I’ve been thinking a lot about Real Madrid’s signing of Togolese striker Emmanuel Adebayor from Manchester City on loan recently.
The 26 year-old African is a distinctly polarizing figure, both on and off the pitch: he has had incredible years—like his 30-goal season for Arsenal in 2007-2008—yet he has managed to fall out with two separate EPL clubs and their fans.
At best, he’s a devastating striker, with quick feet and am imposing physique, able to score on the ground and in the air; at worst, he’s a complete dud, capable of physical violence against opponents (Van Persie in 2009) and teammates (Kolo Toure just this month).
If Madrid, and José Mourinho (who’s pretty polarizing in his own right) manage to contain Adebayor and channel his talent onto the pitch, then they could end up with a fantastic striker, a world-class goalscorer, and an invaluable piece in the evolving puzzle that is Real Madrid.
But if Adebayor blows up and causes friction in the locker room, then the us-against-them mentality that Mourinho strives to create in every team he coaches will give way to private battles and internal divisions.
That’s why I like this move for Madrid. The team’s offense has looked anemic recently, relying on short bursts of brilliance from Cristiano Ronaldo (and occasionally from Mesut Özil, Angel Di María, or even Karim Benzema) to score goals. Mourinho has become visibly frustrated by the team’s output—so much so that he has banned himself from post-match press conferences, sending Aitor Karanka in his place. The Portuguese coach has called for a striker both publicly and internally and has been so loud that he has begun to fall out with Jorge Valdano, President Florentino Pérez’s right hand man.
Signing “Ade” is not so much an act of desperation as a calculated, high-stakes hand of poker: if the right cards come up, Mourinho will have his world-class striker who will deliver a burst of attacking energy to his team.
And if the cards don’t fall the right way? Well, this Madrid team is young, “not a finished product”, as “the Special One” has said many times.
But I think the executives in the offices overlooking la castellana are playing the right odds with this signing. To continue the poker analogy, they’re going all-in with a good shot of winning the hand: they are essentially renting Adebayor’s services for this year at an extremely minimal cost (half of his salary, or four million Euros), and in the process are adding a disgruntled 26-year-old former superstar striker who will be looking to prove his worth.
From day one, Mourinho will have Adebayor on a mission to prove everyone wrong, to showcase his worth to the team and to prove he’s still the player he was a few years ago. If things don’t work out, Madrid can cut their losses by not signing “Ade” this summer and pursuing Fernando Llorente, or “Kun” Agüero instead. In principal, this deal is a match made in heaven for both sides.
The only potential long-term problem in the deal is Karim Benzema: what will happen to his already shaky confidence now that there’s another striker around to compete with him? This will be the area where Mou will need to proceed with the most caution, because Karim has begun to round into form this season and announced his presence earlier this week with a fantastic goal against Sevilla in the Copa semifinals.
But there is also potential for growth here: competition for spots tends to increase output, as both players try to showcase their worth in every game. If Mourinho manages this situation with enough caution and enough mental savvy, he could end up with two world-class strikers battling for a spot in his starting 11.
Much of this deal hinges on Mourinho: whether he’ll be able to revamp Adebayor’s output, whether he’ll be able to manage the situation with Benzema, and so on. But that’s the way he likes it. He wants everything on his shoulders; he wants to control every little thing about the football side of the club.
Real Madrid will rise, or fall, with their enigmatic coach—and that’s the way it should be. He’s a brilliant tactician and a brilliant psychologist. I like this deal for los blancos because I still believe in Mourinho and in his ability to turn this potential powder keg into a title.
This is a match made in heaven because Madrid has a coach that can turn a scrapheap of explosives into a rocket ship—or, in this case, a Real Madrid team that might still be worth being called galácticos.