“It was an unprecedented event. We Togolese had not experienced such a thing before. Adebayor became a household name here in 2006, even more popular than the most popular drinks”
Few years ago, Emmanuel Adebayor was the second most influential personality in Togo after the head of state Faure Gnassingbé. Today, he no longer matters to many, who argue that the former Arsenal star’s on-and-off the pitch antics while on international duty have battered his onetime cult image in the tiny West African country.
Born to Yoruba parents, who hailed from nearby Nigeria, Adebayor quickly won the hearts of Togolese when he broke into the national team popularly known as Les Eperviers in 2000 while plying his trade at French club Metz.
The 33-year-old 6 ft 3 striker played a major role in Togo’s qualification for the 2006 Africa Cup of Nations, scoring 11 goals, as well as helping the team to reach their first ever Fifa World Cup same year.
It was ‘Adebayor’ everywhere in the country – on TV commercials, on billboards and in street conversations.
“It was an unprecedented event. We Togolese had not experienced such a thing before. Adebayor became a household name here in 2006, even more popular than the most popular drinks,” Martin Seko, a 42-year-old Lome-based medical doctor told ACLsports.com.
“I remember when he was arriving from Europe one evening; more than 200 motorcycles and police vehicles escorted him to his residence. Girls, women were screaming. Everybody wanted to see and touch Adebayor. He was like the President. People adored him.”
However, Adebayor’s troubles with the national team began proper at the 2006 Afcon in Egypt, where Togo lost all three group matches and were prematurely eliminated from the tournament despite their inspiring form ahead of the competition. Many people back home were disappointed. The public opinion was sharply divided on whom to blame.
Some claimed the team’s star man was becoming too overbearing and had little respect for the technical staff. Others believed there was a special agenda by the country’s football officials to ‘break’ the ‘big boy’, due to jealousy.
“It’s hard to really say who was right or wrong then. However, there was an open ‘war’ between the football association and Adebayor himself”
Adebayor was dropped from the team after the tournament, with little details from Togo FA. The official reason was that the player instigated a row following delays in the payment of match bonuses.
“It’s hard to really say who was right or wrong then. However, there was an open ‘war’ between the football association and Adebayor himself,” said Kofi Yannick, a former producer at state broadcaster, TVT.
“A lot of top guys felt he was becoming too pompous because he had money and that if he was left to continue he could negatively influence other players and spoil the entire team.”
However, Adebayor maintained he had just one mission: fighting for the right of his teammates.
“A lot of things were not going fine. Match bonuses and air tickets were not taken care of. The general condition of the players was not nice. Not for me. They thought I wanted their money. No! I was fighting for other players,” Adebayor said at that time.
Togo ended up in last place in their group at the 2006 Fifa World Cup in Germany. The former Manchester City man did not score any goal. Back home frustration heaped more on supporters.
Togo football’s golden generation had failed once more to live up to expectations. Hopes that the team would achieve anything worthwhile were fading fast, with more people believing Adebayor was lacking in commitment.
On 8 January 2010, en route to the Afcon tournament in Angola, Togo team bus suffered a gunfire attack that killed three people, prompting the team to pull out of the competition, with Adebayor announcing his international retirement.
“It was like a double mourning. We lost three people travelling to a tournament that was supposed to bring joy to the entire nation. And then, our beloved player was leaving the team for good,” Armand Bebou, a real estate dealer told ACLsports.com.
“However, it came to a point when people were saying, ‘oh perhaps it’s time to let Adebayor go and build a fresh team with respectful players’, but we never had such a team and Adebayor had to return after pressure from the fans and top government officials.”
He made a comeback in November 2011 and participated in their futile 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign.
At the 2013 Afcon in South Africa, Togo had a fair run of matches, finishing second of their group and progressing to the knockout stage, but losing in the quarterfinals to eventual finalists Burkina Faso.
Adebayor had harsh words for then coach Frenchman Didier Six, whom the player blamed for the team’s extra time 1-0 defeat to the Stallions. It was the beginning of fresh tensions within the outfit as they left the competition.
“Adebayor loves Togolese but he has been made to suffer lots of frustrations and many people didn’t understand his mission. Even his own family made life difficult for him and at a time when he was on holidays he remained in neighbouring Ghana and didn’t bother to come to Togo,” said Stephane Djeri, a former adviser at the ministry of sports.
Adebayor exposed his family issues on Facebook in 2015 asking the public for counsels, claiming his sister and mother allegedly requested him to build a house for each member of the family along with monthly salaries.
“Adebayor loves Togolese but he has been made to suffer lots of frustrations and many people didn’t understand his mission. Even his own family made life difficult for him and at a time when he was on holidays he remained in neighbouring Ghana and didn’t bother to come to Togo”
It clearly appeared he was as frustrated as his fans and was in search of a way out. However, he continued his charity work that included water projects for rural communities and donations of medical equipment to public hospitals.
Upon the arrival of former Ghana coach Claude Le Roy, Adebayor renewed his commitment to the team and has earned regular call-ups since then while keeping the captain armband.
He remains Togo’s top scorer with 30 goals and no name in the country’s football has come close to challenging his achievements, even at a time when locals no longer hold him high in their hearts.