Adebayor versus Arsenal

From the media maelstrom following last Saturday’s match, you could be forgiven for thinking it was Emmanuel Adebayor alone who took on Arsenal in a bloody battle of wills and egos, rather than a whole City team that performed their gameplan to the letter.

What to make of it, and where does it leave us? Well let’s have a look at the two talking points.

Catching Van Persie

After the match Wenger said he didn’t see Adebayor kick Van Persie, and there’s an irony here in that the Frenchman was for once speaking for everyone as I think we all missed it at the time (with the exception of Van Persie who could hardly have had a closer view). On the way out of the game, nobody was even mentioning it, but once the TV replays came into their own it was another story.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think it was a ‘stamp’. It appeared more like a rake with the tip of the boot, though Van Persie’s face looked like it had been caught by studs. Obviously if Van Persie hadn’t have lunged at Adebayor, his head wouldn’t have been there.

It could be argued that Adebayor’s biggest mistake was in making contact. Van Persie said, “the contact was only centimetres from my eye”. Maybe, but likewise a couple of centimetres further away and there would have been no contact. The incident wouldn’t then have had so much as a TV replay and a national talking point / witchhunt would never have happened. There were plenty of other dubious challenges in the game, some of which were aimed at Adebayor, that could also have resulted in injury had they connected.

Only Adebayor will know the level of intent. His foot did appear to flick out slightly as it was coming down, and that looks to have been enough to get him a three match ban. It also appeared to be a heat of the moment reaction to Van Persie’s challenge rather than pre-meditated. This is something Hughes will want to look at with Adebayor. The player will now be targeted by opponents and fans in his next few games, and whenever he plays Arsenal. The ability to retain his composure and withstand any abuse is going to be essential.

The Thierry Henry goal celebration tribute

Thierry Henry, 16 Nov 2002

Thierry Henry, 16 Nov 2002

As you may guess from the heading, I wasn’t overwhelmed with outrage by Adebayor’s goal celebration. Like many City fans at the game I cheered the goal then saw him set off on his run. In our elated state, there was certainly an element of cheering him on to be discerned as he charged downfield. I recall having some concern at what he might he do when he reached the Arsenal fans, but he stopped short of leaving the pitch by utilising his trademark kneeslide. It was his moment, and he overdid it, but it felt like the theatre of football.

Maybe he shouldn’t have done it, but those giving him abuse, particularly racial abuse should know better as well. As intimated above, there was a certain irony in the celebration imitating one of Thierry Henry’s most famous efforts in a North London derby: after scoring at the Clock End of Highbury, the Frenchman ran the length of the pitch, before coming to a halt with a kneeslide in front of the Spurs fans.

As you can see the from the picture, the Spurs fans weren’t to enamoured either, although in comparison to the scenes on Saturday, it could be argued they took it on the chin rather well. Maybe that was why Henry heard nothing from the FA about his celebration.

What has subsequently upset a lot of City fans, is the singling out of Adebayor for condemnation when Van Persie left the field of play and swore at City supporters for his goal celebration. In his eagerly written statement, the Dutchman expressed a bit of a double standard in condemning Adebayor for showing “a real lack of class to … the fans”.

The FA appear mindful of keeping Van Persie’s celebration separate, by stating their charge of improper conduct for Adebayor is for “turning and running the full length of the pitch to celebrate”, rather than the actual celebration.

Reaction to the reaction

I’m not going to pretend to be particularly shocked or outraged by Van Persie’s injury. For as long as football has existed, players have been kicking lumps out of each other. Those who find it abhorrant would be best advised to find another sport to follow as similar incidents will doubtless happen again in the future. Likewise, expressing outrage is a long established media practice, only it’s something that has increased exponentially with the growing number of  columnists, pundits, phone-ins, bloggers, forum posters and everybody else in our communication saturated world.

With regard to goal celebrations, I’ve always thought there’s a case for deliberately aiming a celebration at opposing fans to be made a bookable offence. It can incite fans, and is far worse than a player taking his shirt off. I’ve never really understood the need to book someone for that.

It remains to be seen whether City break into the ‘top four’ in the Premier League this season, but we’ve clearly made it in terms of media coverage. The effect can be bewildering to those who remember times, not so long ago, outside the top tier when we’d struggle to get so much as a column inch in the national press.

The role of Mark Hughes in all this

How Mark Hughes deals with this situation, and the big talent / big ego players of a top level club is already being flagged up. In terms of Saturday’s incidents, Hughes is straight out of the Fergie school of standing up for your players in public. This was evident in his time as Blackburn manager when the team were accused of being overly-physical. It can leave him open to criticism of myopic bias and failing to recognise the issue, but given the level of often hysterical reaction elsewhere to Adebayor, most City fans will be happy to see him defend our corner in his usual measured tones.

Like Ferguson, what he does in private is another matter. Cantona (after his kung-fu kick), Beckham (after his World Cup sending off),  and Ronaldo (after Rooney’s World Cup sending off) all came back strongly, having doubtless been told by Fergie to focus on their game and not respond to baiting – all that stuff about seige mentalities, etc. Quite possibly Hughes will try and go down a similar path. He’ll need to be firm enough with Adebayor to make the player think twice before getting involved in further controversy, while also ensuring the Togolese remains committed to the cause.

We want more of the goalscoring Adebayor we’ve already seen and not a return to the lacklustre Adebayor of last season. Hughes will be crucial in this, and it will be a big plus for the manager’s credentials if he can pull it off.

The derby

City will almost certainly be going into the derby without Adebayor, which is likely to leave Craig Bellamy playing as a lone striker. Much as we’ve been impressed by Bellers, it’s hard to see him getting any change out of Vidic and Ferdinand on his own. This is now our biggest concern going into the weekend.

Moving Bellamy to centre-forward and playing Petrov on the wing weakens us defensively, but the Bulgarian has looked in good form recently, and should be bursting to show his quality going forward. He’s also capable of long raking passes that Bellamy can run onto and burst free of United’s defenders. This could be our best hope for goals.

Hughes may be tempted to take a chance on Tevez if the Argentinian thinks he can play, but he’s only likely to be half fit, and United won’t exactly be going easy on him. It could be a mistake to try and push him.

The absence of a target man makes our derby team look to similar to that of last season for comfort. Optimism will be dampened as we look to our midfield and defence to grind out a result.