Football is a grand illusion. We watch with so much of our hearts and minds that it seems impossible that we don’t know these people, but do we really? Do any of us really know Adebayor? Aaron Wolfe discusses
I first met Emmanuel Adebayor in Madrid in 2011. It had been a magical year, and the night was just one of those nights that seemed to promise that it will always be this way — we’ll always be under the lights at the Santiago Bernabéu for the Champions league quarter-finals.
As the anthem blared in my ears on that Wednesday afternoon in Brooklyn, I sipped my beer and studied the faces of our opponents. Like in a police line-up the usual suspects were revealed in front of us until the camera passed a face unfamiliar to me: a tall dark man with an African name.
The announcer chuckled about Mourinho’s potential master stroke of including a man “once the scourge of the Spurs in an Woolwich shirt.”
Five minutes later I met him.
A cross from Angel Di Maria was ferociously redirected into the back of the net by a leaping Adebayor. He came from nowhere as though to remind me it will always be this way: you will always be punished, you will always be losing, I will always own you.
For the next forty-five minutes or so it seemed like every ball into the box was met by that Togolese head. Always, always, flashing on to the frame as though weightless and invisible. He was teasing us, playing with us, I thought, drinking my next beer and then my next.
When Marcelo lofted the ball into the area and Adebayor calmly elevated passed William Gallas to pop the ball beyond a flailing Heurelho Gomes, even the Gooner bartender took pity on me by stifling his smile and asking if I wanted another pint. I did.
[authquoteleft text=”He came from nowhere as though to remind me it will always be this way: you will always be punished, you will always be losing, I will always own you[/linequote]
I next met Adebayor in a lilywhite shirt. Once again he was involved in a promise, and once again the promise involved Champions league. Over the 2011-2012 campaign he netted 17 times for us securing fourth place and another year under the European Nights. We celebrated him, carried him in our hearts — the marauding wonder that lifted us, once more, to glory.
Of course, the promise was broken. But this time it was broken by the impossibility of Chelsea’s win against Bayern Munich.
In 2012 we seemed to bump into each other a few more times, but something had changed. There was the ACON walkabout, the partnership with Defoe, and then there was AVB. We moaned, we scratched our head. Where oh where, had our Adebayor gone?
Last summer I sat in my office at work, thinking about our mercurial striker. The word on the Tottenham forums was that he was selfish, money-hungry, lazy, a gooner, a waste of energy. He would never feature for Spurs again, we should sell him for a couple of quid and wash our hands of him.
But something about those arguments never sat right with me. Yes, Adebayor hadn’t scored much in the 2012-2013 season, and yes he seemed to disappear for a time in the winter. And yes, he did indeed once play in red, and yes, he punished us so clearly and powerfully in the Bernabéu, but there was something baseless about the ravishing of Ade, and the glory that was being heaped on Defoe in the same breath.
That day in my office I began tallying numbers. At the time, I didn’t know sites existed that did this sort of thing, so I did it on paper, longhand. I figured out goals scored per minutes, shots per attempts, shots versus assists, etc. I did this for Jermain Defoe and for Adebayor. I assumed that Defoe would be far superior in the 2012-2013 season. What I found was astonishing: they were, in fact, statistically identical.
there was something baseless about the ravishing of Ade, and the glory that was being heaped on Defoe in the same breath
When I posted my findings on a Tottenham-fans’ Facebook page I got two distinct types of response. The first was that people were tired of talking about Adebayor he was on his way out and he’ll never play in a Spurs kit again. And the second type of response was that statistics are a plastic fan’s way of seeing the game and you have to be in the Park Lane to see that he’s clearly a gooner in disguise out to get us.
He’s lazy! They screamed. But those runs in the channel that he does, the way he attacks the ball, the way he moves, allowing others into the box, creating space, I thought. I must be a plastic fan, though, I mustn’t know anything. I fell silent.
Then there was Instagram, and Twitter, and his brother died, and he smoked a hookah, and Benny laughed, and Ade threw up fingers that you’d have to be an NSA agent to decode the message that people swore up and down he meant.
Finally, we were reintroduced to Emmanuel Adebayor when Tim Sherwood took over. Suddenly he was magic again. Suddenly he’s Tottenham through and through. Suddenly he’s scoring for fun. Suddenly we love him.
By now we’ve all seen the video of his interview. Maybe we’ve even posted about how we choked up while watching, how our eyes have been opened up about how ‘class’ he is. We lean in to hear him talk about the horror of watching his friends die. We nod hearing him refuse to criticize AVB. We smile, knowingly, when he speaks of the joy he gets from playing.
Football is a grand illusion. We watch with so much of our hearts and minds that it seems impossible that we don’t know these people. I read once that the part of our brain that we store celebrities’ faces in is the part reserved for our closest, oldest friends and family.
This explains the feeling we get when we see their faces. I remember walking out of a cafe in Greenwich Village as Mike Myers walked in. I remember almost wrapping him in a hug because I was seeing a long-lost close friend.
If that’s where we store our friends, where do we store our enemies?
[authquoteright text=”Adebayor has lived in our hearts as friend and as enemy. Perhaps for some of you he has lived longer in one spot than another[/linequote]
There is one thing that I can say with utter confidence about Emmanuel Adebayor: we don’t know anything about him. We know he scores for us, that he plays for us, and that sometimes he deals with things in his life in the way he needs to deal with them. That’s all we know.
And that’s all that should matter.
Adebayor has lived in our hearts as friend and as enemy. Perhaps for some of you he has lived longer in one spot than another. But he is a player. A footballer. He scores for the shirt that he wears.
After I performed the statistical analysis of Ade I wondered if it was only that he was a gooner. I wondered if we hated him only because he punished us so frequently once upon a time. I wondered if, in fact, there was a darker, grimmer, source of our ire. Lazy, money-grubbing, mercenary, not one of us. I hope I’m wrong.
He’s scoring for us again. Which makes me and the rest of you happy. I’ve always liked Adebayor, always held him in the place of my heart that is reserved for family and friends. I’m happy to see him score with pleasure, and I’m happy to see him nominated for player of the month.
And I sincerely hope that the next time Adebayor’s real life takes over, or he loses his goal scoring boots, or gets lost in the forest of his mind, we all afford him a little kindness.
[author name=”Aaron Wolfe” avatar=”https://www.thefightingcock.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Screen-Shot-2014-01-09-at-18.16.32.png” bio=”Aaron Wolfe is a screenwriter, storyteller, film editor, and proud new dad from Brooklyn, NY.” twitter=”aaronwolfe[/linequote]