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International Eagles: Adebayor's Turbulent Togo Career

4 July 2018

Throughout the World Cup, we are looking back at how Eagles past and present have fared for their countries. Today, we reflect on the 18-year international career of Emmanuel Adebayor.

When you look at the stats, 31 goals in 69 international appearances is a goalscoring record for your country that anyone would be proud of, but Emmanuel Adebayor may still be wishing for more from his Togo career.

He starred in the Premier League for Arsenal, Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur and, for a brief time, Palace, and was named African Player of the Year in 2008 so can look back on his club career with huge pride. However, his time spent representing his country is filled with triumph and tragedy.

It began so promisingly when he was handed his first cap as a 16-year-old while finding his feet in Metz’s academy, and his breakthrough in eastern France coincided with his establishment as his country’s go-to striker.

Adebayor found the back of the net 11 times during qualification for the 2006 World Cup to finish as the continent’s top scorer, ahead of Didier Drogba, Obafemi Martins and another one-time Eagle, Aruna Dindane, propelling Togo to their first World Cup.

Excitement was building in west Africa that their new superstar could cause a stir in Germany. However, 2006 would prove to be a hugely disappointing year for Togolese football when the most talented squad in their history imploded. In-fighting – partly blamed on Adebayor’s attitude to training following his move to Arsenal – led to manager Stephen Kesh’s sacking, and the team losing every group game at the 2006 Africa Cup of Nations without scoring.

Remarkably, the rows, triggered by bonus payments, flowed into the build-up to the World Cup with Adebayor attempting to be a peace-broker as his team threatened to boycott the tournament, saying: "It has always been like that in Togo. I say to myself that this money, if I don't earn it today, I can earn it tomorrow.”

In the end, manager Otto Pfister departed before the tournament, and with their preparations wrecked Togo’s big moment turned into a nightmare as they once again lost all three games, with Adebayor again failing to get on the scoresheet, in what seems to be his only chance to perform for his beloved country on the world stage.

It has been a love-hate relationship at times; in 2007 Adebayor and two teammates were suspended for three matches and received death threats after further disagreements over World Cup bonuses. However, when motivated and hungry he showed his undoubted quality during his peak years by netting four goals in a game against Swaziland, helping his team to the 2010 AFCON.

Heartbreakingly Togo wouldn’t get the chance to redeem themselves after 2006. As they travelled by bus to the tournament in Angola, rebel gunmen opened fire and the assistant coach, press officer and driver were all killed. Despite wanting to play in the tournament as a tribute to the victims, captain Adebayor and his teammates were ordered by the Togolese government to return home.

That traumatic event saw Adebayor reluctantly retire from international duty, saying: "I have weighed up my feelings in the weeks and months since the attack, and I am still haunted by the events.

"We were just footballers going to play a football match and represent our country, yet we were attacked by people who wanted to kill us all. It is a moment I will never forget and one I never want to experience again."

Thankfully, after being persuaded to return to the national team in 2011, Adebayor has once again enjoyed representing his country for the past seven years, helping them qualify for two further AFCONs and is now his nation’s all-time leading goalscorer.

Speaking to The Guardian last year, he said: “To be honest with you, I’m feeling even better than when I was on top of my game. I’m laughing, singing, dancing, enjoying my life. I am the comedian of this team and I am also the serious guy. If something is needed to make the team laugh, it comes from me.”

After what he has been through for his national team, no-one can begrudge Adebayor that joy.

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