On face value, there wasn’t too much in the way of overwhelming positives to be taken from Tottenham Hotspur’s 1-0 defeat at home to Wigan Athletic last Saturday. Indeed, considering the outpouring of frustration and in some quarters, considerable anger, that greeted Jermain Defoe’s substitution, you could argue quite the opposite.
Spurs manager Andre Villas-Boas’ decision to take the England striker off for forgotten man Emmanuel Adebayor- at 1-0 down – catalyzed the most fervent atmosphere of the season so far at White Hart Lane. And as anyone who was there will testify, it represented a pretty damning incitement for both club and manager.
But looking beyond the substitution itself and the perceived ignominy of it, the return of Adebayor represented a landmark moment in Tottenham’s season so far. Unfit, unhappy and uninterested have been just a few of the words batted around the Togolese’s stuttering start to the season so far. But the fact is, it doesn’t matter why or even how’s been out. Just that he’s back. And now he is, Villas-Boas must unleash him against Manchester City.
The presence of a warmed up and ready Emmanuel Adebayor standing shoulder to shoulder next to a somewhat brooding Andre Villas-Boas, felt like a sign of real encouragement during the weekend. Although any returning goodwill felt incredibly short lived indeed, as the number of 18 of Defoe flashed up next to the ex-Arsenal man’s number 10.
After a season in which their side’s home form has been so incredibly mediocre and 57 minutes where they’d been abjectly outplayed by Wigan, you could argue that Spurs supporters were always going to vent their frustration in one way or another. The booing was not the right way to show the support, but it was perhaps something of inevitability. 1-0 down, half hour to play, and the manager takes off their leading goalscorer.
But it is within that statistic, which lies a very deceptive school of thought. Fans fumed when Defoe trotted off the pitch, lamenting the departure of their beloved hitman and somewhat satirically serenading Villas-Boas with chants of “Jermain Defoe, he’s a Yiddo.”
A Yiddo he may be, but he was also a striker who made the scintillating contribution of 11 touches of the football, in nearly an hour on the football field. This is not to slate the man who has been in red-hot goal scoring form this season, but so often there seems to be a reluctance to take off the Defoe-tinted glasses in N17.
Emmanuel Adebayor didn’t score on his return to the side, nor did he particularly set the world on fire. But the effect he had on the team felt almost palpable.
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The counter argument to Defoe’s poor game against Wigan, seems to go along the lines of poor service, or in fairness to him, an abject lack of it. And to some extent, he did suffer form a real lack of quality. With Clint Dempsey turning up to White Hart Lane seemingly only in body but not in spirit, life was tough for Defoe. But he still wasn’t giving enough – you’ve got to be more proactive in seeking the ball. As poor as the midfield was, they can’t be made the sole scapegoat.
When Adebayor came on, it seemed to cultivate more out of the men playing around him. Spurs seemed to not only retain possession a little better, but they seemed to look a bit more dangerous with it, too. Gareth Bale looked more proactive, the midfield appeared a little more confident and the tempo of play generally felt more fluid. Again, it wasn’t scintillating, but the change in output was no coincidence.
The difference with Adebayor, seems that when he moves on the football pitch, it has purpose. When the ball was played down the channels, he didn’t just lure defenders out with his movement, but he was able to shift the ball out and find a teammate. And it’s this purpose, which is the real difference in holding the line on your own.
No one is denying Defoe has been running his socks off and working hard. But running around like a headless chicken and racking up some impressive ProZone statistics, doesn’t win you football matches. Whether as an outlet down the channels, as a mobile target for a more direct route of play or simply as a man to get the best out of the rest of his attacking unit, Adebayor has the superior skillset to eek more out of this Spurs XI than Jermain Defoe.
In terms of the substitution itself, it’s a difficult one to call. No one is saying that 4-4-2 need be thrown on the scrapheap forever, and with the team one goal behind, the logical call is to be positive in your approach. But let’s not forget, Spurs were being outmaneuvered and overrun in midfield, before Adebayor came on. Dempsey played poorly, but so did Defoe. There were no guarantees that taking another man out from deep wouldn’t have backfired for Villas-Boas.
Although Spurs need more from their frontman than just goals. It sounds absurd, doesn’t it? But this Defoe argument isn’t anything new and the answer hasn’t become any different, either. Adebayor bagged 17 league goals last season, but perhaps more poignantly, he set up another 11. Defoe, even though many appearances came from the bench, set up one solitary league goal.
This isn’t some form of urban myth. Emmanuel Adebayor isn’t as prolific as finisher as Jermain Defoe, but he has the better all round game which is a far more valuable asset in whichever team he’s in. Be it the 4-4-1-1 of Harry Redknapp or the 4-2-3-1 of Andre Villas-Boas, the outcome is still the same. Supporters will see more out of their team if the Togolese starts football matches. It’s hard being patient, but they must judge this side on when Adebayor is playing a full part within it.
How do you feel about things up tops for Tottenham Hotspur? Let me know what you think on Twitter: follow @samuel_antrobus and bat me all your White Hart Lane frustrations.