Adebayor: Born again

Arsenal fans dubbed him lazy and disruptive. Now he's the toast of City, with three goals in three league games. As the striker faces his old club, Ian Herbert speaks to managers past and present, and the man himself, to trace his second coming

To begin with they weren't even sure what to call him, let alone what to expect. MANU SIGNS, Manchester City's website proclaimed of Emmanuel Adebayor back in July, but given that Sir Alex Ferguson had just declared that Adebayor might have signed for MAN U, the moniker was hastily changed to "Ade". And as for what to expect?

Well, City manager Mark Hughes has already admitted this season that he'd heard the stories doing the rounds, though the three hours that City executive chairman Garry Cook spent in Arsène Wenger's company while the Adebayor deal was being done probably didn't reveal what really was the last straw for the Arsenal manager, where his Togolese striker was concerned. Adebayor's declaration back in April that his flirtation with a move to Milan, in the summer of 2008, was like being fancied by Beyoncé.

"Everybody has a view on Ade [but] until you work with him, you can't shape that view yourself," Hughes said on the opening afternoon of the season, having just watched his £25m striker take precisely two minutes and 29 seconds to score on his league debut at Blackburn. The individual he will send out this afternoon against Wenger's side has certainly confounded the general prognosis about an apparently suspect attitude which earned such opprobrium from Arsenal fans.

Adebayor cannot quite claim to have been the most effective performer of Hughes' £120m summer buys so far – that accolade goes to Gareth Barry who will provide more of the muscularity which enabled Hughes to smile wickedly yesterday when he said that he knows "what Arsenal enjoy and what they don't". But his three goals in as many league games have been reward for the kind of work ethic which defines Hughes' football teams. City fans, the manager went as far as to say yesterday, "see what he gives the team and they've never seen a player like Adebayor in a blue shirt, I would suggest."

Adebayor discussed some of the contours of his life story yesterday and they revealed how much he has had to overcome. Among the many hurdles was the freezing cold when he arrived in Europe, at Metz in 1999. "After training finished I would have to go under the warm shower and then I had to stay in my room with the heater on and have lots of clothes on," he said. "I was crying. After one month I told the boss, 'Okay, I'm very sorry, I can't give you this any more.' He said, 'Can you imagine how many of your friends would like to be in your position?'"

The coach Francis De Taddeo could not talk him around. "I was 15 and I said: 'I don't care. I'm not happy here, I have to go back.'" But his mother could. "I phoned my mum and she said: 'If you want to come back, come back, but don't think you can be somebody tomorrow. You have to stay and fight against these things and prove you can be still there tomorrow.' Those words are always running in my head and from that day, every single morning, I give my best."

All along the road there have been doubters. Those back in Africa who, Adebayor recalled yesterday, had questioned his build. "When I was younger I was very skinny and people were saying 'you don't have the force, look how skinny you are, you can't make it in football,'" he said. It was a journey to Gothenburg, Sweden, with the Togolese Under-15s side which instilled some self-belief. "We won 3-1 and I told myself, 'You have the quality to be among those boys.'"

The questions persisted when he arrived as a 15-year-old at Metz and De Taddeo discovered that, for all Adebayor's ability to weave past four or five players, he couldn't hit any part of a barn, let alone a door. But the player put his mind to it and learned to shoot. He spent some of the summer of 2007 back in Togo with friends, playing incessantly to prove wrong the poll on an Arsenal fans' website suggesting he was the club striker least likely to score 20 goals a season. He netted 30 goals the following season.

Then, somewhere along the way, he lost his relationship with Wenger. There is little doubt that he – or those who advised him – were attracted by Milan's overtures last year. Assiduous Wenger watchers say the striker's bizarre declaration on 28 April of this year – that being tracked by Milan was like "a boy being told Beyoncé is looking for them" – was a point of no return for the manager, even though Wenger acknowledged a week later that Adebayor had been an unsung hero in the first leg of Arsenal's Champions League tie with Manchester United. "He had put a lot more effort in, more than people think, and he was really isolated. We didn't give him enough support on the night." But the Frenchman's mind was set. When Adebayor returned from holiday on 12 July he was told he had been sold.

Discussing the player for the first time since his departure from the Emirates, Wenger yesterday paid rich tribute to an individual he insisted had developed more in Britain than any other player he has brought to this country. That is some statement. "He wasn't playing at Monaco when I bought him," Wenger said. "We are very happy because it shows that when players come here they don't waste their time and that they develop. In a short space of time he was a much improved player."

Hughes couldn't put his finger on why Adebayor had never recaptured that form of two seasons ago. "It's difficult to say," he said yesterday. "Circumstances may have affected him or the team, I don't know. I can't give you a better insight than that. The notable part of that is that he has the capability of scoring 30 goals in the Premier League and that's a statement in itself."

Hughes has also discovered that Adebayor – whose only knowledge of City as a child growing up in Togo was the late Marc-Vivien Foé, one of the first from Africa to blaze a trail to the Premier League – can deliver him more than goals. One of the unexpected features of his performances to date has been the way he drifts from the traditional centre-forward's role he commanded at Arsenal to operate behind the strikers and go foraging for the ball in midfield.

It is a position Adebayor has moulded for himself, not one he has been allocated, Hughes said. "I think that's the way Ade wants to play," he said. "I think he enjoys that freedom. That creates a problem in itself for opposition defences. As a forward you want to ask questions of defenders and if they make wrong decisions that's when you can exploit situations you have created yourself. [When] Ade [is] coming off the front and going into wide areas, centre-halves have to pass him on [for someone else to pick up] and if you are in or around the penalty box, those transitions take you into positions from where you can exploit teams."

A second coming for Adebayor this might be but the manner of his move north still stings. "I'm not sure he's bitter but I think he's upset and it's certainly something that has affected him quite deeply," Hughes observed. "He has no problem with Arsenal Football Club itself because he sees it as a huge part of his football life and how he developed as a player but you just sense he can't quite understand why the Arsenal fans turned against him."

It makes Adebayor a man with a mission again today. Hughes did not disguise his delight at that thought. "I have looked at many, many top players with huge reputations," he said. "I don't see many up there with the qualities that Ade has got."

Beyond reproach: City defend Hélan deal

*Changes may be needed to the system which allows overseas teenagers to join Premier League academies but Manchester City are beyond reproach in the Jérémy Hélan case, Mark Hughes said yesterday. The Independent revealed this week that Rennes have complained to Fifa about City's signing of Hélan. Hughes said: "It's clear to us that we are within our rights in the Hélan case. We are quite comfortable."