By James McManus
The sight of Emmanuel Adebayor bouncing up and down on the touchline as he replaced Jermain Defoe in the 58th minute during Wigan's surprise 1-0 victory at White Hart Lane at the weekend was a familiar one, while the chorus of boos that greeted the decision, while not aimed at the player himself, perfectly encapsulated his current predicament.
The club's reliance on Defoe in recent times, coupled with the Togo international's own injury problems, have seen him occupy a marginalised role this term under new manager Andre Villas-Boas, leaving the Europa League as a much-needed platform for the player to prove himself all over again.
Recent club performances have been heavily scrutinised and though Defoe has returned a healthy five league goals so far this campaign, his ability as a lone frontman will never eclipse that of Adebayor. The diminuitive striker's work in the channels has certainly improved over the years but it is still not in the same league as the Togolese. And, with four goalless games behind Defoe, Villas-Boas is expected to use the game against Maribor as the ideal opportunity to give Adebayor more minutes.
The 28-year-old front man enjoyed a fantastic campaign at Tottenham last season under Harry Redknapp and a permanent move seemed all but assured.
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This has inevitably led to a slow start for the player, making just five substitute appearances in the league to date, and talk of unrest refuse to go away, with Goal.com exclusively revealing that the striker has made his feelings known to Villas-Boas as he continues to play a bit-part role at the club.
Villas-Boas' preferred 4-2-3-1 formation looked, on paper at least, to be tailor-made for the talents of Adebayor, while a return of 17 goals and 11 assists last season lends itself to the argument that he is the ideal focal point to have in your attack. However, Defoe has performed admirably in the lone striking role and his form has rendered his team-mate somewhat irrelevant up until this point.
The Portuguese boss summed up the situation in the press conference before the loss to Wigan: "Whenever he [Adebayor] came on he did well and he wants to be part of the team, but Jermain Defoe is doing well. In nine Premier League games, he has five goals. This is the kind of goalscoring ability that you want for your team."
|ADEBAYOR'S CAREER STATS
(Aug 01-May 03)
(Jul 03-Jan 06)
(Jan 06-Jul 09)
(Jul 09-Aug 12)
Real Madrid (loan)
(Jan 11-May 11)
(Aug 11-May 12)
So far Adebayor's season could be best categorised under the terms 'unfit, unhappy and unwanted', yet the game against NK Maribor presents an opportunity for the player to establish himself as a viable alternative to the England international.
The fact that Villas-Boas has been under pressure to achieve instant results has not helped his case either, with the manager less willing to blood new players lacking match fitness into the side.
Every result is under such close scrutiny, and he must be wary of trying to change too much, too quickly in light of criticism of his spell at Chelsea, with consistent results and selection the order of the hour this time around.
During a nine-game unbeaten run earlier in the campaign, talk of a rotation policy between goalkeepers Hugo Lloris and Brad Friedel dominated the news, with a fabricated rift creating tension where there was none and you can hardly blame Villas-Boas for trying to avoid a similar situation at the other end of the pitch.
Villas-Boas attempted to reassure Adebayor this week, stating: "Adebayor is one of the great strikers of the world. Certainly there is no interest in selling or loaning him in January. Unfortunately, it has not been working out for him this season because of injuries, but he is an important player. At the moment, we start with Defoe in a system that has given us some rewards, but Ade's chances will come."
In a career dogged by controversy, patience has never been Adebayor's strong suit, while a questionable character has also led him astray at times, but when presented with an opportunity to shine against an inferior side, he needs to grab it with both hands and force Villas-Boas into a difficult decision. If he does not, he will continue to resemble a shadow of the striker which terrorised defences last season.
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