Emmanuel Adebayor has talked for the first time about the chaos that followed Togo's exit from the Africa Cup of Nations earlier this month,, which delayed his return to Tottenham Hotspur and has compounded what he describes as "one of the toughest seasons of my whole life."
The striker endured uncertainty last summer, as his permanent transfer from Manchester City became akin to a saga and, after the £5.5m deal went through in late August, he suffered injury and a red card against his former club, Arsenal, which led to a three-game ban. His domestic season was interrupted further by the Africa Cup of Nations, when he answered a personal plea from the president of Togo to lead the country in South Africa.
Adebayor has scored only three goals for Tottenham this time out, but he is primed for a glorious finale which, he hopes, will also see an old score being settled. The 28-year-old is reviled at Arsenal and he would love to beat them to a Champions League qualifying spot. Tottenham, who visit West Ham United on Monday night, are four points clear of Arsenal in fourth place. Arsenal face Aston Villa at home on Saturday and it is the north London derby at White Hart Lane next Sunday. Tottenham have not finished above Arsenal since 1994-95.
"When I was at Arsenal, my job was to score goals for them but now I'm at Tottenham and I have to help the team finish in the top four," Adebayor said. "We have a big chance this season to finish on top of them and we have to take it.
"You know what happened at the end of a tough race last season [when Tottenham missed out on the Champions League] and we don't want to commit the same mistake. It's getting better every season at Tottenham and we have to find a way, especially me. It's a big opportunity for me to show people I was right to leave Arsenal, which means finishing on top of them. If that's with Tottenham, it's even better."
Adebayor's Togo made history at the Africa Cup of Nations when they reached the quarter-finals for the first time. But they were beaten by Burkina Faso on Sunday 3 February and the defeat was the prompt for a whirlwind five days underpinned, in Adebayor's opinion, by characteristically inept organisation from the Togo Football Federation.
Adebayor had assured Tottenham that he would be back for training on Friday 8 February, in time for the lunchtime Premier League kick-off at home to Newcastle United the following day. But he did not land at Luton airport until 6pm on the Friday, on a private jet that Tottenham had eventually chartered to bring him back from Togo. As a result he was not deemed ready to start against Newcastle, although he came on as a 69th-minute substitute in the 2-1 win.
The Togo president had requested to see the squad in order to congratulate them on their tournament showing but Adebayor said it took them four days to get a flight from South Africa to their home country. "We'd made history by reaching the quarter-finals and I cannot just jump on the plane and come back to my club, because the president of the country wanted to see us," Adebayor said. "I am the captain so I have to be there. Financially I can get a private jet and come back to London [from South Africa] but I could not abandon my team. As captain it's not a good example.
"In South Africa there were no planes to go back home [to Togo]. We went out on the Sunday, then we were trying to find a plane to go to Togo and [after that], go back to London. It took us four days to get a plane. That's not my fault. I can't do anything. I [couldn't] just put something on my body and fly back. When we did get to Togo, the next flight that the club sent for me, I was on it.
"Togo is not Ivory Coast. When they went out of the tournament [on the same day], the president of the federation sent them a plane to get back. In Togo you all know the story. It's not the same."
Adebayor cannot suppress his frustration at the Togolese federation. "I've spoken already about the organisation and I didn't want to go to the tournament because of it," he said. "The president of the country convinced me to go and I was happy to be the captain and everybody was proud of us. But as soon as we were out, the same things happen – organisation. There was nothing organised to take us back home.
"I had to call the president of the country on my own to tell him that we had to go [from South Africa]. He told us to get to the airport at 4pm on Thursday. We did and then we stayed at the airport for more than 10, 12 hours.
"I think people recognise now that, with a little more organisation, we can achieve something. That's what I've said for the last 10 years. You have to concentrate on football but that's not the case with Togo. You have to concentrate on: 'What am I going to eat today? Where am I going to sleep?'"
Adebayor highlighted how European players are able to enjoy weeks off after the European Championship, in contrast to their African counterparts, who must also switch immediately from "30 degree heat to minus three" and contend with changes to "the culture and the food". He said such switches take their toll in physical terms and that he has suffered since.
However, he added that he felt sharper against Lyon in the Europa League on Thursday night, when Mousa Dembélé's late goal carried Tottenham into a last-16 meeting with Internazionale, and he intends to drive an upturn in his personal fortunes over the coming weeks.
"I'm not going to blame it on anybody, I'm going to blame it on myself, because I know I can do better and a lot of people who know me are expecting better," Adebayor said. "But I'm a human being, I've got blood running through my veins like everyone else. You reach a point where you are tired. But I'm getting back to my best. Physically I'm looking better and, when I'm good physically, I know the rest will follow."
There can be no doubting Adebayor's mental toughness and he draws strength from the events that he has lived through, particularly the gun attack on the Togo team bus before the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations.
"I get a tough time but I have to keep going because [it] could have been worse," he said. "I've seen people dying in front of me, I've seen people with guns in front of me. I've also had 30,000 people abusing me [in stadiums]. I take it as part of life. It's true that sometimes, you hear things and think: 'It's a tough one,' but when I go home to my wife and little daughter, they put a smile on my face. They are the only people who make me happy."
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