Monday, September 14, 2009

Lawton: Adebayor's moment of madness

Manchester City 4 Arsenal 2

By James Lawton, Chief Sports Writer

The brittle smile of Mark Hughes after this potentially foundation-stone victory over a member of the English football elite he has been funded to supplant was as easy to understand as the disconsolate features of the beaten Arsène Wenger.

Emmanuel Adebayor, after all, had placed before Hughes the dilemma of every football man who ever put his career in the hands of a player of extraordinary talent but perhaps ungovernable character.

Adebayor was immense in this game, huge and luminous in his natural ability. Unfortunately, this only made his lapse into dangerous and shocking professional irresponsibility all the more dramatic and, for Hughes, disconcerting on a day when he might otherwise have been celebrating a significant and untrammelled step forward in a project that has invited so much scepticism.

The big man from Togo showed us the beauty that lies in his natural gifts and why Hughes parted so enthusiastically with £25m – and then the beast.

He was so caught up in the obsessions created by his view of the world that the consensus belief around football that he will almost certainly receive no less than a four-game ban for his behaviour was a report veering to the side of leniency.

It was hard to know which was least measured in its irrationality, his pitch-long dash to bait the Arsenal fans who had jeered him from his first kick of the ball – or the stamp aimed at Robin van Persie's head which left ugly marks around the Arsenal player's eye.

Hughes' concern about his ability to control his virtuoso player can only be partially reduced by the fact that Adebayor had to run such a gauntlet of disdain from his former club's supporters and that Van Persie, for all the wounded innocence of the statement he issued against his old team-mate on Saturday night, mighty easily have been given a red card for the brutal, two-footed tackle which provoked the flashpoint.

A degree of control will always be one of the key requirements of an outstanding professional and whatever the short-term consequences, Hughes will know well enough now that his most dynamic asset has, to a level not seen before, revealed a skin no thicker than the most faded parchment.

After Adebayor's nationwide television apology, Hughes made his own contribution to the damage control, saying: "He has shown emotion and you should never take emotion out of this sport. But there are obviously various things that will have a negative impact and he has come out very quickly and apologised. He knows he should not have done it.

"When I said we need to cut him some slack it was because of the breakdown in his relationship with the Arsenal fans. That was the sad part for him. He really loved his time at Arsenal, he will tell you that himself, but for whatever reason he wasn't appreciated by his own fans at the end and that is hard to take for a professional footballer.

"Obviously you want to be loved by your own fans because you get enough abuse from the opposition's."

Here, Hughes, for all the tightness of his corner, could not escape the charge of being disingenuous. There is no mystery in the disaffection of the Arsenal fans. Adebayor was liked well enough in his first brilliant season in the wake of Thierry Henry but then, hardly before that affection could be properly cemented, he was flirting most publicly with Milan. It is not the way you underpin your hero's status in modern football.

For Wenger, who at one point must have seen in Adebayor an ability to outstrip the potential of another of his discoveries, Nicolas Anelka, before he defected to Real Madrid at vast profit but leaving an unshakeable sense of betrayed hope, it all seemed to form a great wave of angst.

He was asked if, at the very least of it, Adebayor had shown disrespect. "You can take it as that," said the Arsenal manager. "I don't want to focus on it but it was not enjoyable to see. I was concerned that there could be some reaction from the fans. At Arsenal we tried to treat him well. He came from Metz where he didn't play [and moved on to Monaco] and now he is the player he is. I do not feel we have treated him badly. I have to see the Van Persie incident again, but if he has done it, it is very dangerous."

Even given the frequency in recent years of Arsenal's failure to exploit often exquisite football properly, it was hard to remember Wenger in such a forlorn mood after defeat. Perhaps it was when he lost the 2006 Champions League final to Barcelona. Certainly when he lost to United two weeks ago, after long phases of the control Arsenal also displayed against City, he was relatively sanguine.

Most worrying, no doubt, was the ease with which City were able to counter-attack. Their first goal was largely another embarrassment for Manuel Almunia, and came in their first significant occupation of the Arsenal half, but the other three were all the result of the flimsiness of Arsenal's resistance when their attack was turned.

Tomas Rosicky brought a sharp increase in coherence and drive when he came on as a substitute, but Wenger continues to be concerned by his fragility after a long injury. He must also hope it was the effects of a much shorter lay-off that made Cesc Fabregas so inconsequential, rather than any dwindling of his determination to resist the overtures of Barcelona.

Wenger said: "It is worrying. We have played four games, three away and, unfortunately, we have lost two of those games. I thought we were controlling this game. It is hard to take."

Hughes has, of course, won all of his games. Apart from Adebayor's stunning football – not least one run which Shaun Wright-Phillips should have knocked in and then always remembered it as the gift of the most magnificent assist received in his entire career – he had excellent performances from Craig Bellamy, Gareth Barry and Nigel de Jong.

Yet the smile of victory never reached Hughes' eyes. It said that whatever lies ahead it is not too many sleep-laden nights. Having Adebayor around is not exactly a guarantee of such delights.

Manchester City (4-3-3) Given; Richards, Touré, Lescott, Bridge; Ireland (Petrov, 73), De Jong, Barry; Wright-Phillips, Adebayor, Bellamy. Subsitutes not used: Taylor (gk), Onuoha, Zabaleta, Sylvinho, Vidal, Weiss.

Arsenal (4-3-3): Almunia; Sagna (Eboué, 77), Gallas, Vermaelen, Clichy; Fabregas, Song (Eduardo, 77), Denilson (Rosicky, 52); Bendtner, Van Persie, Diaby. Substitutes not used: Mannone (gk), Ramsey, Silvestre, Gibbs.

Referee M Clattenburg (Tyne and Wear).

Booked: Manchester City Lescott, Adebayor, De Jong; Arsenal Sagna,Song.

Man of the match: Adebayor.

Attendance: 47,339.


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