The success of the 2011-2012 campaign for Emmanuel Adebayor while on loan for Tottenham Hotspur seems ages ago, but can we attribute that to Adebayor having less to play for?
Emmanuel Adebayor, at 28, showed the Tottenham Hotspur faithful last season that he still had it, recording an attractive 18 goals and 12 assists in 37 appearances, and was duly brought in from Manchester City for a reported £5,000,000 fee (Source) for his efforts last summer. However, as the season draws to a close, Adebayor has failed to build on last season's loan spell, producing a modest 6 goals and 0 assists in 28 appearances. Some of this can be attributed to his shots attempted numbers significantly dropping: in 33 league appearances last season, Adebayor averaged 2.91 shots/game or approximately 3.04 per 90 minutes, while only averaging 1.4 shots/game or approximately 2.06 per 90 minutes in this season's 20 league appearances (Source). Much of this can be attributed to how much more Adebayor has been asked to hold up play and do more of the little things for AVB's 4-2-3-1 system. It is fair to say he simply hasn't had the same opportunities this season without Harry Redknapp's FRAAB tactics, but has worked just as hard much of the time in other areas. Also, opposing tactics have sought to limit scoring opportunities for Spurs more by putting more men behind the ball and limiting counter-attacking chances.
However, it is fair to say that Adebayor hasn't sparkled the same way this season as last season. He has seemed to disappear a bit more in matches and has missed some clear-cut goal opportunities. Subsequently, he has seemed to lack confidence for much of the season.
Emmanuel Adebayor's Inconsistent 2012-2013 Campaign
Let's take a look at the general picture of Adebayor's 2012-2013 season to get a better perspective. At the beginning of the season, he fought fitness issues, missing the first match of the season at Newcastle, then making his first appearance the next match as a 63' substitute for Rafael van der Vaart against West Brom on August 25. Over the subsequent 4 matches, Adebayor didn't play more than 33 minutes and didn't approach a 7 rating according to Whoscored.com (An approximate 7 rating or above indicates an above-average performance). Finally, Adebayor started and played his first 90 minutes of the season on November 11 in the Europa League against Maribor, recording a 7.07 rating (Source). He made his first league start of the 2012-2013 season 4 days later at Manchester City, putting in a solid 80-minute shift and earning a respectable 6.93 rating in a narrow 2-1 loss from an Edin Dzeko 88' stunner. Spurs fans will remember that match as the one in which Mousa Dembele did not play (although statistically Tom Huddlestone performed well) and William Gallas performed horribly as Michael Dawson's leadership and abilities had been underestimated by Villas-Boas to this point.
Spurs fans know what happened next. After scoring an early 10' goal against Arsenal on November 17th at the Emirates, Adebayor seemingly lost his head and threw all caution to the wind in a late and ugly tackle on Santi Cazorla, earning a straight red card in the 18'. Whether Spurs would have pulled out the victory with Adebayor is unknown, but Arsenal went on to score 4 unanswered to seal the 3 points and North London Derby bragging rights. Accordingly, Adebayor was hit with a 3-match league ban. In his absence, Spurs scored 8 goals - 4 of them by Jermain Defoe. Not only were Tottenham fans still upset with Ade for his mistake at Arsenal, they also may not have felt the need to consider him with Defoe in good form as the lone striker. After Ade's red card against Arsenal, he scored only 2 goals in 9 games and eclipsed that sought after 7.00 Who Scored? rating in 3 of those 9 games, giving statistical credibility to the fact that his form and confidence had been tarnished.
Next, Ade went to the African Nations Cup with Togo, which had all its own, well-documented drama. You can refresh your memory on the saga here when he wasn't going for these reasons, but then he eventually did go. Then, he showed up late upon his return from Africa and had that whole fiasco, eventually being fined for his tardiness. There was some hope, however, when he returned because it was generally thought that he had performed well in the tournament, scoring 1 goal in a good 4-match showing for Togo.
Unfortunately, Ade's poor form generally continued over the next 5 matches. He failed to score any goals while turning in average shifts, yet continued to work hard and do the little things that a striker needs to do to hold up play for Gareth Bale and co. Even so, in addition to lacking confidence,there is reason to believe that Adebayor may not have been very motivated, or had struggled to channel motivation into good performance on the pitch, for much of this season.
Emmanuel Adebayor's History of Motivation and Success
There is also evidence to suggest that Adebayor is only a valuable asset if he does have something to play for. Consider the beginning of his career at Monaco. He performed well there and had something to play for - the chance at playing at a bigger club, in a bigger league, with better pay. He earned all of those things with his transfer to Arsenal in January of 2006 for a reported £7,000,000 (Source). Once settling in at Arsenal, he had arguably his best season in the 2007-2008 campaign, scoring 29 goals and contributing 5 assists in 48 appearances, including 24 goals and 4 assists in the league. Consequently, Ade thought this performance deserved a nice, new contract - which he duly received following interest from Barcelona and AC Milan, to name a couple. He had played for his chance at a big, famous, reputable club, and earned it. He had played for an even bigger contract (and maybe a transfer to Manchester United, Barcelona, or AC Milan) and the respect he deserved, and he received it.
So what happened when Ade got everything he wanted? Well, his performance on the pitch suffered, and he knew it. He wasn't converting as many chances, and became less and less needed and desired at Arsenal, despite turning in a decent haul of 15 goals and 6 assists in 35 appearances, including 5 goals and 2 assists in 7 Champions League starts. Opta reflected on Adebayor's Arsenal career here.
Still, having underperformed to expectations and causing not a few internal issues, including disputes with teammates such as Nikolas Bendter, in his final season at the Emirates, he was sold to Manchester City for a handsome fee of £25,000,000 on July 19, 2009 (Source). Ade went out to prove his new contract and reward his new club for the favor they had shown him, tallying 14 goals and 3 assists in 26 league appearances in an emotionally-charged season for the striker, including the tragedy of the attack on his Togolese teammates' bus in January 2010. Adebayor also missed 4 league matches following a red card against Stoke that season, but he ended it well, bagging two braces in the run-in to the season finale in which City still missed out on Champions League qualification.
Unfortunately for Ade, Manchester City kept bringing in talented forwards. Carlos Tevez was a fellow summer signee in 2009 and overshadowed Ade during the 09-10 season with 23 league goals. Talented striker Mario Balotelli signed in August of 2010. Despite calling himself an 'awkward' player to manage, Adebayor vowed to fight for his time on the pitch in the 2010-2011 season with Manchester City. Then Ade's tendency for internal issues in a club began with a reported altercation with Manchester City manager, Roberto Mancini. Even so, Mancini insisted he was happy with Adebayor, even after poor performances. Even so, the writing was on the wall for Ade following an on-pitch row with Vincent Kompany against Wolves, and then a training ground altercation with Kolo Toure. He was subsequently loaned out to Real Madrid for the remainder of the season, where he had mixed success scoring 8 goals in 22 appearances.
Which all brings us up to last season's loan spell with Tottenham Hotspur where he dazzled under Harry Redknapp. And here is where it gets interesting, because I believe Harry Redknapp was the main reason Ade had such an amazing season. His tactics with the squad may have had a large part to do with it, but there is reason to believe Emmanuel Adebayor flourished under Redknapp:
"Harry Redknapp is a great manager and a great person. As a footballer it is really important to work with a person who really understands you, which is the key for me and he's one of the few who really understands me which is good for me."
"I'm in a club where everyone has confidence in me, everyone trusts me, everyone knows what I am capable of doing, which is important for me, and it's up to me to show them that they are not wrong."
Aren't those quotes interesting? I think they serve to really demonstrate how important it is for Ade to feel confident and at peace with where he is playing football. As we've already seen, his best seasons at Monaco, Arsenal, and Tottenham (2011-2012) came when Ade was confident and working towards a goal. After all, this was a loan spell, a chance for a fresh start away from the turmoil of Manchester City. Ade had another chance to play for, and was comfortable doing it. He flourished. And he earned a new transfer to Tottenham and a new contract. Only this time, it was under new manager Andre Villas-Boas, and the results haven't been the same.
Did he become complacent again? Lack the right motivation? Is it AVB's system and the job description for a striker in his system? Has he just not been able to get going in a comfortable, consistent pattern of football this season?
In a word, yes. I think all four situations have presented themselves at different times this season. I think Ade has struggled through injury/fitness concerns, lack of confidence, a sense of negative public perception, a strange and turbulent African Nations Cup, and an uncertainty for what his future holds.
But maybe something happened in those dying minutes of extra time with Inter Milan in the Europa League Round of 16. With 3 goals in the last 5 games, did something change for our beloved Togolese striker?
Yes, I think he has realized he does have a lot to play for. It may not be a new contract. It isn't a transfer to a bigger club. I think Emmanuel Adebayor realizes he is fighting to stay at a top 20 worldwide club. Emmanuel Adebayor is even fighting to stay in the Barclays Premier League. I think maybe he knows that this season has been a bad one publicly for him. I think he realized that a poor start to the season put him in a bad light, which required his manager, Andre Villas-Boas, to address that he still supported him. I think he also realizes that he messed up following the Africa Nations Cup, for various reasons that he could or could not control, and that that too shed him in a bad public light with fans and the club. Maybe he is also tired of hearing that many believe he will be sold off in the summer, considered by Dan Fitch to be in the "deadwood" category of needed transfers.
In defense of Emmanuel Adebayor, it is my speculation that his recent performance may indicate that he realizes he is at a crossroads in his career. One path, a good finish to this season's campaign with Tottenham Hotspur, leads to him staying a valuable squad member of a Top 4 Premier League team. The other path, poor form or other mistakes, leads to a sell-off in the summer in the search for a more consistent and productive striker. While I still believe there are more reasons than not to sell Adebayor in the offseason, I am interested to see if he excels down the home stretch of this season.
Lord knows we need him to. Because Europa League titles and Top 4 finishes don't come easy, especially without goals.