Sooner or later, Tottenham Hotspur are going to have to do something about Emmanuel Adebayor. The dramatic nature of Leicester City’s late comeback on Saturday obscured the issue for a little longer, but White Hart Lane is audibly divided, polarised by his inconsistency.
It was the 71st minute when Adebayor was sent on in place of Roberto Soldado and the contrast in the reaction from the stands could not have been starker. Soldado had failed to score again, but the fans had seen him working and they applauded his desire. Then Adebayor appeared and the applause stopped abruptly. In its place came the sound of one faction enthusiastically cheering him onto the pitch, the sort of encouragement you’d give to a child in a family game of cricket when he’s been bowled out by his mum on three occasions already and looks close to tears. But alongside that encouragement, another faction booed loudly.
It’s sometimes difficult to understand pre-emptive booing, but not at White Hart Lane. In a relatively small stadium, demand always outstrips supply and the club can raise prices with impunity, certain that there will be someone else who can afford it. The cheapest season ticket at White Hart Lane is £795. The most expensive is £1,895. Adebayor is reported to be earning £100,000 a week. Little wonder that discontent simmers quickly here.
And yet when Adebayor is in the mood, he is worth that money and more. He’s powerful, he’s swift, he has the vision and the touch to bring others into play. Tim Sherwood may not have achieved much in his short spell in charge, but he did at least find a way to ignite his pilot light. After his ostracisation by Andre Villas-Boas, Sherwood put an arm around Adebayor and treated him like a star player. He even started saluting him in public. The man was practically unplayable for three months before fading towards the end of the season. But this inconsistency has been a pattern since he arrived at White Hart Lane.
Taking Adebayor on loan from Manchester City in 2011, leaving them to pay a significant portion of the wage bill, proved to be a smart move. It was rewarded with 17 league goals in his first season. Then Tottenham signed him on a permanent deal in 2012. That was a less successful move. The next season brought just five goals and that cold war with Villas-Boas.
Learning from the experiences of his two predecessors, Maurico Pochettino has leaned towards Sherwood’s example and has gone to great lengths to try and insulate his man from abuse, as yet without the same reward. On Saturday, he saw bursts of energy, a wayward snapshot from a poor cross, but no real cutting edge. But by that point, he had rather more to worry about than his striker’s performance.
It would be easy to dismiss Adebayor as just another sensitive footballer, a muscle-strapped diva who needs constant reassurance, were it not for his past. The horrific attack on the Togolese national team bus in Angola in 2010, in which three people were killed, still haunts Adebayor now. You wonder sometimes if we would be more understanding of the psychological impact if it were an English player who had lifted bloodstained team-mates out of a bullet-riddled bus.
But at some point, Tottenham have to make an objective decision. They are paying £100,000 a week for someone who has only scored five goals since the end of February last year and they are contracted to do the same until the end of next season. While Tottenham’s defence, the last ten minutes of Saturday notwithstanding, has improved dramatically and the midfield is both solid and creative, the front line is letting them down. Tottenham need a striker.
Adebayor, formerly of Arsenal, Manchester City and Real Madrid, and once courted by AC Milan, does not hold the same appeal to the big clubs now. There is little chance that anyone will want to match his White Hart Lane wages and there’s no incentive for him to break his contract early. Ironically Tottenham, who drew so much pleasure from taking Adebayor while his former club were obliged to continue paying him, may now find themselves in the same position.
You sense that Adebayor has lost some of the Spurs fans for good. You sense too that after all he’s been through, he doesn’t really care. There’s little point in apportioning blame to either side. Tottenham’s only concern should be the development of their team. Either they revitalise their striker or they cut their losses and move on. But they have to make a decision soon.