Since Andre Villas-Boas was sacked as Tottenham manager, one man has emerged from the shadows to become the key influence on Spurs’ success or failure this season. Only Emmanuel Adebayor can unlock the potential of this able but disoriented squad and manager, coach or whatever he is Tim Sherwood has placed great faith in the striker’s ability. So far it has paid dividends but it remains a big gamble.
Manu’s disappearance from first team contention remains the most telling indictment of AVB’s stubborn rigidity. In August, it didn’t seem to matter. Adebayor was last year’s model, barely worth a mention in the excitement that greeted the new era with all the shiny, gleaming signings. Chief amongst them was Bobby Soldado, an expensive marquee centre forward for whom we had searched for years, the stuff of myth and mystery, the holy grail at the end of a seemingly eternal quest who surely would convert the chances that came his way.
Through September we waited for the spark to ignite the flame. Manu was on compassionate leave after the death of his brother, then he was unfit. Supposedly: no one outside the club really knew what was going on and frankly few were that bothered. This was what he does – one season wonder, loses his appetite for anything except his pay cheque, moves on after a sulk. Anyway, we had Bobby, and wingers, and it was only a matter of time until it all settled down.
AVB was happy to blame the fans when it suited him but frankly the flaw in that scenario dawned on us far sooner than it apparently did on him. We had a Soldier but no goals. The system wasn’t working either. We needed a change, some variety, some bloody goals, but apart from one appearance as a substitute, Adebayor remained an outcast. There are rumours of an argument over Manu wearing a beanie to a team-talk. Whatever the truth of that, Villas-Boas appears to have willfully frozen him out at the expense of the well-being of the team and that is unreservedly disgraceful. The club comes before individual pride.
Sherwood brought him back. Call his formation what you like – 4-4-2 which Tiger Tim refuted in a garbled post-match conference after the Ars***l game – Adebayor is the fulcrum. It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that when Manu plays well, Spurs play well. They say you need to play to show off your skills. It’s also said that sometimes a player’s true worth is shown by their absence. Against W Ham, Adebayor managed both in a single game, transforming a dour, directionless Spurs into a free-flowing attacking force, target man and goalscorer with an eye-opening volley before coming off with Spurs apparently secure. Whereupon the Hammers took over the last 15 minutes and won 2-1.
That was the warm-up. Against Southampton he was mobile, involved and fully committed. Having a man to lead the line, who knew when to hold it, when to give it and could score too transformed the side. The following weekend, Manu had one of his static days, mooching around up front and we couldn’t break West Brom down. Goals aplenty versus Stoke, a match where the midfield excelled but they just had to look up and Manu was available for them.
Then United beaten and Sherwood coaxed even more from his centre forward. Now Manu was dropping back into a forward midfield position when we lost the ball, vital if we only have four in the middle. The importance of this element of his game and Sherwood’s tactics was reinforced in the NLD when we faded after a decent start. Adebayor was tired, didn’t work back enough and our opponents gained a grip on the centre of the park that they never relinquished.
So he’s Ifonly Adebayor again. Inconsistent, moody, frustrating. Sherwood has done extremely well to motivate him, appealing both to his sense of personal pride in his performance and to the most base of emotions, revenge. Judging by his efforts against West Ham and Southampton, if we could somehow have harnessed Manu’s anger to the National Grid, the nuclear/fossil fuel debate would have become redundant.
Sherwood sees his task as getting Adebayor to play to his best, “go out and do what you do best” or something similar were his comeback instructions. That’s fine but only up to a point. It’s a mistake to see Adebayor as an enigma. He’s a known quantity: we know he will be inconsistent. Not only that, we also know that it’s hard to predict how he will perform on any given day. It may be apparent to people within the club, I don’t know that of course, but that’s how it appears.
This has been the case since he came to this country. A couple of months before he turns thirty, he’s not going to change now. I doubt very much if there are some magic words, some pre-existing conditions, a carrot or a stick that will change him. He’s magnificent, a world-beater, he’s lazy and lacks committment. Adebayor is a contradiction you can’t resolve. That is who he is.
You can’t rely on him and that’s the problem, because that’s exactly what Sherwood is doing. He plays a key role in Sherwood’s formation. He scores goals, makes them, makes space for others by pulling out wide. He slots back deeper when we lose it, defending from the front. Giving him such responsibility is asking for trouble because he’s never been consistent and at the moment we don’t have a fall-back or an effective back-up plan.
Can I say what I am not saying? Sherwood is doing a decent job at the moment with what he has available, and he has limited options up front with Defoe on his way to Canada, so I’m not saying Tim should not play him. I would pick Adebayor and would have back in the autumn as it gradually became clear we had lots of providers of chances but no one on the end of them. I’m also not saying Adebayor should be excused criticism: there are countless times when I despair at his lack of application.
The one thing we know for certain is that Manu will always let you down and so Sherwood needs to look long and hard at plans B, C and D. This could be as straightforward as reinforcing the midfield because a player with a more defensive outlook could provide the cover for Adebayor to do his thing and to compensate if Manu isn’t working back.
Sherwood has put considerable faith in his centre forward. I would like to say to Manu that he should work his backside off to repay his manager. Sadly I know that is never enough. How often have we heard managers moan about the ‘if onlys’. I don’t want Tim to become like Allardyce, creating a team around a centre forward and having nothing left when he’s out except whinging and a redundancy package. You can’t rely him so don’t put all your eggs in one basket.