One of the biggest benefactors of the recent change in leadership at Tottenham Hotspur has undoubtedly been Togo international Emmanuel Adebayor.
Since Tim Sherwood took the White Hart Lane hotseat and begun to include the former Arsenal striker in the Lilywhites’ first team plans, he’s conjured up a prolific return of five goals and two assists in just six Premier League starts – a drastic contrast in fortunes from the reserve team status Adebayor received under Andre Villas-Boas.
Less than a year ago however, the African star was considered to be a regular boo-boy at Spurs – in addition to pretty much every club he’s formerly plied his trade with. His talent has never been in question, just look at a Premier League record of 88 goals and 39 assists in 203 appearances, but none the less, Adebayor was judged as too mercurial an entity for a club looking to claim qualification to the Champions League.
But is mercurial really a fitting description for the 29 year-old? A terminology we’d usually associate with the likes of Adel Taraabt, Nicolas Anelka and Adam Johnson? A phrase regularly used to summarise a player who often refuses to use his ability to full advantage, out of arrogance, laziness or simply an indefinable inconsistency, described by the Oxford dictionary as “subject to sudden or unpredictable changes of mood or mind”.
Or rather, is he incredibly misunderstood?
The first point I’d like to make is that whether you like or dislike Emmanuel Adebayor, it’s undeniable that he was horrendously mistreated, mismanaged and misused by AVB.
During his season-long loan at White Hart Lane, before making his move from Manchester City permanent a year later, the Togo veteran claimed 17 goals and 11 assists in 33 Premier League appearances, working in tandem with strike-partner Jermain Defoe. That was under Harry Redknapp, a gaffer known for his man management and motivation skills.
Then came summer 2012, when the now QPR boss was replaced by Villas-Boas, who immediately opted for a change in philosophy to 4-5-1 and quickly demoted Adebayor to the bench, not issuing him a single Premier League start until November to face former clubs Arsenal and Manchester City.
Could the 29 year-old have been more professional about it? Certainly – he spent the first part of the campaign pulling incredibly bored facial expressions in the Tottenham dugout, and when he was on the pitch he often looked annoyingly uninterested.
With that in mind, it’s no surprise pretty much everybody at White Hart Lane turned against the striker. And a myth quickly developed that upon securing his latest paycheque back in the summer, a financial package which cost Tottenham an original £5million investment plus an £80k per-week salary that was still being topped up above the £100k mark by Manchester City, the forward had simply lost interest in the Spurs cause.
That view was further heightened when Adebayor reported back late from the African Cup of Nations, despite being fully aware that the North London outfit’s only other senior striker – Jermain Defoe – was sidelined with a long-term injury.
An atrocious penalty miss in the Europa League semi-final certainly didn’t help the striker’s image. Neither did a miserly five-goal haul in the Premier League last season, which Adebayor has already matched in the current campaign.
But consider this; last term, the Togolese felt unwanted under a manager who’s lack of emotive warmth could be noted in any given press conference, playing in a lone striker role that has never been as profitable for him throughout his career in comparison to when he’s working in a front two, and knowing he was only in the first team because AVB’s first choice of centre-forward was injured.
That’s in drastic contrast to the current situation under Tim Sherwood.
Not that I’m attempting to re-write the history of Adebayor’s Tottenham career, or indeed his tenures at Arsenal and Manchester City, which both ended in farcical fall-outs with his team-mates and managers. He’s clearly a troublesome player to motivate and a difficult professional to get on with. And there’s no doubt his work-rate decisively dropped last seasonas soon as his form did.
But with that in mind, it does make Adebayor an incredibly easy target for criticism as soon as the goals begin to dry up. Unlike other strikers of his quality bracket, such as Jermain Defoe, who can go on barren spells for in excess of ten games without getting the full brunt of the fan’s distain, a few shoddy performances from the ex-Gunner and he’s back in the doghouse, judged as unproductive, uncaring and of course, mercurial, without being given the time or opportunities to redeem himself.
For example, does scoring just five goals in a Premier League season, following on from a campaign in which Adebayor lead the White Hart Lane scoring charts, really justify dumping the striker in the development squad as Andre Villas-Boas did this earlier this year?
Attempting to get him off the wage bill is one thing, but alienating a player talented enough to scalp a £175k per-week contract in the hope he’ll take the hint and move on is something you’d do on Football Manager, when players are just names on a screen and statistics divided into columns.
With Adebayor, it’s always been a case of the right motivation. He’s not a Mario Balotelli or Adel Taraabt, whom whether you yell at them, pamper them or tell them you love them, will still go onto the pitch and do whatever they want, be it instrumental or detrimental to the cause. The kind of players who distinctly deserve the title ‘unmanageable’ for their unresponsiveness to any form of inspiration or incentive.
Rather, the opinion-dividing Spurs striker is a player who needs to feel important, but always kept on his toes. Arsene Wenger managed to do it for three full campaigns, Harry Redknapp did it for a year, and Tim Sherwood has been doing it for the last few months. Some will argue the bubble always bursts with Adebayor, but I would counter by stating no one has ever waited long enough to find out if that prolific bubble will ever naturally re-emerge.
So is the forward mercurial? In some ways yes; there’s clearly an inconsistency to his game that he’s never been able to fully control, which obviously relates to his level of work-rate.
But he’s also a player who, whether possessing a poor attitude or not, was ousted at Manchester City without doing anything particularly wrong, misused by Andre Villas-Boas at Tottenham and then subsequently punished for his low goal output, without ever being given the chance to make amends.
If he were a more likeable figure in the dressing room, or simply trusted to rediscover his form rather than become the scapegoat for when things go wrong, then maybe this ‘mercurial’ star would be considered one of the Premier League’s top talents by now, instead of a striker deemed more trouble than he’s worth.