Emmanuel Adebayor relaxes at home, cashing a weekly £100,000 cheque from Tottenham Hotspur Football Club, having not played a competitive minute of football for over six months. As he stands accused of choosing to stay off the pitch in exchange for a healthy bank balance, Ciarán Breen wonders if our condemnation is misplaced.
When Jamie Vardy notched his 11th consecutive Premier League goal in Leicester City’s 1-1 draw with Manchester United at the end of November, fans up and down the country applauded his achievement. Not playing for a fashionable top-six club, his feats drew praise across the footballing divides and, for a brief Roy of the Rovers moment, football was glorious again. Playground dreams could come true once more. In Vardy we saw ourselves and we rejoiced.
Meanwhile, in the days that followed, as the scandals surrounding FIFA grew ever darker and the net closed in on Sith Lord Sepp Blatter, there was another man whose off-the-pitch presence drew more column inches than anything he’s doing on it. His name is Emmanuel Adebayor. You may have heard of the Togo international – a man not renowned for keeping a low profile during a Premier League career that has taken in both sides of North London and the blue half of Manchester.
However, Adebayor does not inspire movie screenwriters to scramble to their desks to tell his tale, as is purportedly the case with Vardy, and I would doubt his name is that popular in English school playgrounds.
Reports last week suggested Tottenham have been paying the Togolese £100,000 every week since he was released by ‘mutual consent’, and will continue to do so until his contract expires next June. If Adebayor remains on the sidelines until then, he will have earned over £5 million to not play football. Adding fuel to the fire is the indication that Adebayor had the option to move to West Ham on transfer deadline day, but refused to leave Spurs unless they paid him the remaining £5m. Understandably unwilling to do so, Spurs appear to have reached an agreement to pay the remainder of his contract off in instalments, despite the fact that he has no role at the club whatsoever.
Predictably, and understandably, many fans of the game are up in arms at a player who has always divided opinion, wherever he has been. Why would a player who turns 32 in February not be eager to spend as much time as possible or indeed any time on the pitch as he enters the twilight of his career? This is surely a prime example of the excesses of the game and the alternate reality that footballers seem to occupy, right?
That may be, but our perceptions of the value or worth of individual players and whether their off-field behaviour should factor into those perceptions also seem to exist in a cognitively dissonant universe.
Whilst Jamie Vardy has wiped his rap sheet cleaner with every goal he scores (with racial abuse being the most recent and, I would argue, most relevant indiscretion), what has the man who once had an on-pitch spat with Arsenal teammate Nicklas Bendtner been doing with himself? Dividing his time between Togo and Ghana, Adebayor appears to have been mostly relaxing and enjoying life. However, he also recently arranged a charity match to raise money for his foundation, which ‘Empowers young Africans to shape the future of their continent’.
This is where the popular image of Adebayor as a self-involved, money-grabbing mercenary breaks down. The Sheyi Emmanuel Adebayor Foundation was set up in 2014 and sought to combine his various pre-existing philanthropic projects and charitable endeavours. For many years now, Adebayor has participated in government initiatives and development projects in Togo and is an ambassador for Vision Togo, a health and education charity.
Given the underprivileged background of the majority of professional footballers, through which eyes should we view both their accumulation and distribution of wealth? Additionally, how should we judge a working class player who has risen through the lower leagues of English football, now also earning thousands of pounds per week, but who gets caught in a manifestation of societal and cultural racism?
In contrast to fans’ willingness to ignore Jamie Vardy’s indiscretions because he hit an, at times magical, record breaking goal-scoring streak, Adebayor’s generosity appears not worthy of value or recognition both because he is earning so much for doing so little and because he is seen as not appreciating his good fortune and privilege.
In the case of Vardy, as football appears to be losing its soul, we want the working class boy made good story to be true so badly that we lose some of our own. With Adebayor, our collective feeling of betrayal, verging on disgust, renders us unable to empathise with someone who has trodden the road from rags to riches, whilst holding on to a deep connection to home and care for its people. If Hollywood is interested, they should cast both of them and call it, ‘Heroes and Villains’.
During his three-and-a-bit years at Arsenal, Adebayor made 142 appearances, the highpoint of which was being named in the 2008 PFA team of the year. In the almost six years that have followed he has only made a combined 173 appearances for Manchester City, Real Madrid and Tottenham. Does that make him a mercenary? Even as an Arsenal fan, I don’t really care anymore. Given the opportunities he’s had on the pitch, could Adebayor have made more of his career? Without doubt.
Nevertheless, while the governing body of the multi-billion dollar industry that is football stands accused of corruption, with a charge sheet including racketeering, wire fraud, money laundering and tax evasion, and when zero tolerance for racism means a little bit more than zero as long as you’re banging the goals in, Emmanuel Adebayor seems like the wrong fall guy.
Follow Ciarán at @keep_score