Heart Of Football

Sunset for Adebayor but sunrise for Son

Emmanuel Adebayor, at his best, was unplayable. But at Spurs, under manager Mauricio Pochettino, he had no place in the squad.
Emmanuel Adebayor, at his best, was unplayable. But at Spurs, under manager Mauricio Pochettino, he had no place in the squad.PHOTO: ACTION IMAGES

It is an irony that Barcelona, once the best schooling ground in the world for youngsters, are barred by Fifa from signing senior players because they beat jealous rivals to recruit a youth who was tipped to be the Korean Messi.

Ironic because Londoners are calling their new striker "Sonny", who dropped out of Dongbuk High School in Seoul at 16 to start an apprenticeship in Germany's Bundesliga.

And where is Sonny - full name Son Heung Min - now?

He is preparing to make his Premier League home debut for Tottenham Hotspur. Son's move to Spurs cost £22 million (S$47.8 million), a world-record fee for an Asian player, eclipsing Japan's Hidetoshi Nakata who cost Roma about S$40 million in 2001.

One reason Fifa shut down Barcelona's recruiting power was that someone unnamed reported Barca over the signing of underage boys into their La Masia academy.

The power these days is with the player. Adebayor knew that, so long as he turned up for daily training, the final year on his contract was worth closer to £5 million.

Liverpool, Chelsea and Real Madrid were among the suitors for Lee Seung Woo before he joined Barcelona.

The closest anyone gets to pointing the finger at the informant who triggered Fifa's investigation, and subsequent ban on signing senior professionals as well as not being allowed to educate boys in their academy, came when I asked if there was a black hand hovering over Barca.

"A white hand," someone corrected me.

The outcome is that the only competitive football Lee can play until he turns 18 next January has been for South Korea's U-18s.

Rumours say that some people would be happy to see him in Real Madrid white when he finally gets clearance to play in Europe.

Meantime, Sonny boy seems to be fitting in nicely at Tottenham, his third European club since he left Seoul. Hamburg gave him a soccer education, then sold him to Bayer Leverkusen, which sold him to Spurs this August.

And for two reasons, Tottenham have pushed him into the first team as soon as his work papers and his fitness level allowed it. Those two reasons are Emmanuel Adebayor and Saido Berahino.

Adebayor made himself an outcast at Spurs by trying only when it suited him, and by sitting on a contract paying him £100,000 per week whether he played or not.

Berahino was his designated successor but, as ever with Spurs' transfer trading. chairman Daniel Levy left it until the final days to try to cut a deal favourable to the club.

West Bromwich Albion, which hold Berahino's contract, bartered just as hard.

So when the window shut at the start of the month, Berahino was stranded at West Brom. Foolishly, he had claimed he would never play again while the current chairman, Jeremy Peace, remained.

He is going nowhere, at least until the next window in January. He's gifted, relatively young at 22, and his team-mates are forgiving enough to welcome him back.

Adebayor? A different story entirely. Born in Togo of Nigerian parents, he left at 17 to join Metz in France and has been traded to Monaco, Arsenal, Manchester City, Real Madrid (on loan) and Tottenham.

He has had spells when he was supremely unplayable, especially during his Arsenal days when, with his tall, lean, sinewy figure, he seemed almost to sense goals like a labrador sniffing out dope.

Alas for Adebayor and for Spurs, he is also capricious. When Andre Villas-Boas succeeded Harry Redknapp as manager, the highly structured Portuguese coach and the highly strung Adebayor were out of tune.

When Spurs sacked Villas-Boas and put Tim Sherwood in charge, Adebayor briefly re-ignited, scoring eight goals in 10 games.

Then Tottenham replaced Sherwood with the Argentinian coach Mauricio Pochettino. Either Adebayor didn't suit Pochettino's way of playing, based on high tempo and high work ethic, or it was the other way around.

Whichever, the last time he started a Premier League game for Spurs was Nov 2, 2014, when he was taken off after less than an hour without appearing to break sweat.

This summer, Pochettino did not give him a squad number and told him to train with the reserves.

Adebayor had an odd way of conforming, turning up every day in either his Rolls Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe or his Mercedes G wagon, chauffeur-driven as befits a man of his salaried status.

Tottenham had a misfit on their hands, and on their payroll. He was invited to go elsewhere but the two clubs who were keen, West Ham United and Aston Villa, would not match his Spurs salary.

Levy tried to pay him off with £1 million net severance fee, leaving Adebayor, 31, a free agent.

The power these days is with the player. Adebayor knew that, so long as he turned up for daily training, the final year on his contract was worth closer to £5 million.

Last week, Levy agreed to pay him off but in instalments and with a non-disclosure clause in the deal. Galatasaray and Marseille are interested in speaking to Adebayor, as of now an unemployed striker who might ignite their seasons.

Meantime, there is opportunity in the Tottenham white shirt for someone to play alongside Harry Kane in attack.

Enter Son. Now 23, he comes with experience in Germany, with adaptability to play as striker, second striker or on the wing.

More to the point, he comes with the sunny disposition of a worker-player who sums his own attitude up in the words: "What the coach says, I will do."

He proved it on Thursday by scoring twice inside three minutes in Tottenham's hard-fought 2-1 home win against Azerbaijan champions Qarabag.

Having tried African, Spurs are going Asian against Crystal Palace today.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 20, 2015, with the headline 'Sunset for Adebayor but sunrise for Son'. Print Edition | Subscribe