The Goal.com 50: Emmanuel Adebayor (27)

Goal.com's countdown to the greatest player of 2008 continues with a prolific but somewhat controversial striker : Emmanuel Adebayor of Arsenal.

50 - Ashley Young - Aston Villa, Premier League - Score: 1109
49 - Javier Zanetti - Internazionale, Serie A - Score: 1104
48 - Daniel Guiza - Fenerbahçe, Super Lig - Score: 1089
47 - Juninho Pernambucano - Olympique Lyonnais, Ligue 1 - Score: 1083
46 - Juan Román Riquelme - Boca Juniors, Argentine Apertura - Score: 1077
45 - Luca Toni - FC Bayern, Bundesliga - Score: 1064
44 - David Silva - Valencia, Primera Division - Score: 1060
42 (T) - Thierry Henry - Barcelona, Primera Division - Score: 1040
42 (T) - Daniel Alves - Sevilla, Primera Division / Barcelona, Primera Division - Score: 1040
41 - Antonio Cassano - Sampdoria, Serie A - Score: 1028
40 - Klaas-Jan Huntelaar - Ajax Amsterdam, Eredivisie / Real Madrid, Primera Division - Score: 1027
39 - Ricardo Carvalho - Chelsea, Premier Division - Score: 1025
38 - Samuel Eto'o - Barcelona, Primera Division - Score: 1017
37 - Philipp Lahm - FC Bayern, Bundesliga - Score: 1009
36 - Javier Mascherano - Liverpool, Premier League - Score: 1008
35 - Julio Cesar - Internazionale, Serie A - Score 1000
34 - Robinho - Real Madrid, Primera Division / Manchester City, Premier League - Score: 970
33 - Diego - Werder Bremen, Bundesliga - Score: 955
32 - Carles Puyol - FC Barcelona, La Primera División - Score: 915
31 - Wesley Sneijder - Real Madrid, Primera Division - Score: 887
30 - Daniele De Rossi - Roma, Serie A - Score: 878
29 - Esteban Cambiasso - Internazionale, Serie A - Score: 877
28 - Giorgio Chiellini - Juventus, Serie A - Score 870

27 - Emmanuel Adebayor - Arsenal, Premier League - Score 862

2008 was a pivotal year for Sheyi Emmanuel Adebayor - and certainly the most memorable yet in the career of the Togolese striker born to Nigerian parents in Lomé on 26 February 1984. Adebayor's year began and ended with disciplinary problems on the pitch, and was punctuated with controversy off it as, for different reasons, he briefly alienated both his national football federation and many Arsenal fans. But 2008 was also the calendar year in which he scored 30 times for Arsenal in all competitions, including two hat-tricks and his 50th goal for the club; hit four in one match for Togo; was courted by AC Milan and Barcelona; and secured a lucrative new contract with the Gunners that effectively doubled his salary.

He continues to polarise opinion, and some eyebrows have no doubt been raised that he finished this high in Goal.com's 50 Greatest Players Of 2008; but there can be no dispute that he is a colourful character who brings a particular dimension to the Arsenal front-line that is sorely missed when he's not involved. On the other hand, nor though can there be much argument that he still needs to convert a much higher proportion of the chances that come his way.    

A Startling Start

Having joined the North London club from Monaco in January 2006, and netted 27 times for them up to the end of 2007, Adebayor got 2008 underway with Arsenal's second in a 2-0 win at home to West Ham on New Year's Day. It heralded a run of 11 goals in eight consecutive appearances at the start of the year and underlined the striker's growing influence in Arsène Wenger's team.  

Yet questions continued to be asked about Ade's technique and temperament. The latter came under the spotlight on 22 January at White Hart Lane when, with Arsenal being uncharacteristically taken to the cleaners by Tottenham in the second leg of their Carling Cup semi-final, Adebayor was summoned from the bench in the hope of limiting the damage. He duly scored, but the Gunners went down 5-1; and startled jaws dropped when he clashed with fellow striker Nicklas Bendtner, who was left with a sore nose and wounded feelings after the man from Togo allegedly told the Dane to get his finger out.

By common consent, Premier League leaders Arsenal's 2007-08 season turned on the outcome of their game against Birmingham at St Andrews on 23 February. That infamous match began with another of Ade's fellow-strikers, Eduardo, suffered an horrific injury following Martin Taylor's reckless challenge, and ended with then-skipper William Gallas staging a sit-in on the pitch after the Blues had been awarded and converted a dubious stoppage-time penalty. James McFadden's kick made it 2-2, but after Arsenal had fought back from a goal down to lead 2-1 they had the perfect opportunity to put the match out of Birmingham's reach. However, Adebayor chose to take a shot himself rather than pass to the well-placed Bendtner. His effort was saved and some inevitably wondered whether there was lingering animosity between the pair despite public insistence that all was now sweetness and light.

Personal Milestones

Nine days later, Adebayor scored his first ever Champions League goal as Arsenal beat AC Milan 2-0 at San Siro in one of their most impressive performances of 2008. The African also scored in both legs of the Gunners' Champions League quarter-final against Liverpool, but the tie ended in heart-break for Wenger's side, mirroring their season as a whole. Still, on 28 April Adebayor created history when he came off the bench at half-time to hit three goals in Arsenal's 6-2 demolition of doomed Derby County at Pride Park. It meant he became the first and so far only player in Premier League history to score hat-tricks home and away against the same opposition in the same season, Ade having bagged three earlier in the season when Derby crashed 5-0 at the Emirates on 22 September.

The third goal of his second hat-trick against the Rams took his Arsenal total for the 2007-08 season to 30 in 48 appearances in all competitions, a return that saw him named in the PFA Team of the Year. There was another personal accolade for Ade when his second goal against Tottenham Hotspur at White Lane on 15 September 2007 - a sensational volley - won BBC TV Match of the Day's Goal of the Season competition for the 2007-08 season.

In Demand Abroad, In & Out Of Favour At Home
 
While his achievements raised his profile dramatically, they also inevitably attracted admirers from around the continent. With the likes of Mathieu Flamini and Alexander Hleb being lured away from the Emirates to Milan and Barcelona, respectively, the suspicion grew that the Gunners were unable to hang on to their best players. The issue was put to the test when those two European giants made Adebayor their next transfer target. He had only signed his previous contract in the summer of 2007 but was equivocal about the advances from the Rossoneri and Blaugrana. Adebayor was credited with some cryptic and conflicting quotes about where he wanted to play and how much he thought he was worth, and succeeded in making Arsenal fans - who had just voted him third in the Arsenal.com Player of the Season poll - perceive him as avaricious.

He eventually negotiated an improved deal at the Emirates - reported to be worth around £80,000 a week and tying him to the club until at least 2012 - and professed his happiness at being "part of this family."  But the summer saga had left a sour taste, and Adebayor was booed by some fans for his perceived lack of loyalty during some pre-season friendlies, notably against Real Madrid in the Emirates Cup.

Typically, Arsene Wenger defended the player, urging supporters to give him their backing. "We have to get behind him and support him," said the Arsenal boss. "He is a tremendous force and is of tremendous importance for the team - you want your own fans to be behind him. What happened in the transfer period did not always reflect his deep desire and there was manipulation from agents on both sides, but overall I am positive he will recover."

That recovery was hastened by a goal in the away leg of a Champions League third qualifying round tie against Twente on 13 August, a hat-trick against Blackburn Rovers in a 4-0 win at Ewood Park on 13 September, and two more at home to FC Porto on 30 September - another 4-0 win.

And he won over many lingering doubters when he fired Arsenal into a 10th-minute lead against Fenerbahce in a 5-2 win Istanbul on 21 October, before coming off the bench to provide an assist and a goal against West Ham five days later. Then in October’s final fixture, the 4-4 draw with Tottenham, his 64th minute strike sealed his rehabilitation. It was his eighth goal against Spurs, and moved him joint level with Alan Sunderland and Robert Pires as Arsenal's all-time top scorer against the old enemy.

He has also been clawing back goodwill by adding a new aspect to his game in terms of assists: so far this season Adebayor has contributed seven - more than any other Gunner and any other Premier League player bar Sunderland's Steed Malbranque.

Ade suffered an ankle injury at Stoke early in November and was sidelined for much of that month, but was back to score the winner against Wigan and the opening goal in a 1-1 draw at Middlesbrough, taking his 2008 total to 30 goals. But having clashed with his own team-mate at the start of the year, he ended it with a suspension after being sent off in a 1-1 draw with Liverpool for a foul on Alvaro Arbeloa. It was his second bookable offence of the game and so incurred a one-match ban, served on Boxing Day as the Gunners squandered a two-goal lead at Aston Villa.  It was also the second red card of his Arsenal career, as he'd been sent off in the 2007 Carling Cup final following a fracas towards the end of the 2-1 defeat that embroiled both Chelsea and Arsenal players. He was alleged to have thrown a punch at Frank Lampard, and, along with the mandatory three-match ban, the FA subsequently gave Adebayor an additional one-match suspension and a fine of £7,500 for failing to leave the field of play immediately.

African Awards & Acrimony

On the international scene, Adebayor had another interesting 12 months. He was awarded the BBC African Footballer of the Year accolade for his performances in 2007, and was short-listed for the 2008 gong. He was also a nominee for the 2008 African Player of the Year, having scooped the Togo Footballer of the Year award for the fourth successive year in 2008.

But his relationship with his country's football federation remains volatile. He had opted to play for Togo despite being eligible for Nigeria, and underlined his value to the team by  helping Togo qualify for the 2006 African Cup of Nations with eleven goals in the qualifiers. Yet he is a fierce critic of the way the country's governing body conducts itself. He temporarily retired from the national team in the autumn, blaming his decision on the Togo Football Federation's alleged lack of professionalism that saw officials leaving the players with hefty hotel bills to pay.

The striker missed September's World Cup qualifying defeat in Zambia, with Togo's sports minister Antoine Folly saying Adebayor had refused to fly to Zambia without the president, delaying the entire team by a day before they eventually departed without the Arsenal striker. But Ade returned to score four goals in a 6-0 win over Swaziland in October, which certainly helped reinforce his point. Integral to Togo's efforts to qualify for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, he explained in an Arsenal match programme that he rescinded his retirement after a personal call from the federation's president.

"Things worked well," he said. "I'm glad that things changed so quickly. The president and everyone else now understand how to treat the players and make sure that we're in the right condition to have a great game."

His final contribution to 2008 was to appear for the Gunners against Portsmouth on 28 December. He missed a decent chance to score before Gallas got the winning goal in a 1-0 win; but his performance, after that one-match ban, was typically hard-working.

Indeed, Adebayor's game is based on a high work-rate, enhanced by a mixture of pace, skill, strength and outstanding aerial ability. Areas requiring further attention include his first touch and composure in front of goal, but there is no doubt he is improving all the time, as his goalscoring record confirms.

He is also somewhat misunderstood: against the accusations of greed must be set the humility of a man adored in his homeland who used his BBC award to inspire youngsters when he embarked on a self-styled 'tour of hope' that took him to Ghana and his native Togo.

Team Prizes:
None

Individual Accolades:
Goal of the Season: 2007–08
PFA Team of the Year: 2007–08
Togo Footballer of the Year 2008

Graham Lister, Goal.com