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Jermain Defoe is a perfect fit for a specific role, not a sign of England’s decline

Sometimes you need a do-everything complete forward. And sometimes you just need a guy to stick the ball in the goal.

England v Lithuania - FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

When it comes to strikers, the perfect international squad would contain three or four of the very best. They would all arrive at a major tournament in magnificent form, highly motivated, fully fit, and between their various styles they would offer their manager a delicious range of combinations and options. All ego-free, too. Nobody would mind being on the bench.

When Gareth Southgate's alarm clock goes off and he blinks himself awake, he'll realise that this won't be happening for England. This is a strange time for English strikers, and beyond Harry Kane, he'll be making do. Wayne Rooney is winding down, Marcus Rashford is still more potential than product, Jamie Vardy's form comes and goes, and Daniel Sturridge and Danny Welbeck may vanish at any moment.

All of which is why we were recently treated to the heartwarming and peculiar sight of plucky little Jermain Defoe, 34 years old, poking home England's opener against Lithuania. We can safely assume that this surprise rehabilitation wasn't Southgate's plan when he took over the job. Alan Shearer even described the situation as "an embarrassment" for England.

Still, making do is the basis of international football. Coaches are constantly improvising, working with circumstances beyond their control. With whichever footballers have fallen out of the tangled machine that is development, coaching, and competition; have managed to find decent form and avoid injury; were born this side of a border and not that. And if England are to make do, then they could do worse than make do with Defoe.

We could take his goal against Lithuania as evidence.

Probably not the strongest opponents in the world, and certainly not the most spectacular finish, but there was a smooth and assured competence in the way Defoe finished off the move. A shift in weight and body position sent the defender shuffling away, and a firm strike sent the ball past the keeper.

Or we could look at his season as a whole. Defoe sits equal sixth in the Premier League goalscoring charts, level with Dele Alli on 14 and behind Romelu Lukaku, Harry Kane, Alexis Sanchez, Diego Costa, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. At the age of 34, that's pretty good going. At the age of 34 and playing in the worst team in the division, that's remarkable. Those above him have Paul Pogba and Eden Hazard pulling strings behind them; Defoe spends his time playing in front of David Moyes' latest cry for help.

As a habit, scoring regularly in a bad team suggests of lots of positive attributes: not just the finishing skills any decent striker needs, but concentration, patience, and the ability to stay engaged even when the other end of the pitch is on fire. As for his longevity, it's emerged that he's switched to a vegan diet and embraced cryotherapy in a bid to elongate his playing career. Who knew frozen peas were so energising.

Sunderland v Burnley - Premier League Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

In short, he's a striker who is still pretty good at kicking the ball into the back of the net, keeps working and working even when his team is falling apart, and is determined to wring everything he can from his talent and the time available to him. Exactly the kind of player you might want in an international squad, then, both in skill and personality.

International team-building operates to both a long- and a short-term schedule. There is the desire to use the relatively soft fixtures of a qualifying campaign to blood the kids, refresh the squad, and forge a clearly defined, well-established first team that can stay together for many campaigns to come. But there is also the need to get qualification done; to make the best of what's available. To find somebody in good nick who can poke the ball home.

Defoe, at this moment, offered an excellent solution to the latter problem, and even if his return to the England set-up was for one fortnight only, it worked. He's nobody's idea of England's striking future, but he's doing well enough in the present that it would be needlessly foolish, perhaps even arrogant, to ignore him.

And if England haven't found three more world-class strikers by the time Russia 2018 rolls around, he might be just the man to come on late in a crucial knockout game. He might even nudge home an equaliser. And then he'd definitely miss in the penalty shootout. Rules are rules, England are England, and it'll take more than a 34-year-old goal poacher to change that.