Jermain Defoe has admitted he thought his England career was over until he received a surprise phone call from Gareth Southgate about a recall.
The 34-year-old Sunderland striker has been called into the squad for the games against Germany and Lithuania later this month, with injuries to Wayne Rooney, Daniel Sturridge and Harry Kane having left Southgate light on numbers.
Defoe won the last of his 55 senior caps against Chile in November 2013 and with his career approaching its conclusion, he feared he would never wear the three lions on his chest again despite his enduring potency at club level.
Asked if he thought his international days had drawn to a close, he told SAFSee: “Yes, 100 per cent because if I am being totally honest, I thought I would have had a chance last season, finishing the third-highest English goalscorer behind Kane and (Jamie) Vardy.
“But it wasn’t meant to be and then I started to think: ‘You know what? Maybe it’s just not going to happen’. But I didn’t really complain or anything.
“I just got my head down and carried on doing what I am doing, managed to score my goals – I have got 14 league goals with 11 games to go – and I have always said when you keep producing and you keep doing well and keep working hard, it can only be a matter of time before you are selected.”
Defoe learned of his return to the international stage in a call from England boss Southgate, although he was initially puzzled when his phone rang.
He said: “It was funny because on the iPhones, it pops up on the screen, but you don’t see the full message.
“I just saw the name. I thought, ‘Gareth? I don’t know a Gareth, who’s this?’, so I put my phone down.
“Then I looked at it – ‘Hi Jermain, it’s Gareth Southgate, can I give you a call when you’re free?’, and I said: ‘Yes, no problem’ and we just had a chat, really, about how I felt about England.
“We had a good chat. He’s a nice guy, someone who I played against, so we had a little laugh about that.
“I said: ‘It’s been a long time, I remember you kicking me years ago’, but generally, he’s a really nice man, to be fair. I’ve always had respect for him.
“I just think it’s nice when managers actually pick the phone up. It’s a five-minute phone call, so I appreciated the phone call and I’m obviously delighted that I’m back in there.”
Defoe, who joined Sunderland from MLS side Toronto in January 2015 in a swap deal with £6million flop Jozy Altidore, has scored 33 league goals in the two years or so since and is one of the main reasons the Black Cats are still a Premier League side, for now at least.
He was linked with a move away in January as West Ham eyed him jealously, but remained on Wearside when the transfer window closed.
He will now hope to add to his cap haul, something which could prove extra special as terminally ill five-year-old Bradley Lowery, with whom he has struck up a friendship, is due to be mascot for the Lithuania game.
Defoe said: “It will probably be a weird feeling because it’s been a long time. I am just looking forward to meeting up and seeing the players – a different squad compared to when I was there, all the young lads, but I am looking forward to it, the training.
“I have always looked forward to playing for England. It’s the pinnacle, you don’t get any higher than that, so it will be a good feeling – and even more so now because I think Bradley is going to be mascot, so that’s going to be special again and I am just delighted that I am involved.”