Back to his best
Two more goals from Emmanuel Adebayor last week took his tally to eight from his last 10 Premier League appearances. Adam Bate looks at how Tim Sherwood has brought the best out of the Tottenham striker and wonders how much longer both men can ride this wave of extraordinary form...
By Adam Bate with graphics by Sam Kallen
Last Updated: 21/02/14 12:17pm
Events at White Hart Lane are confusing at the best of times. Now Tim Sherwood has really got people thinking. Maybe football management is not that complicated. It turns out that you do just have to win your own individual battles, give it 110 per cent and make certain - absolute certain - you want it more than them. Heads on and remember to just go out there and express yourself.
Actually, that last one rings a bell. "I'm giving him license to go on the pitch and express himself," said Sherwood when asked to explain the recent form of Spurs striker Emmanuel Adebayor. Whatever the motivational tools behind it, the head coach's words of wisdom are certainly having the desired effect - the turnaround in fortunes has been remarkable.
Nobody epitomises the change at Tottenham quite like Adebayor. The Togolese forward had become a cause celebre for the disaffected during Andre Villas-Boas' reign by clipboard. Frozen out while new signing Roberto Soldado struggled to make an impact, he became a better player by the week - a rallying point for the uninspired and a symbol of the old Spurs many were keen to recapture.
The extent of the disharmony between Adebayor and Villas-Boas has since been made explicit by the player himself. The striker told Sky Sports: "I told him: 'Your ideas will not help the team'. I have had a chance to play for a lot of top clubs in my career and I know how it's supposed to be. I told him one v one and he didn't want to listen, and then I told him in front of the group."
No way back from there. But with the Portuguese coach gone, Adebayor has returned to the fore. Eight goals in 10 Premier League games have played a significant part in the 22-point haul that has kept Tottenham's top-four hopes alive. "I can't take the credit for him, Emmanuel Adebayor has to take the credit," admits Sherwood. "I have just given him the stage to go and perform. It's not as if he was never a good player."
While that last line is undoubtedly true, the transformation can hardly be overstated. Adebayor netted just five league goals last season, a tally he matched within seven appearances under the new manager. The brilliantly struck left-footed winner against Everton saw him overhaul that total and Wednesday's brace at Newcastle hammered home the point - Adebayor is one of the form players in the country. So how has he done it?
If Sherwood's self-styled image is simplicity personified, Adebayor is a rather more complex character with a biography that's a confusing concoction of personal tragedy and personality clashes. His problems with managers pre-date his arrival in England, but certainly didn't end there. Prior to Villas-Boas, there was a fall-out with Roberto Mancini at Manchester City, while Adebayor had also become a divisive figure at Arsenal long before his exit.
But to characterise the 29-year-old as a troublemaker feels incomplete. There is a talismanic quality and his impact under Harry Redknapp during his first season at Spurs was enough to make him a fan favourite. The popular perception is further challenged by the fact that Sherwood appears to regard his key forward as a model professional and one the youngsters in the squad should look up to.
"We're always asking for more but I'm not sure we're going to achieve that," said the Tottenham coach. "At the moment he's playing at the top of his game. His concentration and the way he trains is magnificent and he's been a joy to work with and a credit to himself and us since he's come back in. He's a great example to all young players."
Respect seems to be a vital factor when it comes to Adebayor and it was perhaps telling that Younes Kaboul this week highlighted Sherwood's playing career as an important quality in a manager. Empathy might be a prerequisite for getting the best out of Adebayor. Just as Redknapp's arm-round-the-shoulder approach rather than coldly-delivered tactical instructions drew a positive response, it seems that Sherwood is someone with whom Adebayor can identify.
"I know Tim quite well, so for me, to be honest with you, I was impressed because I know the manager, the person, the personality," explained Adebayor. "I know what he can bring into the club and we all see what he has brought into the club. For me, he is an unbelievable man, a nice guy with a huge character. He has been there for me since day one." Chuck away that clipboard and give the man a hug.
On the field, Adebayor has repaid this faith by showing that, as Spurs fans have long argued, he can offer something different. Whether it was dropping deep, as he did in the win over Manchester United, or providing the target-man outlet, his contribution to the team is one appreciated by colleagues. Adebayor can give a side that platform from which to play in the final third.
"Take away the fact that he scored the goals, he worked a lot of the team," said goalkeeper Hugo Lloris after the 3-1 victory over Swansea in which Adebayor netted a brace. "He made a lot of runs and created a lot of space around him. Sometimes when you are struggling in a game he's a good target, he can keep the ball and help the team to play higher up the pitch."
But Adebayor is a difficult player to categorise. Although possessing the frame of a target-man, at his best he is far from a static figure. Indeed, he possesses speed that belies his indolent reputation. For example, despite featuring in a team that includes speedsters Kyle Walker and Aaron Lennon, it was the languid Adebayor who recorded the fastest top speed - 34.46 km/h - in the win over Everton. It's a turn of pace that can make him unplayable.
Moreover, everything is going in for him. Among this season's regular scorers in the Premier League, the player with the best conversion rate in front of goal is not Luis Suarez or Sergio Aguero but that man Adebayor. The question now for a man not renowned for focus is what happens next. After all, keeping Adebayor's mind in the here and now is a trick that has befuddled better managers than Sherwood.
Perhaps the futures of the two men are intertwined in that respect. For while Sherwood required the short-term boost that Adebayor has provided in order to prove he had the credentials to be Tottenham's next manager, his long-term ambitions to remain in charge could well be scuppered by any downturn in the striker's form. For now, it's a happy marriage. How long it stays that way will go some way to dictating Tottenham's fortunes going forward.