Jermain Defoe has admitted it’s been tough sitting out Rangers European nights this season but feels it will allow him to show his best in domestic games.
The 38-year-old was left out of the squad for continental competition this season as manager Steven Gerrard looked to accommodate new signings Kemar Roofe and Cedric Itten alongside Alfredo Morelos.
That meant Defoe was on the sidelines as Rangers drew 2-2 with Benfica on Thursday evening but means he is likely to play a central role when Rangers begin their League Cup campaign against Falkirk on Sunday.
The well-travelled former England striker,. who counts West Ham, , Spurs, Sunderland and Toronto among his former clubs, says the decision came out of a discussion with Gerrard and could benefit the club as well as allowing the forward.
“It’s tough on one hand but I suppose on the other it gives me an opportunity to have that day off my legs and prepare for the game sat the weekend, which are important,” he said.
“Of course, over the years I always loved my time in the Champions League and Europa League with Tottenham. I scored a lot of goals and I’ll remember all these moments.
“When you get to the back end of your career you want to have those moments again, so it’s not easy watching it this season.
“To be honest I feel really sharp but I only feel like I’m playing at 70 per cent because you need that run of games to get that match fitness. Obviously not being in the Europa League squad means that on a Wednesday I can try harder. I’ll stay behind and do some running and a big session in the gym because I know I’ve got the day off the next day.
“That allows me to peak going into the weekend, which has really helped me.
Defoe’s deal at Ibrox expires this summer but he hasn’t ruled out playing beyond this season if he can still meet the standards he expects.
“I’ve always listened to my body,” he said. “That’s important. And also be honest and be around people who will be honest with you.
“I’ve got a good relationship with the manager and I spoke to him about the Europa League squad and having that day off my legs so he can get the best Jermain Defoe at the weekend.
“If I can continue still scoring goals at this level then for me there’s no reason to stop.
“It’s about being honest and if I get to the stage where I’m struggling then of course there’s no point because I’ve had a long career but at the minute I don’t feel 38.”
For the moment, Defoe’s focus is firmly on this season and the opportunity to win silverware. Rangers were beaten finalists last year, despite having the majority of the play against Celtic and the striker hasn’t forgotten the feeling, but he says the team are a stronger proposition this season.
He said: “It’s important, especially when you play for a club like this, you have to compete in every competition and believe you can win it whether that’s domestically or the Europa League which we’re competing well in.
“This is the first trophy and we’re certainly going to try and win it.
“The defeat in the final last season was horrible – that’s probably an understatement – being so close and sitting there after the game and not coming away with the first trophy.
“You look at that and you don’t want to have that feeling again but there’s still a long way to go and we have to win the game his weekend and see what happens after that.
“But we’re playing for Rangers and everyone understands the demands of playing for this football club. The squad is really strong and you can see in different games there’s different personnel and players are coming in and producing.
“Credit to all the boys, everyone realises how important this season is and hopefully that can continue.”