WATFORD, September 3 – England striker Jermain Defoe has revealed the secret torment he went through watching his half-brother die at the age of just 26 and says it has inspired him to produce the best form of his life.
Defoe, who has scored six goals already for Tottenham and England this season, is rapidly becoming a key player for his country and is a serious contender to partner Wayne Rooney as Fabio Capello’s side prepare for the World Cup.
The 26-year-old hopes to play a part in England’s friendly against Slovenia on Saturday and the crucial qualifier against Croatia at Wembley four days later when victory would be enough to ensure the team reaches South Africa.
But Defoe admitted his impressive form has been fired by personal tragedy.
Just five months ago his half-brother Jade, a talented rapper and DJ, died of head injuries in hospital after being attacked on the street in Leytonstone, east London.
"I remember the day he died," Defoe said. "I was training on the Friday before the Man United game and my mum turned up at the training ground. The manager said to me, ‘Your mum’s in the car park.’
"I knew straight away when I saw her face. She basically just said to me, ‘I think he’s got two hours to live.’ So I had to get myself to the hospital and just be there for him.
"I was there when he died, it was crazy. All the family were there and his close friends too. I missed the Man United game but obviously some things are more important than football.
"It was strange to be honest. The year before that I had lost my nan. But look at my brother. He was 26 years old. You don’t expect to see that.
"When people die it’s easier to understand when they’re ill and you prepare yourself.
"You know it’s going to happen at some time, but when you just get a phone call like that it’s terrible. It hit the family hard. It was hard with him being so young. You can’t really understand it."
Defoe’s response has been to concentrate even harder on achieving his potential on the pitch and so far this season it has reaped rewards.
"It changed me," he admitted. "I actually sat down with my cousin just recently and said that the last year has been really difficult.
"But sometimes in life you get difficult times and at some point you get good times. This is my good time now and I’m really enjoying it. I just want to keep myself strong and keep focused and make sure I have a good year.
"I think when you’re playing it’s the only place you get away from everything. You focus on football when you’re on the pitch.
"When you’re off the pitch you think about things. The reason why you play, get on with it and do so well is because that’s where you get your peace."
Defoe, who missed out on the World Cup in 2006 when he was left out of the squad by Sven Goran Eriksson at the last minute, is clearly a big part of Capello’s plans this time and insists the old accusation that he is ‘just a finisher’ no longer applies.
"I feel a lot stronger these days," he insisted. "I’m 26 now. Mentally I’m stronger.
"I’m a more all-round player and think that happens with experience. I’m playing with different players and different managers at club level and international level.
"I never doubted I could be an international player because I didn’t think that under the previous managers I got a fair chance.
"With the manager now I’ve featured in a lot of the games and even when I haven’t started I’ve come on and played the whole second half.
"That’s getting a fair opportunity. I’m showing what I can do and I intend to make the most of the chance."