News broke pretty early of the impending transfer of Jermain Defoe to Toronto FC, with media outlets reporting on the move in December. However, the wheels were in motion for the major moves of Michael Bradley and Jermain much much earlier.
Tim Leiweke, CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE), had a vision when he took over the role at the end of June last year. The team suffered from a terrible run of results, finishing 9th in the Eastern Conference with just 9 wins. It was time for a clear out. Most of the playing staff and back-room personnel were let go, with Head Coach Ryan Nelsen the only notable name spared. With Nelsen’s playing days in the Premier League, he was armed with experience and contacts that could pick this club up from the bottom.
Back to June. Prior to Leiweke taking up the position as CEO he called the head of Toronto’s biggest companies, Bell and Rogers. He asked them to back him in making a splash in the transfer market. “A Beckham deal” he said. They agreed. So began Tim’s job and the task of turning one of the most popular MLS teams around.
When MLSE first approached Defoe’s club (Tottenham Hotspur), they were told he was not for sale. The striker had fallen out of favor at White Hart Lane, with a role as substitute his common spot. Daniel Levy, chairman of Spurs, was known for being ruthless in the transfer market. He had successfully managed to get 100 million Euros for Gareth Bale from Real Madrid, a world record. Tim asked Daniel to give him a number of what it would take; it was unrealistically high. He knew the only way he’d be able to sway Jermain was to meet him in person. Levy agreed to this.
The meeting was to be held in the Mayfair Hotel in London, and Leiweke brought along Nelsen and his newly appointed GM. The three of them dazzled Defoe, and he was impressed that a CEO and Head Coach were doing the talking, rather than a lower member of staff. Afterwards, he knew he wanted to go there. A deal was completed mid December, and Defoe would move to Toronto FC at the start of the MLS season.
Michael Bradley’s move was a contrast to that of Defoe’s. Bradley’s agent, Ron Waxman, texted GM Tim Bezbatchenko asking if he would consider his player. They were interested. Ron did this off his own bat, and once he had them on the hook, took to his client to convince him. Bradley was playing for AS Roma in Italy’s Serie A, but wanted to come home. After a tense MLS bidding process for who could acquire Michael, Toronto had their man. Leiweke had to go back to Bell and Rogers ask for more money, and they agreed. The league’s most expensive team was finally assembled.
What made these two deals more extraordinary were the terms of the transfers. Both Tottenham and AS Roma agreed to friendlies with Toronto FC as part of the deal. In the Defoe transfer, MLSE will sell Tottenham merchandise at their team’s games, meaning you’ll see a Spurs jersey sitting right next to a Maple Leaf’s one in Toronto’s store.