Leading Togo at Cup of Nations an 'obligation' for Adebayor

AFP , Wednesday 18 Jan 2017,
Togo's Emmanuel Adebayor attends a training session in Stade de Bitam, Gabon, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017 (Photo: AP)

Emmanuel Adebayor has been without a club for six months now but the only thing on his mind in that time has been leading his country Togo into the Africa Cup of Nations.

In an interview with AFP at the Togo team's base in Oyem in northern Gabon, the former Arsenal, Manchester City, Real Madrid and Tottenham Hotspur striker admitted he felt a responsibility to lead the small west African nation on their return to the tournament.

"My teammates look up to me. I am not going to say that I am an icon but I am a leader. I have to show to my teammates that they can count on me," said Adebayor, who turns 33 next month.

He did that in the Sparrow Hawks' opening game at this year's tournament as they held reigning champions Ivory Coast to a 0-0 draw.

Adebayor had not been seen at club level since leaving English Premier League side Crystal Palace at the end of last season, but he still started against the Ivorians and played 89 minutes before being taken off by coach Claude Le Roy.

When asked if he thought he would last such a long time in that game, he replied: "Yes of course I did after all that I had done over the last few months with the coach and the fitness staff."

There are other experienced players in the Togolese team, notably the Olympiakos midfielder Alaixys Romao.

But Adebayor is aware of the status he has acquired since first going to the Cup of Nations in 2002.

He had recently gone to Arsenal when he played for Togo at the 2006 World Cup and will be forever marked by the fatal attack on the team's bus at the 2010 Cup of Nations in Angola.

Three members of the Togo delegation were killed and the team withdrew from the competition.

"Young players look up to me," he said. "It is up to me to show on the field that I am still Adebayor, a footballer who loves the game.

"To be one of the most experienced players here warms my heart. It gives me pleasure even if emotionally it is tough."

Lyon refusal

While he may be a free agent, he insists that he is not motivated by the need to find a new club, saying he is simply in Gabon "to play, enjoy myself and defend the colours of my country."

Behind him is the episode of last September, when a move to French club Lyon fell through because of his insistence on going to the Cup of Nations.

"I refused the contract offer so I could represent my country," he said. "They asked me if I planned to go to the Cup of Nations and I said 'yes'.

"They said that made things difficult and I told them it was their choice but that I was obliged to go and defend the colours of my country.

"If the best club in the world comes to me and tells me to sign for them tomorrow, I wouldn't go."

Togo are now looking to build on their opening result as they prepare to face Morocco and DR Congo in their remaining group games, with a repeat of their best-ever run to the quarter-finals in 2013 the target.

"Our preparations went well and I'd like to thank the government for the efforts they made. This time there were no problems with our kit supply, no problems with bonuses. Everything was sorted out in time.

"Our only objective is to do well. We have everyone behind us, now it is up to us to play, take pleasure and give pleasure to others.

"I think the whole country looks to me to score goals and help the team win games. I have an obligation to do that against Morocco on Friday.

"What we did in 2013 is behind us. What is important now is the present and what is in front of you. We played very well against one of the best teams in Africa. But we must not get carried away."

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