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Emmanuel Adebayor: The Super Eagle who never was

15:40 GMT+3 26/02/2019
Emmanuel Adebayor the Super Eagle
Goal imagine what could have happened if the Togo international had pitched his international tent with Nigeria

The year is 2008, the month is January. Arsenal fans emit exasperated sighs as striker Emmanuel Adebayor departs London Colney for the Africa Cup of Nations in Ghana, a potential six-week absence. It is a wrench to leave, but the hopes of Nigeria's Super Eagles rest on his shoulders.

Wait, what?

Don't get taken out of the story: this is a parallel universe; Nigeria, under the management of German Berti Vogts, have designs on a third Afcon title, and Adebayor's scoring boots will provide the ammo needed for this assault.

Considering his Nigerian parentage, it has often been quite tempting to wonder what might have been had the Togo international, who turned 35 on Wednesday, opted instead to turn out in green and white.

At the peak of his powers, Adebayor was voted Africa's premier footballer, growing from the player former Togo coach Otto Pfister described as "not a natural goalscorer" to one of Europe's most devastating strikers.

However, to indulge in this fantasy, it would be necessary to truncate another.

Going back in time is, of course, a tricky business. While football remains a team effort, it is hard to see quite how the miracle of Togo's qualification for the 2006 World Cup would have happened without Adebayor.

He would have, at the time, been preoccupied with a rather more run-of-the-mill task: helping Nigeria successfully navigate a qualifying group that featured the might of...Angola. 

Os Palancas Negras famously pipped the Super Eagles to the post on head-to-head, but it could have been so different: low-scoring draws away at Gabon and Rwanda underlined the struggles of the then two-time African champions in front of goal.

Considering Adebayor was busy rattling off 10 goals for Togo in that series, he certainly would have chipped in. Could he have ensured Nigeria didn't miss out on the 2006 showpiece in Germany?

Back to 2008 then, with Nigeria drawn against Ivory Coast, Mali and Benin in the Nations Cup. That tournament in Ghana still holds the record for the highest scoring Cup of Nations in history, and is widely regarded as the gold standard in terms of entertainment and colour. 

Yet, in the midst of that, the Super Eagles were dull as dishwater, scoring only thrice in four games, and were in fact reliant on the already qualified Ivorians running up the score against Mali in the fjnal group game to squeak through the Group Stage on goal difference.

It puts into context quite how lean the mid to late noughties were in terms of goalscoring output, despite the fact that, at the time, Nigeria could call upon the likes of Yakubu Aiyegbeni and Obafemi Martins, both respected strikers in their own right.

For all their ability and profile in Europe, both struggled for consistency in key moments with the national team.

So often the man for the big occasion at Arsenal, Adebayor would have been the undisputed first choice upfront for Nigeria. While a partnership with Yakubu might have felt a little unnatural, he very likely would have hit it off rather well with Martins, a terrifying prospect given his stated preference for combining with a pacy partner.

It also might have prevented one of the most painful moments of the Yak's career: the infamous miss in the 2010 World Cup against Korea.

Misses such as those are not unheard of, and the manner in which it has been picked apart and harped upon does verge on cruel.

However, Yakubu might be accused of taking the chance for granted somewhat, a charge that could never be leveled at Adebayor, for all his faults: the gusto with which he celebrated a tap-in at the end of a barnstorming Theo Walcott run which took in more than half the length of Anfield in 2008 attests to that.

So sure, he would almost certainly have improved the Super Eagles' forward line, and provided Nigeria with its first African Footballer of the Year winner since his idol Kanu (that would have been yet another intriguing link-up: sorcerer meets apprentice).

How much would it have mattered ultimately, and what would it have done for his overall legacy?

All things considered, probably not a whole lot. In tangible terms, he might have made the difference in 2016 World Cup qualifying, seeing as the likes of Robert Akaruye and Ayo Makinwa featured in that series.

However, amidst the general dysfunction administratively, allied to the coaching flux and the lack of a consistent creative player, the broader outcomes would likely have been the same.

However, his legacy might have been impacted in one very obvious way: that six-week Afcon period in 2008 coincided with his hottest run of form for Arsenal that season.

Missing that due to international commitments would have impacted his final goal output, and likely would have tipped the voting for the African Footballer of the Year award in favour of runner-up Mohamed Aboutrika.

In an era that was arguably Africa's most prolific in terms of striking talent, that award cemented Adebayor as a part of the elite.

To take that away, even in the service of fantasy booking, would be rather unfair.