As someone now well-known for — among other things — planting a foot on an opponent’s face, Emmanuel Adebayor sure likes to share a bit of love.
During the warm-up at Villa Park there were high fives for his team-mates. In the tunnel there was an embrace for Aston Villa’s John Carew. And a handshake. And another hug. And a high five. You get the picture.
Maybe it was Carew’s silly yellow boots that got Adebayor so excited. His own were pure white, unlike his recent reputation.
Or maybe this is just how Adebayor likes to do it. Football with a smile. Certainly that is how Manchester City like to portray it.
Adebayor arrived at Eastlands with a reputation for being a little ‘difficult’ to handle. Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger wouldn’t have sold him otherwise.
He is far too talented to let go without a reason. At Manchester City, they have reported no such trouble.
Part of the Togo team which reached the 2006 World Cup finals while wrestling with their national association over pay, Adebayor knows something about the benefits of team unity and spirit. So far at least he has brought a little of that to a City dressing room that had more splinters than a carpenter’s work bench last season.
Prior to City’s first game of the campaign at Blackburn, Adebayor embraced each and every team-mate. It was a little bit ‘Arsenal’, but then so was the superb goal he spanked into the net three minutes later, so nobody was complaining.
The real test of team spirit, of course, comes when things are not going so well. After all, even Robinho smiles when the goals are going in. The test for Adebayor and Mark Hughes’s new-look City team will come when they have a setback or two.
What is not in doubt is the quality Adebayor brings to this team. Had Cameroon forward Samuel Eto’o not dragged his gilded feet over a move from Barcelona in the summer, Adebayor would never have been signed. So far it appears City ended up with the right man.
All teams — however talented — need a focal point at the top of their formation. Consider the worth of Fernando Torres to Liverpool, Didier Drogba to Chelsea and Wayne Rooney
to Manchester United.
From that perspective, Adebayor is everything to City. Hughes’s team have not looked too shabby in the striker’s absence, enforced upon him following his crude assault on Robin van Persie during win over Arsenal last month.
City scored three in losing the Manchester derby, two in knocking Fulham out of the Carling Cup and three in beating West Ham a week ago last night. They are no one-man team but it is undoubtedly the case that he brings them an extra dimension.
Watching him in the warm-up at Villa Park, the purity of his strikes, as assistant manager Mark Bowen put the City forwards through shooting drills, was immediately apparent.
Carlos Tevez, Craig Bellamy and Shaun Wright-Phillips were not bad, either, but there was a sweet feel to Adebayor’s work. Everything right off the laces.
Once the real stuff started it was a little more difficult. An early goal for Villa put City on the back foot and their centre forward was forced to put in the hard yards at both ends of the field.
After the spotlight and attention he has enjoyed and endured in equal measure so far this season, this was rather less glamorous stuff.
There was a sniff of a chance early on as he almost sneaked on to a low cross from Bellamy from the left and another jink inside and shot that saw the ball end in Brad Friedel’s arms courtesy of a deflection off defender James Collins.
Such are his gifts and such is his sheer physical presence thatAdebayor occupies defenders constantly, even when City do not have the ball.
He is a useful defensive obstacle, too, and it is questionable whether Manchester United midfielder Darren Fletcher would have scored the first of his two derby goals had City’s No 25 been playing.
He could do nothing about Richard Dunne’s goal last night — that was Gareth Barry’s responsibility — but four minutes before half-time we saw a glimpse at the other end.
As Barry’s corner swung in, he jumped six inches above the rest and his header required a tip-over from Friedel.
Another Barry cross — a beauty this one — may have given Adebayor the equaliser immediately after the restart.
Sadly, he appeared to lack the bravery required to throw his head at it. A flaw in the makeup? Maybe. His manager would not have thought twice about hurling himself at such a chance 20 years ago.
During the second half, City played too many long balls from deep. Adebayor hardly won any of them. But it was his pass inside to Bellamy that prompted City’s equaliser and when Hughes sent on Roque Santa Cruz immediately after, it was Tevez, and not Adebayor, who came off.
This wasn’t his best night. But there was still enough to smile about.