Manchester City outcast Adebayor finds peace of mind at Real Madrid
Emmanuel Adebayor is hoping for his loan deal to Real to become permanent
Adebayor insists he only left Arsenal because the club no longer wanted him
Adebayor has not played for Togo since Angolan rebels attacked the squad in 2010
Before he scored the first two goals in Real Madrid's 4-0 Champions League win over Tottenham Hotspur last week, Emmanuel Adebayor did what he does before every game. He thought of all the people that had written him off. It's not a short list. It starts with the friends of his parents back in Kodjoviakope, a Togolese town on the border of Ghana, who said he should not play soccerl, includes coaches at Metz and Monaco who criticized his attitude, and takes in senior figures at Arsenal and Manchester City, with whom he has not always seen eye-to-eye.
Even at Real Madrid, where he is on loan until the end of the season, Adebayor has been described simply as a stopgap: at best a temporary solution while Gonzalo Higuain was injured and Karim Benzema off-form; at worst, a pawn in coach Jose Mourinho's power-play with sporting director Jorge Valdano.
"I always think about the people who hate me, and those who have not backed me. It gets me motivated, and I say to myself, 'I have to show them that I can be a good footballer'," Adebayor told me in an interview back in 2009. It was not a coincidence, then, that after he scored his second goal, a looping header, he ran in front of the directors' box and pointed to the name on the back of his shirt. After all, before the brace against Spurs, his biggest impact at his new club had been provoking Benzema into playing the best soccer of his Madrid career.
"Of course I want to stay here in Madrid, it's a mythical club and I am very happy here," he said after the victory in the mixed-zone, agreeing with the suggestion that it was his best game for Madrid. Valdano has said that Adebayor will return to Manchester City in the summer but, aside from the fact that it might not be his decision to make, City coach Roberto Mancini has said he doesn't want him.
You can see why Adebayor would want to stay. He considers it a major point of pride that an African, one from tiny Togo no less, can earn a place in the most storied club in the world. He is only the fourth African -- after Samuel Eto'o, Geremi, and Mahamadou Diarra -- to play for Real Madrid. This status, and desire for respect, as a Togolese, has marked his career. "The fact that he has made it as a top player in Europe makes him very proud, and rightly so," Piers Edwards, the BBC's African soccer expert, told SI.com. "He has helped put Togo on the map."
Adebayor wanted to return to Togo when he first joined Metz at 16. He moved in October, it was his first time away from home, very cold, and only teammate Segan N'Diaye's persuasive words -- he told me: "Think about your friends in Togo, and how many would like the chance you have to play in Europe" -- convinced him not to return home.
At Monaco, where he was backup striker to Fernando Morientes and Dado Prso in the 2004 Champions League runners-up team, he suffered when Francesco Guidolin replaced Didier Deschamps as coach. Adebayor claimed the Italian sent him home after he asked to be excused from training because he had come straight off an eight-hour flight from Togo, where he was on international duty, and his limbs were sore. "I think you have to be Italian to get in the team," he told L'Equipe at the time. "People look down on me because I'm the guy from little Togo and I can't go on like that."
At Arsenal, he pre-empted any disciplinary problems when Arsene Wenger told him at their first meeting that he had been warned off signing him. "'I'm not a difficult guy,' I told him. 'I always say the truth and that's all.' But in football, if you say the truth, then you seem to have problems. That's why people say it's difficult to control Adebayor."
That issue confronted Adebayor after his best season for Arsenal, 2007-08 (which, not coincidentally, was his first campaign after Thierry Henry had left). When it was reported that AC Milan were interested in signing him, Adebayor was genuinely flattered, but his frequent mentions of it in interviews were clumsy. He signed a new contract with Arsenal, putting him among its top earners, but he lost favor with fans. That, in turn, upset him, and when he joined City for €26 million ($37MM) in summer 2009, there was relief all round.
Adebayor denied that he had sought to leave Arsenal. "The fans hounded me out, they pushed me out of the door as if I was a little kid who had never played before," he told Canal Plus last year. "I left because Arsene didn't want me any more. Arsenal bought me for €5 million ($7.1M) and three years later sold me for €26M, but I'm still the bad guy. The most annoying thing about the whole story is when people say I wanted to leave for the money. If I had really wanted to do that, I would have gone two years ago ... to Milan or to Barcelona."
At City, he started well, scoring winners against Portsmouth and Wolves, and key strikes against Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool, before he joined up with the Togo team competing in the African Cup of Nations. There, tragedy struck: on Jan. 8, 2010, Angolan rebels opened fire on the bus carrying the team, killing three members of the group, one of whom, communications director Stanislas Ocloo, died in Adebayor's arms. Adebayor was sitting just two rows behind Ocloo when the gunmen struck.
Adebayor told the BBC it was "the worst moment of my life" yet only three weeks later, he was playing again. He also spent time and money helping goalkeeper Kodjovi Obilale get treatment for his career-ending injuries (the Togo FA refused to pay for his transfer and subsequent six-month stay in a Johannesburg hospital). Hardly anyone mentions the bus attack now, perhaps because it was "only" Togo. But imagine if the same had happened to a European team at the World Cup: would a player be excused for every bad performance or at least allowed some grace given his trauma? Not so for Adebayor.
"We don't know if he has had any counseling, or just how deeply the tragedy affected the players involved," said Edwards. Adebayor has not played for Togo since, and was disgusted that the national federation forgot to invite goalkeeper Kodjovi Obilale, seriously injured in the attack, to the one-year commemoration of the shooting. "Maybe it also contributed to his moodiness at Manchester City," Edwards added.
Adebayor's next move is still up in the air. He is a player who needs to feel wanted, and given City have signed Mario Balotelli and Edin Dzeko since he joined, a return seems out of the question. Madrid, as part of the loan deal, have already agreed a €15 million ($21M) fee with City, but it may balk at his €6 million-per-year ($8.6M) salary.
It would seem that his fate is tied up with that of Mourinho, who fought Valdano to sign him in January. The Spanish press have claimed that Madrid will sign Fernando Llorente and Sergio Aguero this summer, but if Mourinho stays and Valdano leaves, everything could change. Adebayor is playing for his future in the next few months.
Ben Lyttleton has written about French football for various publications. He edited an oral history of the European Cup, Match of My Life: European Cup Finals, which was published in 2006.
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