While the timing of the African Cup of Nations has as ever given a host of Europe’s clubs an almighty headache this month, if you’re a Tottenham Hotspur fan, it was thought that the 2013 installment of the bi-annual competition wasn’t going to cause the club much in the way of hassle.
Indeed, while many clubs from across the continent brace themselves for losing their African contingent for up to four weeks, Andre Villas-Boas’ side were set to dodge a potential spanner in the works. With peripheral South African defender Bongani Khumalo currently on loan at PAOK in Greece and Benoit Assou-Ekotto’s Cameroon failing to qualify for the tournament, that left only Emmanuel Adebayor as a potential AFCON casualty.
Given the Togolese’s issues with his nation’s governing body, the ex-Arsenal striker wasn’t supposed to be going anywhere this month but after a last minute change of heart, Adebayor has now linked up with his country ahead of the tournament.
Now while no one can deny Adebayor the right to represent his country, his last-minute U-turn may produce some potentially costly ramifications for both club and perhaps ultimately the player himself, too.
Because while Emmanuel Adebayor’s recent form may have polarized supporters in recent weeks, the fact is that the big Togolese still has a huge part to play in Tottenham’s Champions League aspirations. No one who witnessed the labored 90 minutes that Adebayor served up to supporters during the 3-0 win victory over Coventry during the weekend will be in any doubt of the work he’s going to have to put in to reach anything near the heights of last term.
Yet while he can’t look at anyone else but himself for the three-match suspension picked up following his sending off against Arsenal in November, it’s worth bearing in mind the game at the Emirates represented what was only his second league start of the season, following a string of fitness and hamstring issues.
While he’s not been at the races in recent weeks, following his third league start of the season against Everton, Tottenham have been unbeaten in six, including four wins on the spin in all competitions. Adebayor has started all six of those games.
But for all the debate upon whether Adebayor’s partnership with Jermain Defoe is really working as it should be, whether he’s been carrying his weight properly within this team or whether he even has a long term future at the club, the fact is that Andre Villas-Boas needs him at his disposal. Adebayor consists 50% of Spurs’ threadbare strike force and while the side have been blessed to have Jermain Defoe steer clear of injury all season, the Lilywhite’s have been living a charmed life in front of goal.
Although following Adebayor’s decision to go to the African Cup of Nations, that charmed life has evolved back into a potentially volatile risk that has the ability to derail the side’s recent good progress. It may sound like scaremongering, but an injury to Jermain Defoe could leave Spurs in real trouble as they head into a crucial part of the season. Andre Villas-Boas may have got away with possessing the sole talents of Defoe up front for large parts of the first half of the season, but to some extent, the Portuguese was merely playing the cards he’d been dealt after a tumultuous summer transfer window.
The difference is this time round, we sit in January, not mid-September and the club have the opportunity to address their lack of depth up front.
Some will point to the services of Clint Dempsey as cover and no one can deny that the American, who looked just as sharp as he did before injury against Coventry during the weekend, offers a genuine goal threat. But he cannot be relied upon to lead the line on his own in the Premier League.
While it might not be fair to judge Dempsey on just the one game, there weren’t many supporters who came away from Carrow Road last October following the 2-1 Carling Cup defeat to Chris Hughton’s side, particularly optimistic about his credentials as a lone frontman. His strengths lie linking the play from a far deeper advanced role or playing off of a striker, not as the main focal point of attack.
Even if Togo make an early exit from the African Cup of Nations, considering the nation’s last group game against Tunisia doesn’t come till January 30th, Spurs aren’t likely to have him back until the start of February at the earliest. And given his fitness issues this term, it’s hardly a guarantee that he might come back unscathed from injury, either.
Regardless of whether Adebayor misses the minimum of four matches for Spurs or the worst-case scenario of eight, chairman Daniel Levy’s hand must now be forced by his decision to play in the tournament. For the club to find itself with only one recognized striker for the second time in the space of just over half a season is unacceptable and regardless of Adebayor’s right to represent his country, the side have to fill his striking place in his absence.
The calls for a new striker before Emmanuel Adebayor’s decision were sizeable but following this past week, they’ve now become deafening. Given the nature of the January market, Spurs could be forced to dig deep for a new frontman and given Villas-Boas’ desperation to land Porto’s Joao Moutinho and Daniel Levy’s desire to run a tightly run ship, you can’t imagine either will be over-the-moon with recent events.
Quite what that might mean for Adebayor’s future at White Hart Lane, we shall have to wait and see. But Spurs have to bring in another frontman this month. For many, the ramifications for the Togolese’s future will be seen as a necessary sacrifice.