UPDATE: I just finished researching and writing this before I read the news about Nacer Chadli. That wonderful update notwithstanding, I still think this article makes a good point regarding Adebayor's ability to contribute this season.
The Case for Adebayor
With just under one month remaining until Spurs’ season opener, fan tensions are starting to rise over the lack of attacking reinforcements over the summer. Though fans were delighted to see Spurs make an early summer swoop for the talented Brazilian Paulinho, frustrations have risen with Daniel Levy over a perceived lack of transfer market effort.
First there was the almost-certain deal for David Villa, which fell through when Atletico Madrid gave him a personalized approach and the opportunity to stay in La Liga. Then there was the short-lived, yet still agonizing, "pursuit" of Aston Villa striker Christian Benteke. Though Benteked seemed like he wanted to come to Spurs, he had a sudden 180 just a few days ago and signed a new contract extension that included a raised salary and (likely) a higher release clause. Within hours of learning of this, Spurs fans caught wind of even more depressing speculation when, upon the stepping down of Barcelona’s manager Tito Vilanova, view-hungry newspapers and web tabloids began immediately linking Andre Villas-Boas with the vacant position.
With the furor over these "stories" wearing off, Spurs fans must now look ahead toward the start of the 2013-14 Premier League Campaign. With still a month left, fans will certainly ride the rollercoaster of headlines and gossip as Tottenham is predictably linked with every piece of gossip related to a forward until the transfer deadline. But while fans continue to clamor for a top-rated striker at a Spurs-rated price, there’s a reasonable case for continuing on with the talent we have on the books already. While I’m not suggesting we settle for going through an entire season with just two strikers, it seems that many fans have all-too-quickly dismissed the talents and contributions of our attacking duo. And while nobody doubts the abilities or effort of one Jermaine Defoe, it seems that our other man, the once-hero Emmanuel Adebayor, has quickly become a White Hart Lane afterthought. But should he? Let’s take a moment reflect on the early, recent, and future contributions of our high-wage striker:
Age and Contract
The general theory around Adebayor’s level of performance tends to go like this: The closer he gets to the end of a contract, the better he plays. This makes sense, of course, and is true of most players, as those who are heading towards contract years want to ensure a big payday when summer comes around. Even though Adebayor’s contract doesn’t expire until 2015, his own self-realization about his age should start to contribute to his gameplay mentality.
At 29 years old, he is starting to become a less desirable target. And while it’s unreasonable to think that any major club from the top leagues would shell out double-digit millions for his services, it is reasonable to suggest that an up-and-coming team looking to go to the next level would certainly seek someone of his profile. The reason his age plays a factor here is that, at 29 years old, Adebayor likely realizes that his next contract will likely be his last "long-term" (2-3+ years) signing.
Additionally, even though this is technically his 2nd-to-last year on contract, he must also realize that fans have, to an extent, written him off and he could become an unwanted burden on the wage books if Spurs add fresh talent up front. If Spurs start the season without a new striker, look for Adebayor to play to the top of his ability to prove his worth to the club before the transfer deadline.
A Quick Note on Ade’s History at Spurs
Adebayor was signed for 9 million pounds at the start of last season. He was coming off a contract-making season that saw him score 18 goals in 37 games, 17 of those in the Premier League, giving him a goal-scoring percentage of 49% - his highest since the ’07-’08 season for Arsenal and the second-highest of his career. Last year, however, we witnessed a huge drop off with Adebayor scoring just 8 times in all games, 5 in the premiere league, for a goal-scoring percentage of just 25% - his lowest since the ’05-’06 season that saw him switch from AS Monaco to Arsenal at the winter transfer window.
But are these numbers, depressing as they are, enough for us to write off Adebayor as a washed-up, overrated, too-highly-paid athlete for Spurs? The numbers may suggest it as a possibility, but upon closer examination, a lot of Ade’s problems from last year can be explained away – or, at the very least, excused to some extent:
Note: The following "game" numbers are related to games across all competitions, not just the Premier League.
Game 1 – Yet to sign a contract, still on the books at Manchester City
Then – 9 million, 3 year contract for Spurs
Games 2 & 3 – 2nd half sub, not much training under his belt yet, not in sync with teammates
Game 4 – Unused substitute
Games 5-9 – Injured
Games 10-11 – Late substitution
Games 12-14 – Injured again
Game 15 – 2nd half substitution
Game 16 – First start in all competitions – against Maribor in the Europa League
Game 17 – First start of the season in the Premier League against Manchester City – 80 minutes
Game 18 – First GOAL of the season, against Arsenal. Seems to have finally hit a rhythm – does a double-legged tackle, straight red card, 3 game suspension
Game 19 – Full 90 at Lazio, good contributions, good pace
Games 20-22 – Serving suspension
Game 23 – Europa league, full 90, GOAL against Panathinaikos
Games 24-29 – Starts all six games, has decent contributions, gets worn down over the busy Christmas, Boxing Day, New Year’s Schedule, scores against Reading
Games 30-31 – Adebayor distracted over ongoing reluctance/pressure over whether or not he’ll compete in the Africa Cup of Nations
Games 32-35 – Away at Africa Cup of Nations
Game 36 – Late sub
Games 37-40 – Two Europa starts and two Premier League starts – starting to regain Spurs form
Games 41-42 – Out with injury again
Game 43 – Goal against Inter in Europa League
Games 44-45 – Poor showings
Games 46-48 – Plays three full games, scores TWO GOALS – Basel and Everton, misses crucial penalty in shootout
Game 49 – Subbed after 71’
Game 50 – Injured AGAIN – recurring theme
Game 51 – Late sub again to regain form
Game 52 – Scores first half equalizer against Chelsea to keep our Champions Leagues hopes alive
Game 53 – Scores crucial late winner against stoke
Game 54 – Sucks with the rest of the team, can’t find the back of the net
What’s It All Mean?
Yes, it’s more than fair to say Adebayor had a bad season this last time around. But it’s also fair to say that there were so many circumstances contributing to it. He had a hard time keeping fit, was either injured or suspended for many games, had to work his way back into the first 11 after each stint out, and had to play in the Africa Cup of Nations. I know he’s a professional football and some mental and physical toughness through all of that is to be expected, but he did endure some circumstances beyond his normal range of control last year.
When you look ahead to next year, all signs point toward a season reminiscent of 2011-12 rather than his most recent campaign. There’s no African Cup of Nations this year and Togo are already out of the running for a World Cup Spot; so little, if any, international call-ups are on the horizon, which should keep his legs fresh and his mentality focused squarely on Spurs. With his age approaching 30 and his contract coming up, AND with Spurs looking to add fresh blood to the attacking ranks, he should also have all the motivation he needs to give Spurs his best and brightest.
It’d be foolish to say that Spurs don’t need a new striker at all, and it’s be foolish to say that Ade’s anything close to a sure thing. But he was once a top-rated striker and he has turned in performances worthy of his salary. It would be unwise to suggest that we should rest our hopes at Adebayor’s feet, but it’s not unfair to suggest that he has what it takes to lead Spurs attack this season.