There was a moment after Emmanuel Adebayor had sat down for his first interview as a Manchester City player in South Africa this summer when you wondered why on earth Mark Hughes, with his work ethic and his messianic drive for a "winning mentality", had wound up with a forward quite like him. The questions had started but Adebayor's MP3 player headphones were still in his ears. He was with you and yet he was somewhere else.
Hughes heard some stories about him too. "A lot of the things were said before he came to the club and [some] dire warnings were talked about," he revealed. But if first impressions were wrong in the interview – Adebayor's eyes were soon dancing with the indignation and hurt he says he feels at being forced out of Arsenal against his wishes – then Hughes seems to have found that reputations are not the best guide, either. "Everybody has a view on Ade [but] until you work with him, you can't shape that view yourself. I have not seen anything like that," he said after a performance which confounded popular theories.
The third-minute strike which first suggested that City gold might glitter was within the realms of expectation. The fact that Adebayor began the move in the centre circle, then hared down into the penalty area to finish it off, was not. This reflected his work rate and it suggests that Hughes might have more of an artisan's role for the Togolese than the Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger did, playing him off Roque Santa Cruz and not just as a traditional centre forward.
"I am quite excited by that," Hughes said. "There will be opposition where we will have to have a real physical presence. Roque can [be] the lone striker all day long. What Ade can do is play off people and drop into deeper areas and then go beyond people as well because he has got the pace to do that. Maybe people thought that I was looking for two combinations of a big guy and a small guy, but actually they can all play together because they are all quality players."
Of course, bringing working-class qualities out in players of aristocratic demeanour is what Hughes is all about. Morten Gamst Pedersen, Blackburn's prime threat in a first half which suggested Sam Allardyce has restored their old qualities, was a lost cause when Hughes replaced Graeme Souness at Ewood. He ordered the Norwegian to spend more time in the gym and watched him become a player many top clubs coveted for a time. Stephen Ireland, who toyed with Rovers' defence before passing City's second goal into the net, is similarly transformed. "The training and the mental preparation we've done has already transferred itself to our football," Ireland said. "The difference is the team spirit. From the moment we arrived from pre-season the manager has been drumming it into us about how we had to be better and mentally stronger this season."
It will take more than an impressive debut to prove Adebayor will recapture his form and 30 goals of two seasons ago. But a desire to be identified as an elite player, like his old friend from Monaco days, Manchester United's Patrice Evra, is a motivation. "I played with him in Monaco and today he's playing for Manchester United and he's had the chance to win a lot of things; big competitions," Adebayor said. "I want to be like that."
Richard Dunne looked driven, too. He has told the City manager he wants to stay and fight for his place and, though City will try again for Joleon Lescott his week, Hughes might look at events at Goodison and wonder whether he would be getting a better player. "We still feel there is a little bit to go in terms of maybe what we can present to Everton to change their minds," Hughes said. "Maybe we have to be a little bit more creative."
Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2) Robinson; Jacobsen, Samba, Givet, Warnock; Diouf (Hoilett, 86), N'Zonzi, Andrews (Gallagher, 75), Pedersen; McCarthy, Roberts (Di Santo, 65). Substitutes not used: Brown (gk), Grella, Khizanishvili, Olsson
Manchester City (4-4-2) Given; Richards, Touré, Dunne, Bridge; Wright-Phillips, Ireland, Barry, Robinho (Tevez, 69); Adebayor, Bellamy. Substitutes not used: Taylor (gk), Onuoha, Zabaleta, Petrov, De Jong, Weiss
Referee: M Dean (Cheshire).
Booked: Manchester City Richards; Blackburn Warnock, Gallagher.
Man of the match: Bellamy.
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