JERMAIN DEFOE left Rangers but Rangers never really left him. His return to Ibrox was, therefore, the farewell that he deserved but never got.

The last of the 74 appearances that Defoe made for Rangers came in the final seconds of a Premiership win away to Livingston in November 2021. It was the only one that the striker would make for Giovanni van Bronckhorst and his departure from the club was confirmed just weeks later.

The statement from Rangers and warm words from Ross Wilson, the sporting director, were fitting. The appreciative messages from supporters were more than merited given his service over the previous three seasons and the feelings were reciprocated as Defoe ended one of the most memorable chapters in his glittering career.

One thing was missing, though. Defoe wanted, he needed, one last run out at Ibrox, one last goal, and the chance to say a proper farewell to the fans who had taken him to their hearts and had to watch on from afar as he played his part in title 55.

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Defoe got that opportunity on Sunday. In typical fashion, and with all the class expected, it was an opening that he didn't pass up as he scored twice in the Legends match and took the adulation of the crowd once again.

“It was really nice to be back because I don’t feel like I got a proper chance to say goodbye," Defoe said as he now watches Rangers as a fan and gives his backing to boss Michael Beale. “I sort of left and didn’t feel like I’d got the chance to say goodbye to the fans properly.

“It just happened so quickly when Gio was here. So that’s when Boydy sent me the message asking if I wanted to play in this game that I was like 100 percent!

“I’m back at Tottenham coaching with the academy so I’ve been joining in the sessions trying to get myself sharp.

“Everyone knows what this place means to me. I enjoyed my football here. It’s a special place to play football so to come back and play again in front of these fans was amazing.

“What a turnout. I think there was about 30,000 there on Sunday for a game like that, which is just crazy.

“You won’t find that kind of support at many clubs. I was just happy to be back."

The farewell was done in typical Defoe style. He shared a pitch with Ibrox heroes of yesteryear and some of the finest names from the English and European game. As expected, the 40-year-old didn't look out of place.

These matches are often accompanied by calls of 'he could do a job for someone' and Defoe, still slim and sharp, was as accomplished on the pitch as he was during his post-match media duties. Some things never change, it seems.

Glasgow Times: Jermain Defoe is a free agent after his Rangers deal expired. Photo: PA

His first goal was symptomatic of his prowess in the box. The touch to collect an Alan Hutton cross was deft, the finish to beat David James delicate as he dinked the ball over the former England keeper from close range.

James would deny Defoe minutes later, but only momentarily. His penalty save was impressive yet futile as Defoe bagged a brace in what turned out to be a 4-3 defeat for a Rangers side that were managed by Alex McLeish.

“100 percent," Defoe said when asked if he had to come back and say goodbye to Ibrox. “It’s different coming back up to watch a game.

“I still speak to Mick. I keep in contact with a lot of the boys, the staff here too. But I just wanted a chance to come back and say bye properly because I didn’t get that chance.

“It was tough leaving. It happens at football clubs. I’ve played at clubs and players are just gone all of a sudden.

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“They’re there one day and the next they’re at another club. That’s part and parcel of the game now.

“But as I had so many special times here it was nice to come back and do it properly."

The last time Defoe found the net at Ibrox he was rounding off the scoring as Steven Gerrard's beat Aberdeen 4-0 to secure an Invincible season and mark 55 in style. It was to prove the last high for the forward and his manager and Gerrard would leave Rangers just months into the title defence.

A return to Sunderland was short lived and Defoe made his final professional appearance last March as he came off the bench in a goalless draw away to Lincoln City. It took him time to come to terms with life away from Rangers and Sunday provided closure in some regards.

“It was difficult to be honest," Defoe said. “When you go from the high that I had here, winning the league title - and 55 was arguably one of the most important titles in the club’s entire history.

“But after that it’s really difficult to have that feeling. I knew I was at the back end of my career but I felt like a kid again when I came to Rangers. I got that fire back.

“I’d come from Bournemouth and I got that fire back because I knew every game was important. I had to win every game. Every training session for me was important.

“And I think it’s even more because when you’re coming to the end, I think you enjoy it more as you know you’ve not got long left.

“That’s why I enjoyed every session, every game I played in. It was a chance to win the title and we did that so it’s of course special."

Defoe felt physically able to contribute at the Stadium of Light. There was a mental hangover from his Rangers exit, however, and his career didn't end in the manner that it should have.

A move into a hybrid role as a player and a coach under Gerrard didn't work out as planned and it was match minutes rather than time on the training ground that the veteran wanted more than anything.

“Yeah because if I’d have had the chance to stay then I don’t really think it matters how old you are to be honest," Defoe said. “I’ve always looked after my body. Even when I left I still felt sharp.

“Obviously the season we won the league and the last two games were against Celtic and Aberdeen. That physically was probably the best I’d felt during my entire time up here.

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“The season after I got the player-coach role but no player wants to finish playing and I just still wanted to play.

“There’s been many players I’ve spoken to about leaving this club and they all say it’s difficult to leave here, go somewhere else and get that same feeling."

In the end, Defoe knew he had to leave at Ibrox. That realisation didn't make the decision any easier, though, and he found himself in a situation that so many before him have been in.

Glasgow Times: Rangers manager Steven Gerrard (left) with Jermain Defoe. Photo: PA

Others that depart will one day know how he felt, too. Rangers had taken a place in his heart and the one constant figure in his life and career understood just why.

“My mum has come to almost every game I’ve played in and she’s been everywhere, at every club," Defoe said. “I remember we played here in my first Old Firm and she said to me, ‘You know what, I now know why you love it here.

“She said she’d never experienced anything like it. All the games she’d come to, and I played about 800 games, and she said it was unbelievable - ‘I now understand why you love it’. If my mum says that, then it must be a special place."