Tottenham forward Emmanuel Adebayor’s decision to represent Togo at this month’s African Cup of Nations in South Africa, reversing his previous position in the process, would appear on the face of it to have dealt a hammer blow to manager Andre Villas-Boas at what represents a pivotal part of their campaign. With that in mind, does the squad have the necessary attacking depth to survive the month-long competition as they are, or should they dip their toes into the January transfer market for a replacement?
The move from the 28-year-old was a surprising one considering his near-death experience while representing his country in the past, which saw three team officials shot dead during the 2010 tournament in Angola. Having retired after the shocking attack, he returned to the national team set-up after guarantees were made about security in November 2011, but seemed reluctant to go to the ACN this month to try and force his way into the Tottenham starting XI after a disrupted few months at club level.
The club currently sit in the top four, three points ahead of Everton in fifth place, with the tournament starting over in Africa on the 19th January, ending with the final on the 10th February. Togo are in Group D which on paper looks the most difficult, including the Ivory Coast, Tunisia and Algeria, with the final group game taking place on January 30th.
Should Togo exit at the group stages, which they are broadly expected to do by many observers with a greater appreciation of African football than myself, then Tottenham will have played just three games, against Manchester United and Norwich in the league and an FA Cup fourth round tie against either Leeds or Birmingham. The travel commitments and lack of planning would also likely see him miss the next league game at home to West Brom on the 3rd February. Should Togo progress further than the quarter-finals to the semi-finals, which take place on the 6th February, he will then likely miss the home league game against Newcastle.
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It’s worth taking a closer look at the fixtures themselves before letting panic set in. Adebayor is likely to miss three league games and one cup game, two of which are at home and three of which they are expected to win, regardless of his presence. The only game they may miss him for is the first one at home to United.
The argument put forth that this leaves the squad with just a solitary striker in the form of Jermain Defoe is a sound one, but Adebayor’s decision to go to the ACN has not particularly hastened the need for recruitment in the attacking department; they would be wise to add someone to their squad over the course of the next month, but not solely because Adebayor will at a push, miss five games.
Villas-Boas appeared to rule out bringing in a fresh face last week, telling reporters: “I don’t think so. We have been pretty happy with the team and what we have, with the options that we have. We understand that we can put ourselves in a difficult position if we do not add one more striker, if one of the striker gets injured between Jermain Defoe and Clint Dempsey.
“But we’ve been in this situation before when Ade was injured and we managed to go through it. It’s difficult but it is not that great an amount of time that we lose Ade for. Of course we lose him for a couple of important games, but I think we are able to cope with it.”
Names such as Seydou Doumbia, Leandro Damiao, Alvaro Negredo and Roberto Soldado have been bandied about, all of which are feasible options and well within the club’s price range and wage bracket, but Daniel Levy’s reticence to spend any sort of sizeable chunk of change in January is well known and the likelihood is that the Portuguese will have to make do with what he has.
Adebayor’s return to the starting line-up in recent weeks alongside Defoe has paid dividends and the club took ten points out of a possible 12 over the hectic festive period, with the Togolese forward bringing a greater degree of balance to the team, with Aaron Lennon and Gareth Bale both in lively form on the flanks.
Nevertheless, that Villas-Boas chose to highlight Dempsey as proof that the club had the necessary depth up top to weather this frustrating period was a telling one. Adebayor’s move to overturn his own decision so close to the eve of the tournament shows a lack of professionalism on his part, but the club, and Levy in particular should have been wary of such a situation arising when they set about purchasing the striker from Manchester City in the summer, with the chairman guilty of a lack of foresight and awareness in this instance
Dempsey is by no means a striker, rather charitably bracketed under the term ‘forward’ due to his lack of positional discipline in midfield and consistency in front of goal. Relations between Villas-Boas and Adebayor have appeared tense for months, amid reports of the player’s unrest at a lack of playing time, completely ignoring the fact that he returned to the club halfway through pre-season overweight and clearly unfit after trying to secure himself the transfer fee that Tottenham were going to pay City.
The one-eyed pursuit of Adebayor has left them short up top for practically the whole season; he has been part of the squad but only in the last six games has he played any sort of role or made any sort of lasting impression, during which Defoe has notably only scored once. A return to the 4-2-3-1 formation could once again bring the best out in the England international, but the wider picture dictates that all will not be well upon his strike partner’s return from South Africa.
The squad has lacked balance at the top end of the pitch since the start of the summer, but Levy, presumably still solely in charge of the club’s transfer policy, will not sanction a move for a new player simply because he plans to miss a month of the season. However, should he pick up an injury while away, the club could come to regret not strengthening from a position of strength in the top four by the end of the campaign. Has too much been made of Adebayor’s departure? Perhaps, but it has helped to shed further light on a notable weakness in this Tottenham squad.
The need for another genuine, out-and-out striker to be added to the club has been required ever since the summer and in the grand scheme of things will not be hastened by the minor inconvenience that is the ACN, but it does present an opportunity to reinvest and the club would be mad to miss it.