Emmanuel Adebayor frustrates most football watchers because there is always the feeling that he can be so much better than he is. That sounds odd to say about a person that has played for great sides in England, France, and Spain, scoring a goal around every third league appearance, but it’s true. The story goes that Adebayor is the kind of player that is always doing just enough to keep his career going. When in need of a new contract or lucrative move he plays to his full potential, convincing a bevy of new suitors, before quietening down into his usual mediocrity. He was great for Arsenal before agitating for a move, initially endeared himself in Manchester before doing the same.
Tottenham are the latest club to feel the duality of the Togolese. In his first season for the club on loan from Manchester, he helped Spurs take the all-important fourth spot, with 17 league goals and 11 assists. A scorer, a provider, a solid veteran presence- and it seemed that this time there would be no second season syndrome, although the haggling over wages that preceded his permanent move may have proved to be a bad omen.
The good Adebayor was sorely missed this season as Tottenham narrowly missed out on the Champions League, an over-reliance on Gareth Bale to score and create eventually saw them lose out to London rivals Arsenal. An Emmanuel Adebayor playing like in his initial Spurs days would have been a fine offensive weapon to pair with Bale, full of intelligent running and silky finishing. As it was it seemed that the striker only woke up too late, discovering a scoring touch towards the end of the campaign but contributing only five league goals all season.
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Some stats comparing Adebayor’s two seasons in the white half of North London show that he was just slightly more sluggish than usual. He is taking longer to create chances for teammates, he’s missing more clear opportunities, and he’s less willing to take players on. However, equally, some stats suggest that his effort is the same (keep in mind that Adebayor is always been a bit languid, a hugely aesthetic presence when playing well, but looks quite lazy when he isn’t). He’s passing the ball equally well, and his shooting accuracy has actually improved.
There would actually be no reason to give Adebayor the benefit of the doubt in this situation, especially taking notice of his past transgressions, but Spurs had gone through a bit of upheaval before the season started.
Andre Villas Boas’ Tottenham are quite different than Harry Redknapp’s. The offense kept the same potency, with 66 goals scored in both this season and last, but the side was more methodical, more tactically aware. Absolutely devastating on the counter but with the ability to be patient in possession. Is it possible that Adebayor fit more in Redknapp’s side?
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This season Tottenham won the ball back in the final third only 68 times, almost 50 times fewer than last season. They attempted almost three thousand passes fewer. The side defended compactly and broke with pace. Emmanuel Adebayor, with his long legs and elegant gait may not have been the perfect choice for the system. It is worth noting that Jermaine Defoe, with his speed, was far more useful in the system, taking a shot every half hour as opposed to Adebayor needing almost an hour.
Of course it is very difficult to fully ascertain what system fits Adebayor best over a top-flight football career spanning around a decade, but looking at his career there are some patterns. At Arsenal, Arsene Wenger was building a side around patient possession play, while at Manchester City, once Roberto Mancini came in midway through the season, the side also started to want the ball. Last season Tottenham averaged 57% possession, with much of it spent in the final third, Luka Modric recycling the ball. Last season they passed the ball forward 41%, involving strikers in buildup play far more. This season possession dropped to 53% (slight but this is over the course of a whole season and it often fell more in the big games where Spurs played on the break).
A final test may be to see some video evidence. Looking at some goals from his best Arsenal season, a lot were from intelligent runs or good movement and technique in the box. That comes in a more relaxed setting, where a side can move the ball from side to side and wait for opportunities to appear. Tottenham attacking frantically on the break requires a different set of skills from a striker.
A team’s style and system certainly has a bearing over how effective a player can be, but it can’t completely excuse poor performance. Emmanuel Adebayor simply hasn’t done as well as he could have done this year, looking disinterested for large parts of games. But the reasons for that may not be as simple as once thought.
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