The irony of the whole thing was not lost on me.
Adebayor. Mourinho. Reunited. In a trophy match. On the same team.
Oh, the irony.
Jose Mourinho said he was “tired, but happy”. This, after winning the Copa del Rey. Jose, after winning at least a trophy per season since 2003. After calling himself the Special One and proving it. Jose may have struggled to get to the top, but as least he’s won things.
Tired is when you come on for a tiring Mesut Özil and get booked for a Mascherano dive three minutes later. Ref Alberto Undiano, who AS described as “perfecto” after the game, was right there and should have noticed that Masch was tricking him. He didn’t. Tired is when you get called a cunt by Arsenal fans you’ve given your all to. This same Arsenal you gave thirty goals, the Goal of the Season and a PFA team finish not seen at the club since Thierry left.
Tired is when all these describe you. Tired is when your name is Emmanuel Adebayor.
When Ade won the African Footballer of the Year in 2008, he stayed a while in Accra, Ghana’s capital, before going to Lomé. For many, it was surprising that he should be in Ghana first. It should not have been: “I am Ghanaian-Nigerian-Togolese. I grew up in Ghana. I schooled in Ghana. Some of my best friends are here.”
So he saw to his ‘boys boys’, before sitting in one of several jeeps in a long, noisy convoy across the border, where his mother was waiting. When they got to his home, his mother smiled that smile – the kind that only was created for mothers and sons. This version of that smile had been created after Adebayor’s first trip out of Togo, twelve years ago now. He was fifteen.
“It wasn’t just about football; it was about a way out and a better life. At the airport my mum said, “Go to France and you can change the way this family lives.”
Then she smiled. Since then, it has been a silent password.
When he left Togo, Adebayor went for a youth tournament in Sweden. It was there Francis de Taddeo fished him out. Taddeo was Metz coach and he immediately got in touch with Camelio Akusa, a Togolese coaching contact in Togo.
Adebayor recalls: “This was the first time I was going to live in Europe. You can’t imagine how freezing it was in Metz. After one month I told the boss, ‘I’m very sorry but I can’t deal with this anymore.’”
“Every time after training, I can’t even take a shower, I have to be in my room with the heater on and clothes and everything. I started crying because I was 15. He said to me, ‘Can you imagine how many Togolese, how many of your friends, would like to be in your position?’”
Several years later, the world would know that Adebayor’s good friend, Samuel Eto’o, had also been in not too dissimilar circumstances. In his case, the Cameroonian was 15 when he landed at an airport in Madrid in 1996. But he was stranded, for Real Madrid had forgotten to send someone to get him. His dislike for Madrid since then is well known.
But back to Adebayor, whose journey to Metz made him instantly likeable – especially with the disarming smile he had. By 2002-03 he was known throughout the Germanic north-east of France as the emerging star. The emerging star who was always dancing to music: African, European or whatever. He took it all in. But his love for music got him into trouble – one that has set a trophy-less jinx on him until this Copa del Rey win:
Adebayor was 17 and was the top scorer of the Metz under 18s. Although he led them to take the league title and reach the cup final at the Stade de France, he had turned up for the pre-final meeting ten minutes late. He was wearing headphones when he walked through the door.
His lateness got him dropped. He was forced to watch the game from the stands. He had missed his trophy due to his love of music. Ade later said: “Music helps me play better; it’s the best way to take my mind off things.”
Ade was thin. He was tall. And he had the grace to dance, which he also used on the pitch. The next season after this cup final blip he danced his way to 17 goals in 35 games. Monaco took notice and allez partir: he was southward-bound.
But he left Metz with something to remember. When he first arrived from Togo, he had been given to Denis Schaeffer (director of the Metz academy) clothed in typical African garb from head to toe. On his way to Monaco four years later, he entered the Gare de Metz in a full leather dress.
He had changed. He was tired of the African dress, but never forgot it.
Adebayor’s impact at les rouge et blanc was not bang-bang, but he did help them to second in the Ligue One, and qualification into the Champions’ League group stages. From there, Monaco had its dream run to the final in Gelsenkirchen. Adebayor, in a 24 jersey, did not feature in Deschamps’ starting lineup – not with Dado Pršo and Shabani Nonda ahead in the listings. Ade had scored two in ten to help them get there, but he knew his place.
After the 3-0 loss to Porto in the final, Ade was a bit down. His first major cup game had gone bad. He called his mother. They spoke at length and he felt better. But not before promising Mama Adebayor that soon, he would win something to make her proud.
Unlike years before, it wasn’t a matter of winning to feed the family. It was a matter of upholding the family name – the family name borne in Nigeria but travelled across West Africa to Togo.
The coach who beat his Monaco side was the ambitious Jose Mourinho. Adebayor would not know that waiting would mean seven years. He would not know that waiting would mean nurturing under the idealistic Wenger and having a stint with the terse Mancini – all that before completing the merry-go-round to win under this same José Mourinho.
Seven years. Seven – the number of perfection. In that time he had moved from Monaco, where he had also had issues with the brass, especially sporting director Jean-Luc Ettori. The former France goalkeeper was not pleased with Adebayor placing country before club and regularly got the press to hound the Togonator. Yet, Ade’s commitments to his country led to their ever first World Cup and subsequently his winning of the BBC African Footballer of the Year a year later, in 2007.
And so when I saw the ‘tired’ quotes from José, I laughed. And then I called Aziz.
“Sheyi don finally win somtin oh,” he screamed in glee, in pidgin English, loudly into the phone. Aziz is Adebayor’s friend, one he has not lost touch with from all the way to when they schooled in the tough neighborhoods of Nima in Ghana.
Today, Aziz says he is a drummer/football organizer, whatever that means. In basic terms, he is a professional noisemaker for anyone willing to pay top draw to support any football cause. I know the two communicate, but I cannot verify Aziz’s claims that “Ade calls me every week.”
Whatever it is, Aziz was the man Adebayor trusted to work the masses after he was given the BBC. The word in town is that Adebayor gave Aziz $10000 for ‘sorting the old comrades out’. That was not much; he was being paid £35,000 weekly at Arsenal. And he was in a good mood to splash.
Ade was tired of the small life and the small cash, but never forgot it.
Contractual disagreements led to acrimony with fans and even though he did eventually stay, they were never satisfied. He played his heart out and finished as Arsenal’s second goalscorer. But he got tired of the constant allusions to his greed and when City came calling, he left.
There too, controversy would not leave him and despite being one of only six players to score in their first four games for a club in the EPL, Mancini pushed him down the pecking order. Edin Džeko, Carlos Tévez and Mario Balotelli were around, so they were chosen.
Ever tired of being the unfavored one, Adebayor was jittery, but he never forgot what City had done for him.
Coupled with the possible psychological damage after that attack in Cabinda, he knew needed new air and had to go. And the luck that saved him from death in Angola took him into the dugout of José as a stop-gap striker for Higuain. Now he’s won his first ever trophy since enplaning to France all those years ago.
When you see Adebayor in the Youtube clips celebrating the Copa Del Rey as if it’s the World Cup, you would understand.
He’s a tired man.
Somebody tell José that the word ‘tired’ as he knows it has just been redefined. It is long. It is thin. It’s in a number six jersey in the Los Blanco’s dressing room.
Gary Al-Smith is all about African football. He’s written for ESPN, ITV, kicker and others. Get him on Twitter.