As far as starts go, perhaps few can have too many complaints about Emmanuel Adebayor’s early career at Manchester City.
In the nine Premier League games in which Adebayor has featured this season, the striker has scored five goals, and laid on a further three assists for his teammates.
On paper, then, it is a solid return from the 25-year-old after joining the Eastlands outfit from Arsenal for £25 million during the summer.
As has often been the case with Adebayor in England, however, the positives have been offset by a number of negatives. In no game was that better encapsulated than when he faced his former club earlier in the season.
Throughout the game against his old team-mates, the Togolese international was often at his blistering best.
He tormented the Arsenal players—taking advantage of their seemingly reckless desire to clatter him—but then proceeded to torment their fans after his well-taken goal.
That celebration, running a full 90 yards to gloat in front of those who had spent much of the game abusing him, earned him a three-game suspension after a review by the Football Association.
City, without their leading scorer, subsequently lost their next league game against arch-rivals Manchester United, in a cruel 4-3 thriller.
"I had a bad afternoon against Manchester United because I am sure that if I had played that day then I would have scored a goal,” Adebayor said.
"It was a shame that we lost in added time. United did not deserve to win—a fair result would have been a draw."
Rather than bemoaning missing out on a chance to add to his goal tally, however, Adebayor should perhaps have been reflecting on his own conduct. His performance against Arsenal helped the team, but his subsequent conduct certainly didn’t.
That just isn’t good enough for a top striker.
Take Didier Drogba, for example.
Chelsea’s last game, against FC Porto, was yet another example of Drogba’s all-round contribution. Despite being kept relatively quiet in attack, the Ivorian did not let frustration get the better of him and continued to contribute in any way he could.
In the first half, there was Drogba, deep in his own box determined to get up and clear the ball for his team. For his troubles, he caught a blow to the head from an equally determined John Terry.
The 31-year-old seems to make such contributions every game. He perceives defending set-pieces as a crucial part of his duty to the team, despite providing nine goals and five assists in his 12 league games this season.
Drogba has had his outbursts in the past—for example in the 2008 Champions League final, or after elimination in the semi-finals of the same competition last season—but now he seems to have matured and those around him at the west London club are only too aware of his value:
"We have seen what Didier brings to this team in the first games of our season and this is why I said he was irreplaceable when I came to Chelsea," said manager Carlo Ancelotti, who has admitted he wouldn’t swap Drogba for any other striker.
“His love for this club and the passion he shows is unbelievable," club captain John Terry agreed.
"When we lose a game there is no one more disappointed than him. He shows his frustration, because he cares.
"You see him in the dressing room, in training motivating the players. He really cares.”
Adebayor has still to show that he cares that deeply. Last weekend, he was clearly at fault as Martin Skrtel nipped in ahead of him to open the scoring in the game against Liverpool. The Togolese forward had switched off, allowing the Liverpool defender in and letting his own side down.
In fairness, he made amends minutes later by scoring the equalizer for his side—his first goal for the club since that strike against Arsenal in September.
Drogba, however, is happy not to score if can make a telling defensive contribution.
“I often sacrifice myself for the good of the team,” said the former Olympique Marseille hitman.
“I don’t look at my scoring statistics. Have you ever seen any other great striker do as much defending as I do?”
That is the difference between the truly world-class strikers and the rest. Jermain Defoe, Darren Bent, and Adebayor can all score goals for fun, but the likes of Drogba, Torres, and Rooney elevate their contribution into a different dimension by tracking back and contributing to their side’s defensive play.
Adebayor still needs to make that step, to take on that mantel. He has done it infrequently, when the occasion (e.g. playing against your former team) suits him, but never week-in and week-out.
Arsene Wenger, a formidable judge of player, clearly got tired of waiting for that to happen at the Emirates.
But on arriving at City, the former Monaco man seemed to suggest everything would now be different.
"This is a team, maybe in one year or two years, that will be one of the best in the world," he said.
"I had a good discussion with the coach, Mark Hughes, and he told me that here he wants to be in the top four.
"We know it's not going to be easy at all. But we are going to fight for it. I think the players are here for that.”
"As you can see, the fans believe in us that we can bring them something. That's what we're going to fight for now."
So far, evidence of such commitment has been fleeting. Manchester City has failed to take advantage of Liverpool's early troubles to bolster their claim for Champions League football, a situation they might regret come May and one Adebayor must partly take the blame for.
History has been littered with expensive signings failing to cope with the pressure suddenly put on them—it took a while for Drogba to embrace such responsibilities, too.
But, Adebayor cannot hide behind that excuse.
After all, he has chosen to be constantly reminded of the price tag that weighs heavily around his neck—he wears it on his back.
Perhaps City’s No. 25 now sees the number he has long worn as a badge of honour, a status symbol.
But if he is to lead his team to all the places he seems to believe they can go, he needs to start viewing it as a responsibility to be lived up to instead.
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