HAVING been ridiculed for his advertisement for a personal assistant, Jermain Defoe hit back at his critics in the wake of Sunderland’s midweek League Cup win. Chief Sports Writer Scott Wilson cleared the air with the striker, and questions why we expect our footballers to adhere to a series of unwritten rules that do not apply to other entertainers.

IT was a line that was delivered with the same forceful conviction that had enabled him to claim the first hat-trick of his Sunderland career an hour or so earlier.

When Jermain Defoe headed in my direction in the wake of Sunderland’s Capital One Cup win over Exeter City on Tuesday night, he clearly had something he wanted to get off his chest. And it wasn’t a discussion about where he was going to keep the match ball.

“Hopefully people can write about my football now, instead of writing about irrelevant stuff,” said Defoe, with a measured combination of friendliness and aggression. “Just write about my football.

“If I was one of those footballers who were stumbling out of nightclubs, drunk, smoking, then I guess I’d be fair game. But I don’t do any of those things. If I wasn’t representing my club or my family in the right way, then I’d have no problem about anyone writing anything they wanted about me.

“But when people are writing about things that are irrelevant, and turning things against me, I don’t think that’s fair.”

To be fair to Defoe, I’ve handled much more venomous complaints. And to give the Sunderland striker even more credit, what followed over the next ten minutes or so was a discussion that provided a rare degree of insight into the dilemmas that present themselves where the worlds of football, celebrity and perceived financial opulence overlap.

To recap, in the day before Sunderland’s much-needed League Cup win, Defoe had been widely ridiculed for an advertisement that appeared on a secretarial website offering a role as his personal assistant. For £60,000-a-year, the chosen candidate would be expected to carry out a range of duties including global marketing, brand awareness and organising events along with the more mundane tasks of watering the plants and ensuring the former England international’s fridge was fully stocked.

In terms of confirming the widely-held belief that footballers are completely detached from reality, it could hardly have been better scripted. Here was a 32-year-old with more money than sense, needing a personal skivvy to carry out all the jobs he couldn’t be bothered to do himself, or that he regarded as completely beneath him.

Not so, according to Defoe.

“People have been writing all kinds of things about this PA stuff, so I want to clear it up,” he continued. “The intention from the start, certainly from me, was that the job would be to provide support for my family who have been trying to run my foundation.

“I’ve launched that to build and run a childrens’ home in St Lucia, but I guess the headlines about that aren’t as interesting as the other stuff that was written.

“The help that was needed was going to be focused on the foundation because my family have been doing their best, but it’s becoming a bigger and bigger job. It’s things like organising the gala dinners to try to raise funds, organising the trips to St Lucia so I can do my charity work and get the people over there who are needed to make the whole thing run.

The Northern Echo:

“I don’t see why it’s such a big deal. To be honest, I wouldn’t have called it a PA because I’m not someone who would ever say, ‘Oh, this is my PA’. But that’s not to say I don’t need someone to help my family do some of the things I can’t.

“I’ll hold my hand up – I can’t do admin or accounts or stuff like that. I need help to do that, and hopefully that help will in turn help to change lives in St Lucia. That’s my passion away from football, but I need help to do that.”

Whether Defoe’s description of the role tallies up with what was actually published in the advert is open to debate, although to be fair to the striker, he claims that he did not see the final draft before it went to print.

But even if he had wanted someone to look after his home or attend to his daily chores, would that really have been so bad?

Would we be surprised to learn that Simon Cowell had someone buying his groceries? Or Rihanna? Would it be a shock to discover that Jude Law didn’t book his own flight tickets, or that James Corden had someone looking after his house in England while he was away in the United States hosting his chat show?

Football, especially within the Premier League, has effectively morphed into another branch of the entertainment industry, yet we still expect our footballers to be untouched by the trappings of fame. They should be travelling to the game on the bus not driving £200,000 Ferraris, wandering around Aldi rather than paying someone to sort out the weekly shop from Waitrose.

Yet if we decide to turn our footballers into superstars – and anyone who pays top dollar to watch a Premier League match or shells out for a Sky subscription is complicit in that process – is it any wonder if the young multi-millionaires decide to act in that manner?

The Northern Echo:

It seems ridiculous to offer the trappings of fame on one hand, and then explode in exasperated fury when they are taken up on the other. Even if, as Defoe claims, he is nowhere near as detached from reality as people might imagine.

“Am I really doing something that bad? A boy from East London trying to get on in life and do good things? I’ve read that I can’t do this or can’t do that, but yeah, I do pack my own fridge, and yeah, I do go and get the shopping near where I live, most days with my girlfriend,” he said.

“I try not to let things get to me, because if I did, I wouldn’t be able to perform, but sometimes that’s harder than others. I can deal with things, but when my mum, my sister and the rest of my family are getting frustrated with things as well, it’s hard. I’ve dealt with much harder things than that before so ordinarily it wouldn’t bother me, but when your family are involved as well, it’s crossed a line. That’s the frustration.”