Tottenham's complex Adebayor thriving under Sherwood
Two memories of Emmanuel Adebayor, both involving buses, sum up the enormous contradiction of the man who, enjoying yet another new dawn, has scored six goals in eight games since Tim Sherwood became manager of Tottenham Hotspur.
Adebayor has become the icon of this new Spurs, his ostracism under the previous regime an emblem of the lack of man-management skills that supposedly undermined the Andre Villas-Boas project, his surge of form read as an endorsement of Sherwood's back-to-basics approach.
The first was an incident that took place in Cairo in 2006 after Togo, which had just qualified for the World Cup, had lost its first game of the African Cup of Nations 2-0 to DR Congo. Adebayor, who had completed his move from Monaco to Arsenal shortly before the tournament and had been the hero of Togo's World Cup qualifying campaign, didn't play.
As a group of journalists hung around outside the stadium waiting for interviews, we became aware of a kerfuffle on the bus and, looking up, saw Adebayor holding the Togo coach Stephen Keshi by the throat as teammates sought to pull them apart. What their dispute was over was never satisfactorily explained, but the lesson was clear: Adebayor falls out with coaches.
The second was in Nelspruit in January last year, after Togo had drawn 1-1 against Tunisia to reach the quarterfinal of the Cup of Nations for the first time, Adebayor spoke with authority and gravitas about what it meant for the country and the team after a previous Cup of Nations experience, in Angola three years prior, when a gun attack on the team bus had left three people dead, including Adebayor's close friend, press officer Stan Ocloo.
Adebayor spoke of how he had cradled Ocloo as he died, how for three weeks afterward he hadn't been able to eat, how for months afterward he had thrown himself to the ground at every unexpected noise. This was Adebayor the leader, the man who, despite regular frustration with both the Confederation of African Football and his own federation, has emerged from tragedy to carry his nation forward.
Those who would use Adebayor to demonize Villas-Boas miss the point, but so do those who claim he is simply a hopeless case who plays when it suits him. His story is complicated.
At Monaco he had fallen out with two coaches, Didier Deschamps and Francesco Guidolin, even before his move to Arsenal. Arsene Wenger became frustrated with his dip in form towards the end of the 2008-09 season, which eased his move to Manchester City. Adebayor himself, it may be remembered, had become so disaffected with Arsenal fans that when he scored against them in his fourth game after moving, he ran the length of the pitch to celebrate provocatively in front of them.
Adebayor scored 14 goals in 25 games that season, but only made two appearances the following year and was loaned out to Real Madrid. The next season, having fallen out with Robert Mancini -- and he is hardly alone in that -- he was loaned to Tottenham, with City covering part of his salary. After a permanent move had been agreed, though, Adebayor's form fell away, and he never seemed as comfortable under Villas-Boas's management as he was under Harry Redknapp's.
A stupid red card away at Arsenal, that saw a 1-0 lead transformed into a 5-2 defeat, seemed to sum up his recklessness. Last summer, Adebayor was granted compassionate leave by Tottenham following the death of his brother, Peter. He missed a large part of preseason and the start of the season itself arranging and then attending the funeral in Togo.
He returned in September and was consigned to training with the reserves, seemingly for having refused to remove a hat during a team meeting -- surely a triviality that stood for a host of other tensions. What was clear was that Villas-Boas had given up on him. Perhaps the manager was cold and unfeeling to a man who has suffered more than his share of misfortune and grief, or perhaps Adebayor does just fall out with everybody in the end, but more likely the truth is a mixture of both.
Intriguingly, though, the one manager Adebayor never fell out with is Redknapp. Perhaps that's simply because they didn't work together for long enough, but it could be that Redknapp's arm-round-the-shoulder avuncularity gets the best out of him, that he needs a manager to tell him he's great and let him get on with it, rather than being burdened with the complex strategies of a Mancini or a Villas-Boas.
Happily for him and for Spurs, Sherwood seems cut from the same cloth, preaching a doctrine of keep-it-simple 4-4-2. The sample size is small, but stats from whoscored.com show that no striker at any of the top seven clubs in the Premier League has a chance conversion rate as good as Adebayor's at the moment -- 33.33 percent; even Luis Suarez is only on 22.92 percent.
Whether it will last is another question, but, for now, Adebayor is in form, scoring goals and having fun. Whatever else Sherwood's reign may bring, he has at least breathed new life into one of the Premier League's most gifted but complex strikers.