Much was said about the precocious talent of Jermain Defoe when he made his West Ham debut at the start of the decade in a League Cup tie. Here was a player who would eventually cost them £1.4million (Dh8.2m) after they tempted him away from Charlton when he turned professional aged 16.
At 17, he made his entrance in style, coming off the bench at Walsall to claim a late winner. Harry Redknapp, then the West Ham manager, had no doubt Defoe's fee would prove a pittance. He was proved right. Since then, while in charge of Portsmouth and now Tottenham, Redknapp has shelled out a further £21m to have the diminutive striker in his side. As Defoe prepares to meet his former club at White Hart Lane today, he will show how much he has developed, saying he is playing at the peak of his powers.
"Yeah, I think I'm in the best form," he said. "The difference is I'm playing games; week in, week out. Fitness-wise it helps, and when you feel sharp, the rest takes care of itself." The rest he refers to are his goals. A total of 14 have come so far this season in their pursuit of a Champions League place and he looks well on course to beat his previous best of 22 for Spurs during his first spell in 2005.
With a World Cup dream pushing him on, Defoe is determined to maintain his form. Like most footballers, he is a bad loser. "Anything you do you should want to win. If you look at great players over the years: Roy Keane, Patrick Vieira, Gazza [Paul Gascoigne] even. They're players that wanted to win. What's the point of playing football otherwise? "If we got into the Champions League, I think everyone involved, all the players in the squad, would be remembered for years. This club have had great players over the years, but if you speak to any of them they'd say they'd have loved to get this club into the Champions League. So I think if we do it, it would be brilliant."
Defoe is desperate to succeed, driven by his desire - and family grief. The striker was at the bedside of his half-brother, Jade, when he died in April from injuries from an alleged assault. "During the summer I said to my cousin, 'Right, next season I just want to make sure it's my year, because all the stuff we've been through as a family, something good has got to happen'," he said. "You want to make your family proud. You want to keep working hard because of them."
When he scored his memorable five goals against Wigan in the 9-1 league win last month, the first person he sought afterwards was his mother, Sandra. Defoe will look to please the family again today when he returns to the Spurs starting line-up after making way for Robbie Keane for the 0-0 draw Fulham. But Gianfranco Zola's West Ham want to build on their 2-0 win against fellow strugglers Portsmouth on Saturday. The Italian is looking for captain Scott Parker to provide more inspiration.
"For enthusiasm and the way he leads by example, the importance of Scott Parker I cannot even measure," said Zola. email@example.com Spurs v West Ham, KO 4.45pm, Showsports 1&2