Evergreen England striker Jermain Defoe has turned to veganism in a bid to stay on top of his game at 34.
Defoe ended a three-and-a-half absence from the international stage on Sunday, opening the scoring in the Three Lions’ 2-0 Wembley win over Lithuania.
That was the latest instalment in a remarkable resurgence for a player whose career appeared to be winding down when he swapped Tottenham for Toronto in 2014.
Since returning to the Premier League with Sunderland he has been one of the division’s most reliable scorers, with 14 goals this season despite the Black Cats’ perilous position at the bottom of the table.
Defoe has long been tee-total, is an enthusiastic advocate of cryotherapy treatment, practises yoga and his latest attempt to fend off Father Time involves cutting animal products from his diet.
“I have a better understanding of my body now,” he said after netting to end a wait of four years and four days between international goals.
“Everyone wants to feel fresh in the game, there’s no better feeling. So I’m just making sure I’m doing the right things – cryotherapy, massage, eating the right things…trying to turn vegan.
“That’s a funny one because when I go to my Mum’s she’s got every kind of meat you can imagine out on the table.
“It was my girlfriend’s idea. She said to me, ‘You’ve got to do it’ and she’s always showing me these documentaries and that. It’s always nice to have someone around you to who helps you and drives you on and wants you to do well.”
Defoe happily embraces every marginal gain he can get his hands on, a function of his professionalism and a lingering hunger for putting the ball in the back of the net.
“I don’t find anything hard because I know the feeling of scoring goals,” he said.
“So getting in an ice bath and all that isn’t nice, but I just think, ‘You know what? I’m going to do this and be rewarded’. It’s hard, but in another way it’s easy because all I want to do is play well and score goals.
“The key thing for me is recovery, giving yourself the best opportunity to perform in the next game, and I seem to have got that to a tee. There’s a lot of things I do away from training and away from matchday that help me perform, so I’ll just keep doing that.”
Defoe has endured his fair share of disappointment since arriving on the international scene in 2004, missing the World Cup two years later and missing the last two major tournaments during his exile under Roy Hodgson.
Current boss Gareth Southgate has opened the door for him to put that right in Russia next year, provided he can retain form and fitness, a last hurrah that would go a long way towards making up for the past.
“My mum always said, ‘It’s not how you start it’s how you finish’, and years later I’m back in the squad and scoring goals for my country,” he said.
“I never give up. In my mind I was trying to be realistic and with the previous manager (Hodgson) I didn’t feel like I was getting an opportunity. There was times I was scoring goals, especially last season, and I wasn’t selected for the Euros. I felt like I finished the season strong, but I was realistic and felt like maybe I wasn’t going to get an opportunity.”
Asked how he was informed that his stellar form for Sunderland would not be enough to earn a recall for Euro 2016, he added: “I didn’t get a call. I found out on the telly.
“It was heartbreaking. Only because in my heart I felt like I’d done enough to be involved.”