April 12, 2013
I feel like I need to start this article with a whole load of caveats, but I’ll try to avoid that. I apologise in advance for rambles and tangents. Thanks to the stress of supporting Spurs, I, like many of you I’m sure, didn’t get much sleep…
I’m regularly asked on Twitter why I ‘defend’ Emmanuel Adebayor despite his apparent lack of quality and effort. It is impossible to answer that appropriately in 140 characters so here are some hastily put-together thoughts that have been running through my brain overnight, amidst a barage of online abuse for the Togolese striker.
Firstly , I guess I do find myself defending him. This isn’t because I have any particular regard for him as a person or even as a player – he has, in the past, shown signs of being greedy, money-motivated, career-driven, uncaring about his clubs and their fans; in other words, a typical footballer. However, he is also a footballer whose abilities benefited us last season, and should theoretically be able to benefit this season and beyond.
Let’s not sugar-coat it, it was an awful penalty. He tried to take the unsavable penalty – high and into the corner. He ended up leaning back after a stuttering run up and got under the ball. Is it, as I’ve heard people say, ‘inexcusable for a professional footballer to miss the target from such close range’? Does this make him a bad player? Of course not. Even Messi missed the target from the penalty spot against Chelsea last season. Clearly, players don’t just try to hit the target – they try to place it so far away from the goalkeeper as to make sure of scoring. Did he miss deliberately? Of course not. A man with his ego would love to have scored and been one of the heroes.
Reasons to dislike
The swathe of popular opinion is currently against him, let’s make that clear from the outset. He’s ex-Arsenal; he’s shown signs of being a mercenary in the past (and therefore it’s easy to apply this to him now); he doesn’t tear around the pitch like a Scott Parker, a Didier Zokora or a Steffen Freund; instead, he has a languid, laid back style – somewhere between Berbatov and Kanoute – that can be seen as arrogance. Essentially he’s pretty easy to dislike, and the above reasons make him an ideal scapegoat for many.
Reasons to like
Last season he excelled. He was a vital player to us – after Kaboul and Modric, he was probably my player of the season. His goals were vital, his assists were vital, and his all round link play (and understanding with Bale, Modric and Van der Vaart in particular) was vital to our (moderate) success.
This season so far
This season, it’s true, he has suffered. Some reasons for this might be:
- a lack of pre-season due to his protracted transfer (be that due to him holding out for more money or otherwise);
- initially being unable to put together a run of games, due to injury / suspension / Defoe’s form;
- playing with Defoe, a player notoriously unable to form partnerships;
- playing without Van der Vaart and Modric, players he so enjoyed playing with last season;
- a lack of confidence caused by all of the above.
The last reason, for me, being the most important. Tellingly, AVB said in the build-up to the Basel game:
“Finding the back of the net allows him to go into the game with more confidence and I always think it’s self-belief from the player, rather than anything else that helps them improve.”
Adebayor the player – nuance
It seems an irritatingly snobbish thing to say, but a lot of his good work does go unnoticed.
Fans get frustrated by his indirect play – he’s not a player who is constantly in the box poaching, for example. But his hold-up and link play, ability to drift wide (dragging defenders away and creating space for others), and his awareness of his teammates are impressive. He will often be the one to make a run to drag a defender away, which indirectly leads to a goal.
He encourages midfielders into the opposition third by dropping deep and creating a focal point/platform for them to play into, and receive the ball back from. We have seen a lot less of that this season due to the sales of Modric and Van der Vaart. Instead, with Bale playing centrally, we are often more direct and will not build in such a slow, patient way. But last season Adebayor was integral to our possession play in the opposition third, and if we do sign a Moutinho-like player, it is essential that we have someone like Adebayor for him to link with.
The attitude / work rate
Some football fans love players who visibly put effort in – who work hard for their club, and do what we as fans would do as a bare minimum were we ever lucky enough to play for the club we love. It speaks volumes that Scott Parker won our Player of the Year last year: a player who almost has to drag himself off the pitch every week, such are his endeavours. A player who gained favour by charging around for 90 minutes, winning the ball back and passing it five yards to the supremely-talented Luka Modric (OK, that downplays him a little, but you see my point). Parker, a player whose own limits have been (almost cruelly) exposed this season by the lack of Modric alongside him.
The antithesis of Parker is the ‘lazy’, uncaring Adebayor. He is not a player to try to rush defenders by pressing them at every opportunity or chase back into midfield if he’s not successfully in retaining possession. But how many strikers are? And do we want them to be? There MUST be a balance between the above, and conserving energy for other areas of the game.
Of course that totally ignores the other types of effort that often go unseen: movement off a defender to show for the ball, movement into the channels to drag defenders around and create space for others, the strength and endurance of constantly holding off brawny defenders.
I’m not saying he’s a workhorse and that people just don’t notice it – of course there are harder working forwards who visibly ‘put more effort it’, to put it simply – but to call him lazy is, in my opinion, unjustified and short-sighted.
Worst striker, etc
I’ve seen it said on Twitter and on forums that Adebyor the worst striker we’ve had in recent seasons. Have we improved so much that we have forgotten some of the dross in our recent past? Our current squad is probably one of the most, if not the most talented we’ve had in my lifetime (I’m not yet thirty), and Adebayor is certainly not one of the worst players within it.
He has played for Monaco, Arsenal, the modern-day Manchester City and Real Madrid. Were he to leave, it would almost certainly be to a club participating in the Champion’s League. He is a very talented player – he may not have a skill-set that tallies with what some fans want to see in a forward, but to criticise his technical ability and all-round game is pretty ludicrous, in my opinion. By all means have an opinion about what you want to see from our forwards, what you want to see him do more or less of, but worst striker in x years? Really? It’s also important to look beyond form – all players have ups and downs, just look at fan-favourite Defoe, who seems to suffer from dips in form more than most. Or more recently Jan Vertonghen, who was absolutely outstanding in March, but has had a pretty appalling April so far.
Of course, most football fans will, knowingly or unknowingly, have agendas. If I’m honest, my own is based on youth players; because I follow the youth teams, I like to see products of our academy involved in the first team squad. Rightly or wrongly, I call for them to be involved (be it from the start of games or from the bench) on more occasions than other fans might. For example, I have frequently called for Tom Carroll to be involved in games when others might not think he is ready yet.
Many fans seem to have an unwavering agenda with regards to Adebayor. For years he was the unfortunate victim of a deeply unpleasant song, shamefully sung by a section of our fans – he was a hate figure, as he played for the enemy. Some fans would simply never take to him, simple. However, the level of negativity towards him – even after a successful first season is confusing – particularly when the leeway offered by fans to similarly under-performing players is clear to see.
Defoe and Acebayor have a similar scoring record since the turn of the year, but whilst Defoe’s name is still sung out even when he is sat in the bench, Adebayor’s name is sometimes booed when read out by the stadium announcer prior to matches.
Clearly Defoe has earned affection – scoring regularly over a lengthy spell at the club, and showing what appears to be a genuine passion for THFC. On the other hand, Adebayor is perceived as a mercenary who stops trying after becoming too comfortable at hus clubs – or so the press’ narrative would have us believe. And so it goes – agendas are built on perception, a player’s lack of confidence is perceived as not trying, and the vicious circle continues.
As mentioned, I have no attachment to Adebayor as a player or person and, so long as we replaced him adequately, I couldn’t care less if he was to leave in the summer. In fact, I think it’s probably for the best that he does, such is the job in ‘convincing’ our fans that he would have ahead of him were he to stay.
I just hope that we aren’t cutting off our nose to spite our face. Were we to sign a Moutinho type or a van der Vaart type, we may end up greatly missing a technically-gifted forward who can play one and two touch passing football, bring talented attacking midfielders into play, and who has the ability and intelligence to draw defenders out wide and create space for others.
The negativity towards Adebayor (I heard boos when his name was read out at Swansea – I thought our away fans were meant to be steadfastly supportive?) is, in my opinion, depressing.
More so because it is so obvious to me that Adebayor is a confidence player – a player who is bubbly, bright, and plays well when his metaphorical tail is up, and who suffers when things are not going so well – on or off the pitch. To get the best out of him, we need to get behind him. Can I see that happening? Unfortunately not.
We all want what is best for Tottenham Hotspur – we just have different opinions on how we achieve it. Even if you disagree with my opinion that Adebayor is a player affected by confidence, and instead think that he is an arrogant mercenary, consider whether you think that moaning, groaning, booing and jeering has any chance of helping him improve his form. Alternatively, what if I’m right? What if our collective support can help to get an extra 5% out of him? What have we got to lose?
This seems a good time to mention the 1882 event coming up. If you fancy being a part of a crowd who will sing for the lilywhite shirt of Tottenham Hotspur, regardless of whether the player in it is Ledley King, Emmanuel Adebayor, or Kenneth McEvoy (who?), then you should read this, and come along to watch our U21s take on Arsenal at Underhill.