Speaking in an exclusive interview with So Foot, Emmanuel Adebayor finally spoke to the media to give his side to an incredibly varied career that he is able to call his own.
Your parents are Nigerian, but you are Togolese –
I speak Nigerian fluently but I am born in Togo, which in my mind, has always been my country. My first times all happened there: my first match, my first girlfriend, everything! The love I have for my country is enormous, even if I must admit that in Lomé, I had a sad yet happy childhood.
What do you mean?
When I was a kid, I would play cards and 3-on-3 matches in front of houses. This was called “the little post game.” I was happy, but on the other hand, very sad because we were so poor. Our roof had a hole in it, so when it rained, we really suffered. Seeing as I was the youngest in my family, I had to get bowls to put underneath the leaks. At home, we had no electricity or bathroom. The only way to feel comfortable was to go to the beach and do your business in public. It was complicated…
What did your parents do?
My mother sold meat at the border between Ghana and Togo, and my father exchanged currencies. He would only earn five cents but that was enough to keep busy. My childhood was not great, but that period does not matter, it is what you become that is important. Because of these struggles, I am who I am today. When people criticise me when I have missed a chance in an important game, I tell them: “If you had experienced my childhood, you would understand that this is not as important as survival.” It was difficult up until I joined the Metz youth academy.
When I would come back home, I would get into arguments with family over the bathroom. I would tell them, “I can not come back from Europe to have to use the toilet at the beach.” So I would use my friend’s toilet next door. Then I started earning a little salary, and becoming a man. As early as the age of 15, I had to take important decisions for my family and had to tell them what to do at home. I would thump the table because, in African families, as soon as there is money, everyone does what they want. Nobody wants to work but everyone wants to be in charge. I was forced to go to war with my older brother, older sister or even my mother to find out what I wanted to do.
In May 2015, you explained on Facebook that one of your brothers had threatened you at knifepoint and that your family was stealing your money. Why did it come to this?
When I wake up in the morning, I have to tell myself: “I am beautiful, I am great, I am lucky to be a pro.” I will not complain. When people around you do not like you, what do you care? But when it is your family that is against you and that you work to get them out of their misery, it is difficult… I have always told those little brothers in Africa that we are manipulated by our families. They even overtly said to me, that without them, I was nothing. This morning, I went to training, not them. Tomorrow, they will not be tired or have to stretch, it will be me. They manipulate you so much that you end up believing that if you do not call them, then you will not score.
So I took two or three of my childhood friends and I told them, “Guys, we will work like this, this and this. If you do not do as I ask, then too bad, you will be left behind.” That is how I have been able to focus on my job. My family tries to contact me often, but as soon as they get my number, I change it straight away. They do not call me to catch up, but to ask for money. I realised this when I found myself in the hospital after I had snapped my hamstrings at Tottenham. They called me during my scan to say, “We have not yet paid for the little one’s school, he is sick.” I responded saying, “But mum, I am injured.” She followed up saying “Alright, but as soon as your thing is finished, send us money.” Ask me about my health first! In their eyes, I do not matter, they are only interested in my earnings. If I posted that message on Facebook, it is because my family threatened to go see the media. So I took action, that way anything that would be published in the media would not be able to affect me.
What did you feel when you finally got that off your chest?
A sense of relief. Even better than my goal celebration against Arsenal at the Etihad because that is the job. Football, in three or four years, will be done. However, the name remains, as well as the character. I have kept that for years. The amount of times that I have contemplated suicide… I am disgusted to have gone through that, but I am relieved to have done it because if I were to leave, if something were to have happened to me in Cabinda (the Togo team bus came under machine gun firings), knock on wood, everyone would know my story from this point onward.
Today, the wife and children of Marc-Vivien Foé were forced to beg to eat. It was said that he was alright with his family, but from what I have been told, that is nonsense. Today, that is the reality, and Foé is not here to testify. Now, if we were to say Adebayor were on good terms with his family, that would not be true.
What is true however, is that your first steps, were in a church, when you were six years old.
In Africa, we love to walk around, but I could not. My parents would worry, and found it strange that a child my age could not do it yet. So they decided to see some conmen, some marabous. They went into mosques, but ultimately, it was going into the church which allowed me to walk. The pastor told my mother, “Bring him to us early on Monday and we will pray for him till Sunday. If he is not able to walk after this, he will remain like this for the rest of his life.”
They prayed in the morning, afternoon and night-time, but the day of, nothing. I remember being bent over on the ground of the church when I heard the sound of ball. Outside, players were arguing over a foul. And there, I saw the ball come. It bounced give times, before arriving in front of me. I do not know why, but I screamed out of fear. And there, I got up and started to walk. It was a miracle! Being able to feel your legs was very emotional, everyone was in tears. That is why I am Christian.
Is that still the case? There was a video going around which made some think you had become Muslim…
No, I still wear a cross. What actually happened was that a Muslim friend has just lost his mum. I went to training in a djellaba. It is a custom, and plus, it is comfortable. After the ceremony, in front of 700 people, the imam brought up the question, “Manu, do you want to become Muslim” I politely responded, “Maybe someday.” He asked me to swear on it. I did. The imam then did a prayer and took me by the shoulders in front of his followers. That was it. Despite that, I am Christian and read the Bible every morning. It is the first thing you see when you enter my bedroom.
When I get on my knees and ask my good lord for something, I always get my answer quickly. I have been lucky in my career. When people say I am finished, that is when I come back stronger. How many times did they want to burn me alive? But how many times did I come back happy and victorious? If you ask a Togolese person about Adebayor, they will say Adebayor is special. If the good lord is on my side, I am not scared of anyone. If I have to go at my president, I do it because the good lord is on my side. He gives me the strength to take difficult decisions.
Like leaving Togo for Europe?
My uncle Djima Oyawolé played for Metz (in the late 90s). He brought me there. He was the one who brought me to my first club in Lomé, CDS (Centre de Développement Sportif de Lomé i.e. Sports Development Centre of Lomé). It was not really an academy. There was no money or equipment, but everyone called it an “academy.” In the beginning, he told me to go on my own. I was skinny, very small, in a tracksuit and Gola boots. The coach came to see me and said: “Juggle!” I was not able to do more than three and then he said to me: “You are too skinny, if I breath out, then you will fly away. You can not be a footballer, go home.”
I cried as if someone had told me a loved one had died. That same night, I waited for my uncle in front his house, then we went to go see the coach together. He was clear with him. “This is my nephew, everyone says he is good but I have not seen him play. I would like for him to train with you, and if he is not good enough, you can send him away.” By coming back a second time, the coach saw that I was motivated. I had to be. The field was 15 kilometres away from my house. I am big, but walk very slowly, so when training was at 3 p.m., I would leave at 1 p.m. I never came late.
How did you manage in school?
By the age of 14, I was not going anymore, I joined CDS straight after. By playing there, there was a greater chance of getting called up to the Togolese youth teams. That is how I was able to participate in a U15 tournament in Burkina Faso. We finished last as expected, but I was named player of the tournament… Someone will have to explain to me how things work in Africa! (Laughing) After the tournament, I went to a training camp with Ajax, but I did want to move away. I was so proud of myself that I did not even take the time fill out the paperwork for a visa; I threw them in the trash! Three months later, there was another tournament, in Sweden this time. That is where Franis de Taddeoo of Metz spotted me. I had only played two matches because I had blisters. The doctors back home would only ice us or give paracetamol.
Seeing as I wanted to play in the final, I went to see the U17 Bordeaux doctor. He told me to put a medium bandage to which I responded, “What is that? Are you going to cut skin and put it over mine?” When I went back home, I dyed my hair and girls came towards me asking, “What did you bring me from Europe?” I was the cherished childhood in my neighbourhood. I was 15 years old and was already the best player in Togo, before having played in the League. The country started saying that they had their Kanu. He was my idol. I would pull off elasticos like him. Upon my arrival to Metz, I had stuck it straight to a certain guy. I knew I was going to stay.
Were you not scared that you were leaving Togo at such a young age?
No, I was happy. The day of my departure, there must have been 250 people with tams-tams at the airport. It turns out the king was leaving. I arrived to Metz on October 5th, 1999. I was welcomed by the cold! I opened my bag and put on my gear. When I arrived at the training centre, the youth players were snickering, I was ashamed. You see a 50 kilo 15-year-old skinny youngster, wearing 18 t-shirts, three button down shirts, two beanies and a cap. Then, Mrs. Lopez, the club secretary brought me a tracksuit. I thought that it would only be cold for a few days, but no, I was wrong. The day I signed my contract, I called Francis to tell him I could not do it. I could not feel my legs and feet. I could not see the ball, my nose was running.
The coach told me to run to warm up. But where? “Speak Manu,” he said. But speak about what? My lips were frozen. What would I become with this cold, other than a fish in the freezer. So there, I thought to myself. If I go back to Togo, I will be star for a month, I will brush my teeth three times a day, my mom would cook my meals, my 400 francs spent, what was I meant to do? I was going to get smacked for going to get food, yeah…. So then, I called De Taddeo to tell him I was staying. I gradually became the best player in the youth academy, while playing in CFA (French fourth division). [Ludovic] Butelle was there, [Laurent] Agouazi too, and Franck Beria who was the captain. If you megged him, he would smack you.
For your first two professional matches, Metz were relegated to Ligue 2 and you stayed up. Was that the best decision of your career?
Perhaps so. In Ligue 1, I played ten games with guys like [Gerard] Baticle, [Frederic] Meyrieu, and [Philippe] Gaillot. All the clubs wanted me: Juventus, Milan, Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal, but I followed the advice De Taddeo gave me, to whom I owe 99% of my career. “Stay one season longer in Ligue 2 to show everyone that your Ligue 1 matches are no accident. Become a starter, then you can go to a club that will compete for titles.” In Ligue 2, it was working well for me. Plus, he brought a “brother” to me, Mamadou Niang. If you put a dirty ball past four players, he would go after it with his eyes closed. An absolute bull. With him, we were going straight for Ligue 1.
De Taddeo’s plan work because you went off to Monaco.
It was either England or Monaco. We all know how Deschamps speaks, right? (Imitating Didier Deschamps’ voice and smile) “Mr. Adebayor, I think you are still young, that you still have a lot to learn, come with me.” Once there, I was around [Fernando] Morientes, [Shabani] Nonda, [Dado] Prso, [Jerome] Rothen and the crazy [Ludovic] Giuly. Not only was he small, so was his brain! He was 1.02 metres tall but he was a great guy, he helped me a lot. There was another crazy guy, who simply goes by “I love this game” Evra. During the first season, even if we did not win anything, I learned a lot. Then [Francesco] Guidolin took charge of the team. Upon my return, I went to see him and he said to me, “Who are you? I do not know you.” Ouch, ouch, ouch… Basically, I was never going to play. I stayed for a few months and then left.
How did Arsenal contact you?
I came back from Togo for the break, and then I heard that Wenger wanted to speak to me. I sighed then picked up the phone. On the other line, it was indeed Wenger. “What can I do for you coach?” “Would you be interested in playing for us?” He made it very clear that he did not want me to tell anyone. “I was going to play in the same club as Kanu, my idol, and you are telling me to not say anything?” “Yes, because nothing is done just yet.” “For me, they are! Knowing that you want me made it already an arrangement.”
What did you learn at Arsenal?
The art of finishing, every session, with Titi (Thierry Henry). He told me, “there is no secret. People think I am really good, but they do not understand that I do between one hundred and two hundred plays per day.” Most of the time, my shots were curved. Not like Titi’s, but I kept that in the back of my mind. In the end, you manage to get it, the good tips. Nowadays, even before scoring, I know if I will score or not. When he signed for Barcelona, Titi told me, “I am leaving you the keys to the club.”
How was Wenger with you?
We were alright. He is not a friend, but a good coach. My departure from Arsenal was mixed up. I did not want to leave Arsenal. We were always in the Champions League and City was not yet qualified for it. But Wenger told me I was no longer part of his plans. That surprised me because the only person who did not like me was Van Persie, and the feeling was mutual, but on the pitch, we got along as professionals.
For your first match with Manchester City against Arsenal, you scored and ran the whole length of the pitch to the gunners-filled away end. Why did you have that moment of madness?
The adrenaline. After it had happened, I was told the F.A. wanted to slap me with a huge fine. Even if I would have had to pay two million euros, vis-à-vis what I had experienced, I would have done it. I was not going to stay there and hear five thousand people insult my family, even though they had nothing to do with it. At that moment, I felt like I weighed 20 kilos, even though before the match, I felt like I weighed 2,000. When I started running, Wright-Phillips tried to catch up with me. Seeing as he was small, I floored him with a little shoulder-to-shoulder. Then there was the very slow Gareth Barry, who I got past with a light feint. Kolo Touré was in the centre circle, and he understood that he had to let me do my thing.
When I slid on my knees and spread my arms out, I felt untouchable. People were throwing everything at me: their phones, water bottles… I did not flinch, everything went right past me. Whoosh, whoosh, just like in the movies! It feels great to be imprisoned for years and then suddenly hear someone tell you, “My brother, the door is there, walk out. Now you are free.” That is what I felt: liberation.
Manchester City has spent a lot of money to win the Champions League. Why do you think that they have not managed yet?
When I arrived at Manchester City, they told me they wanted to sign great players, but I had no idea that it would be ten per season. Big clubs like Real Madrid, Barcelona or Manchester United do not change from one season to another. There are a lot of elements needed in order to lift the Champions League, not only the names you have. Buying is good for business, shirt sales, but not for winning the Champions League. City, for example, will need 20 more years. Paris is magnificent, but likewise, they will not win it during the next five years.
When you play against teams who are used to winning, it is not the same as in the league. Recruiting Mbappé is great, he is very good, he can do unbelievable dribbles, but he is only 18 and has never competed in a Champions League final and has never come up against Sergio Ramos… With Neymar, it is easier in Ligue 1, but I do not want to hear that with him, PSG will win it over Real. It is possible, but not that easy. Plus, what is PSG going to with Di Maria and Pastore? When a dressing room is unhappy, everything can change. Because Neymar wants his fellow countrymen to play, Lucas might go to Neymar to tell him a few things… The same goes with the Argentineans.
At the time, were you aware that you were less likely to win the Champions League by signing with City than with Arsenal?
I already knew that at Arsenal, they would not win it. In the 2006 Champions League final, there was Ashley Cole, [Freddy] Ljungberg, [Dennis] Bergkamp, [Thierry] Henry, [Sol] Campbell… The men were there to supervise the kids. When I was there, the average age was 15 years old. We were good because we were young and we wanted it, but when we played against Chelsea with John Terry, [Branislav] Ivanovic, [Didier] Drogba, who was my height and weighed 87 kilos, he would hit us up and down the pitch. I was the strongest one in the team and I weighted 73 kilos.
Plus Chelsea had [Michael] Essien and [Michael] Ballack in midfield – how were you meant to get through that? We had Rosicky. If you said as much as “How are you” to him, he would be out injured for two and a half months. It was difficult. In the less important games, our talent made the difference, but you can not win at Old Trafford with kids on the pitch. At Arsenal, there were very good players, but the most rigorous player was 1.20 metres tall. I am not surprised to see them in the Europa League.
How does the dressing room react with these wild transfer windows?
It is very difficult. The coach, Roberto Mancini, did not have control of the dressing room. He irritated the 25 players in the dressing room with such nonsense. Mancini was a great player, but not a great coach. Up until then, what had he won? In every club he had gone to, he bought 40 players. When Mourinho took over Inter after him, they had 40 international players. What are you meant to do with them. In Manchester, I was there and he signed Dzeko, Balotelli, Tevez, Agüero… Five world class strikers. If he had asked me to leave, I would have. But he told me, “I need you.” I would play, score and then the next day, he would tell me: “Good. But against Manchester United, it will be a different story…” The players spoke amongst themselves and said they did not want to play for him. With Deschamps at Monaco, it would have been very similar.
You played for Real Madrid. Was it really a different world?
It is… very far away! The dressing room, the sponsors, the personal assistants, the welcome… there, you are treated like a living God. I was blown away when I arrived at the training ground. It was a morning. With an enormous pile of equipment. I thought that was for the whole season, especially seeing as I had a different number for La Liga and the Champions League. Except that right next to me, was Ronaldo’s number 7 jersey in the same sizes. I asked Lassana Diarra, “You guys can’t be serious. All this? For what?” I started unfolding the pile and saw two tank-tops, made of cotton and nylon, v-neck t-shirts with or without sleeves, with long sleeves as well; an undershirt, two training tops, three sweaters, a rain jacket, tights, blue or white briefs, shorts, a tailored tracksuit, three-quarter length shorts, boots, ankle socks, slippers and two pairs of flip flops.
The only thing you needed to bring with you was your toothbrush. When you go back to your room, you open the closet and everything was there. A shirt to sleep in, a shirt for recovery, another for dining. I thought Arsenal was a big club, but upon coming to Madrid… You arrive in the morning and you are asked if you have had a child. If so, they bring you a stroller. The next day, 100-inch flatscreen tvs, and you are told that Samsung has decided to give it you because it is their newest model. I was never going to leave the club! (Laughing)
Were you surprised asked you to join their ranks?
Definitely. I was not playing at City anymore, but my agent told me Mourinho had called. I could not believe it. The next day, when coming out of the shower, I saw I had a missed call. I called back and heard Mourinho’s voice: “Hey Adebayor, how are you? It’s José, the Special One.” He asked if I wanted to come to Madrid. Sometimes I think that coaches are messing with people. As if I were going to say, “No, no, Madrid does not really interest me.” You can not turn it down. I even ran into Shimon Peres, the Israeli president, as well as the president of Pakistan.
What did you tell those presidents?
Peres asked me what it felt like to play for Real because he told me that it was his dream. Jokingly, I responded that my dream was to be president! Was he being serious? My man, you are the president of Israel and you want to play for Real Madrid? You travel in private jets filled with body guards and you are telling me that you dream of playing in the Bernabeu? Then come one, let’s switch jobs, just for 24 hours!
Could you see yourself following a path like George Weah’s in Liberia?
Never. With the terrorist organisations, you can never feel at peace, you can not drive convertibles, and you can not see your friends. As a footballer, I am free, I can dye my hair or my beard as I please. People tell me: “Many you are an ambassador.” And what else? I am a footballer and when I stop, I will tell my kids how to grow. Currently, Togo is unstable because some say that the president needs to leave. Some young people were killed during the protests. Why? If tomorrow, another person were to become president, would he see the families.
No think first about what you can do for your own, then think about your country. The Togolese people has asked for my opinion. But what am I meant to talk about? What do I know about politics? How does a new constitution concern me? I do not even know it, it does not interest me. If the president were to leave, would the unemployed have an easier time finding work? Not certain. Look at Libya with Gaddafi. We saw a country with and without him. The Libyan people are starting to regret it. The Togolese Diaspora in Paris who talk about the protests should move to their country and see if they would protest!
To get back into the world of football, do you not regret having stayed at Real for a season?
Mourinho wanted to keep me at all costs, but it did not happen. “I could even show you the messages,” he said. On the other hand, there was Harry Redknapp who wanted me at Tottenham. He had contacted me during a Champions League match against Real Madrid. Jose Mourinho advised that I go there. It went really well for two seasons. Redknapp is special, different. He would come see you and say, “How are you? You seem tired, you should take a couple of days off. Go to Paris and we will see each other on Wednesday.”
Then he would ask a secretary to grab a ticket for me. I would come back on Wednesday, and he would say, “How are you? Do you want to train? Go get massaged and then do twenty minutes on the bike.” I would train regularily on the Thursday and Friday and he would say, “I really need you tomorrow. Eat those defenders a live, you are better than all of them, you are the best striker in the league, better than Rooney.” In the beginning, you know he is messing around, but then manages to get in your head.
On Saturday, I would score two goals, and he would say, “Good job, Manu. See you on Thursday!” Redknapp has a very old-fashioned method. It’s give and take. The players need those days off to disconnect. So you give 200% so that you get those days. And in that Spurs team, there was: [Gareth] Bale, [Luka] Modric, [Rafael] Van der Vaart, [Aaron] Lennon… Everything went at lightning speed. When Redknapp was fired, it got more complicated.
You were present during the bus attack on the Togolese national team in Cabinda (January 2010). Terrorist attacks are also at the centre of the news currently, from which Turkey has not been sparred. Knowing your personal history, did you hesitate before signing with Basaksehir?
If I have to die, then so be it. Sooner or latter. Where or how, I do not know. My friends tell me to be careful with all these terrorist attacks reaching stadiums. Yet people are dying in restaurants. Who does not eat? They attacked airports, hotels, but who does not travel? Where are we safe today? Death is on our heels. As long as I wake up in the morning, pray and give my soul to the lord, the rest (does not matter)…