All You People Look Alike: Jermain Defoe Edition
July 2007, I stood on the sideline of the main athletic field at Upper Canada College, watching Argentina’s national team practice for a semifinal match at the FIFA Under-20 World Cup, a tournament that began and ended in Toronto. I was watching guys like Maxi Moralez and Sergio “Kun” Aguero do their thing, scribbling notes when a FIFA employee strolled past.
A white guy, early 20s, matted hair, thick in the middle with credentials dangling from his neck, and when he catches me in his peripheral vision he stopped, pivoted and approached me.
“Eh, bruv,” he said, in an accent that’s probably more London in my memory than it was in the moment. “You look like Jermain Defoe, innit.”
“Anybody ever tell you you look like Jermain Defoe?”
“Jermain Defoe. The footballer. Look him up. You look just lyke ‘im, mate.”
This was my first summer covering Toronto FC and Canada’s national teams, and no matter how hard my colleague Cathal Kelly tried to get me caught up, and no matter how many hours of GOLTV I watched, I struggled to keep track of player movements in and out Major League Soccer. Recognizing names and faces of stars in overseas leagues was more than a stretch. It was a a drain on brainpower better used memorizing Footie terms like “pace” and “fitness” and “cheeky back heel,” and keeping them from creeping into my copy.
And as for my resemblance to Defoe, forgive my skepticism at the suggestion. Folks are always telling me I like exactly like some person or other, but most times the similarities are superficial and circumstantial.
When 42 came out last spring, a few people insisted I could’ve been the twin of the actor playing sports writer Wendell Smith.
Black guy with glasses.
When I lived in Boston a Dominican lady with an orange t-shirt and a gleaming gold tooth stopped me on Washington St. and tried to chat with me in Spanish before stopping mid sentence.
“Oh,” she said. “No eres mi primo.”
Nope. I wasn’t her cousin. Just a medium-skinned black dude walking through Jamaica Plain on a sunny day.
Six months after that a pair of plainclothes cops confronted me on a street corner, insisting that if I wasn’t Matt the ecstasy dealer, then I was his clone.
So when this English kid told me I had a doppelganger scoring goals for Tottenham Hotspur, I shrugged. I’d heard similar lines too many times to believe it.
But later on I googled Defoe and, well…
Here he is:
And here I am:
Last week he signed with TFC, and when he appeared on the front page of the Toronto Star my mom called to tell me how much he looked like my Uncle Jeff, which is her way of saying he also looks like me. Different nose, and ears. Similar eyes and stature, same distractingly handsome gap-toothed smile.
Now that Defoe’s in Toronto, I’m sure we’ll cross paths beyond the news conference the club has scheduled for Monday morning. He’s the highest-profile and most expensive player the club has ever acquired (a transfer fee north of $10 million plus an $8 million annual salary), and his signing is yet another plot twist in the one of the most intriguing stories in the sports industry — Tim Leiweke’s quest to turn Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment into a New York Yankees-type global brand.
Trouble is, with Defoe in Toronto folks who follow sports business might struggle to tell the two of us apart. But there are a couple of ways to distinguish us.
Take a look at this photo of a shirtless Jermain Defoe:
Immediately it becomes clear that I possess both the superior physique and the taller tales.
And even though we’re both listed at 5-foot-7, telling me from Defoe is much easier if you use the Theo Fleury technique.
Defoe towers over me if he stands on his wallet.
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