Last season saw Spurs' record striker signing Roberto Soldado flounder in the league, scoring only two goals from open play all season. Tim Sherwood promptly exiled the Spaniard and brought in Emmanuel Adebayor from the cold and the Togolese frontman repaid his faith with eleven goals over half a season. He did so well he almost convinced the world that Tim Sherwood knew what he was doing.
But here we are going into a new season under a new manager. We have three strikers in Adebayor, Soldado, and youngster Harry Kane. Everyone starts with a clean slate and everyone has a chance to prove they deserve to lead to line. After Soldado and Kane impressed in a pre-season that barely featured a malaria-stricken Adebayor, Ade surprised many by getting the nod on opening day. But should he really be our first choice striker?
If the sole metric for choosing a starting forward is "how many goals did he score last season?" then Adebayor's a no-brainer. But there's a lot more factors we should be looking at.
Adebayor's scoring record last season put Soldado's to shame. Absolutely. But Soldado's goalscoring record across his career is better than Ade's. They've each played about 350 matches, but in that time Soldado's managed to score 40 more goals. Adebayor scored more than 20 goals in all competitions only once in his career, seven years ago, all the way back in the 2007-2008 season. Meanwhile Roberto Soldado scored more than 20 goals in all competitions in each of the four seasons before coming to Spurs. He's done it more often and more recently. It's undeniable whose peak scoring ability is better. Soldado at his best is an elite scorer. Adebayor is very good.
Beyond scoring, Adebayor's hold up and link play are by no means terrible, but they're still arguably the worst on the squad. He's big and strong, but he has an abysmal first touch and can struggle to bring others into play. At Spurs Soldado has demonstrated that he even when he's not scoring, he can certainly be good at everything else a striker should do. Soldado's obvious relationship with Erik Lamela and Christian Eriksen are huge positives that Ade lacks. If we want to get the best out of our attacking midfielders, who can each potentially score 15 goals this season, then the best way to do that is to pair them with a striker who works well with them. It doesn't look like Adebayor is that guy.
Even if you think last year's performance should be the determining factor, it's important to take last season in context. Adebayor thrived in a very freestyle YOLO formation where he was allowed to do basically whatever he wanted and Tim would pray that it worked. Historically Adebayor can be very good when given license to do whatever he wants and is made to feel like he's the most important person in the world. But have we seen any evidence across Adebayor's career that he can thrive in a structured, disciplined team setup where he's required to do specific, unglamorous things like press heavily off the ball?
Pochettino's job is to put together a cohesive team unit to get the best out of the players he has. If he can get the best out of Soldado, he's going to be better than whatever the best version of Adebayor looks like. It's obviously debatable whether he can do that, but it's 100% something he should be trying. And even if he can't get Soldado back to being a 20 goal striker, the odds that Soldado's contributions are better for the overall health of the team seem much higher than Adebayor's.
So assuming that we can all agree Soldado should start ahead of Adebayor, what about Harry Kane?
The argument for Harry Kane is tougher to make, obviously, because he doesn't have history on his side. But again, Ade's a known quantity. We know what peak Adebayor looks like and it's good but not great. He's 30 years old, so his best days are probably behind him. He's on very high wages, so selling him looks unlikely. We're not putting him in the shop window and we're not hoping for a future version of Adebayor who's really awesome. There's no long-term gain to giving Adebayor minutes. The only benefit we get from Adebayor is what he brings that day on the pitch. Which is often a significant contribution, but it's not the end all be all. The biggest reason to start Adebayor regularly is to keep Adebayor from sulking so that when we need him when someone inevitably gets injured, he'll still be happy enough to play.