the six yards box purely because he wants the ball more than any other player in the area. Watch Jermain play and you always sense that he will be the first to the loose ball. He's always the one to extend his leg just enough to get a touch on the ball or put his head in places many a player wouldn't just to score a goal.
In addition to desire, there are a number of other trainable skills that help create a deadly striker like Defoe. Obviously finishing ability is huge and a true Defoe style striker needs to be able to finish under pressure and in a variety of ways. It is important to practice your finishing ability from twelve yards away using both your right and left feet.
Try working on drills that have you taking one touch in a tight area and getting in a snapshot of the field from a variety of angles. It is also key to be able to take shots first time, without a set up touch. If you can do this with the ball moving at different angles and heights you will be a step closer to playing like Defoe.
Two of Defoe's other biggest assets are his agility and reaction time. Jermain is not a tall player by any means, and his low build and sense of balance allow him to accelerate so quickly in the box that he is able to latch on to a ball before a defender even knows he is moving. There are plenty of different drills to improve on your agility and it would be wise to put these into your workout regime. The same can be said for reaction time and many of the drills that help with these core skills can be done on your own in your own time to really add depth to your ability as a player.
The fact that Defoe always seems to be in the right place at the right time is no accident. Another of his qualities is how he reads the game, and the intelligent decisions and runs he makes off the back of what he reads. When a winger like Aaron Lennon has the ball, Defoe will always be thinking one move ahead of his marker and will check back on his run three of four times before breaking to the spot he expects the ball to be played to. This is the product of hours of playing the game and knowing what your teammates are going to do in a given situation.
It is one thing to know what they are going to do, it is quite another to be a good enough striker to ghost across your marker and get into a position to finish the ball. Defoe is in the middle of proving to both Fabio Cappello and the world that he is indeed a top level striker. If his progress in the England team continues at its current pace then you can expect him to be a huge star at Euro 2012.
Steve Wright is a freelance writer and can be reached at this email address: firstname.lastname@example.org