A few months into last season, a back injury to Gonzalo Higuain forced Mourinho to take a dip in the cold waters of the winter transfer market to snag the third striker he had been pining for for some time. A host of high-profile names were linked to Real Madrid, including former Madrid hero Ruud Van Nistelrooy, German goal-machine Miroslav Klose, Bosnian upstart Edin Dzeko (the one that got away, thank heavens) and even former Real Madrid taunter Samuel “cabron” Eto’o. But while the romantics amongst us began dreaming of a glorious return for Van Nistelrooy, Mourinho eventually had to plump for… Emmanuel Adebayor. Man City reject and the face adorning a thousand dartboards in the red half of London. An anti-climactic signing if there ever was one.
However, Adebayor started well and while he did put in some poor shifts, his loan spell was a respectable one when you consider that he came in mid-season and was under pressure to perform from the get-go in a new team and unfamiliar league. “Manolo” ended up with 8 goals in 22 appearances including a brace in the 4-0 trouncing of Spurs and a hat-trick in our final Liga game of the season. It seemingly wasn’t enough to impress then Sporting Director Jorge Valdano, who remained non-committal on the prospect of a permanent signing. And once Real began to be linked with the likes of Santos prodigy Neymar, it seemed a foregone conclusion that Adebayor would be gone.
But Valdano has of course since left Real Madrid and just last week, Mourinho stated that Adebayor was closer to joining the club than Neymar. This may have come as a disappointment to those Madridistas who have been so completely seduced by all the Neymar hype. But not this Madridista. If I had to pick between the two for next season, I’d pick Adebayor in an instant. And here’s why.
While I agree that Neymar is a precocious talent with immense potential, I don’t believe in paying €45 million – three times the amount paid for Mesut Özil – for potential that has only been gauged by watching the player perform in the Brazilian league and Copa Libertadores, where teams aren’t exactly known for their defensive organization. Sure he has a good international scoring record, but his goals against the U.S.A. and Scotland in international friendlies and a poor Ecuador defence in the Copa America do not suggest that he will help us overthrow that other team next season. I can already hear some of you saying that €45 million is a small price to pay for someone who could develop into the next Pelé. But how do you know that he will become the next Pelé and not the next Robinho? It would be irresponsible and unwise to gamble with that much money after the excesses of the last two years.
At the Copa America, Neymar was frequently guilty of selfish play, often electing to shoot or attempt a fancy dribble when a simple pass would have sufficed. You could put this down to immaturity and say that he would learn and improve at Real Madrid, but Mourinho won’t have the luxury of giving him game minutes to improve. The margin for error is so tiny nowadays, particularly in the Liga where the difference between a 2-1 win and a 1-1 draw in Jornada 3 could be the difference between winning or losing the championship come the end of the season.
Even if he did somehow improve his decision-making and tactical awareness overnight, are we really in need of Neymar’s skill-set? What can he offer us that we don’t already have? Goals? We scored 2.8 goals a game last season; we have one guy who can score 50 goals and another (Pipita) quite capable of 30 – 35 if he avoids injury. Proficiency in one-on-ones? Di Maria and CR7 have that covered. Pace? Ditto. Invention? We have enough of that with Özil, Kaká and our wingers. It’s clear that Neymar is not a necessity for us, and it does seem as if we are chasing him just because everyone else is.
Guess who isn’t being chased by every elite team across Europe? Emmanuel Adebayor. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t of use to us, quite the contrary in fact. Adebayor may not be as technically gifted as Neymar, but he gives us something different up front – that awkward lanky, physical presence that defenders hate dealing with – as well as work-rate, something Neymar isn’t exactly renowned for. He can also chip in with valuable goals as our third striker, as he did last season. The most obvious advantage of retaining Adebayor is that he won’t take any time to settle in as he was part of the team for 6 months last season. He knows his teammates, is liked by the fans and clearly loves the club.
Sure, he has had a questionable attitude in the past but he behaved well during his loan spell at Real. And yes it’s possible that he could become disruptive if he is retained but doesn’t get much playing time. But Real Madrid has a way of humbling players, even the most troublesome and petulant ones. Just look at how much CR7 has changed since joining Real. He is no longer the whiny, petulant player we saw at Man United, but has morphed into a real leader who channels his arrogance productively and inspires his teammates. And after all the vitriol Adebayor received from Arsenal and Man City fans, I believe he truly appreciates the affection shown to him by the Bernabéu faithful and genuinely wants to repay them.
To conclude, what Real Madrid needs the most right now is stability. Signing Neymar would shake up the team dynamic and unnecessarily add drama to a dressing room where everyone seems to get along quite well. Again, with guys like CR7, Pipita and Benzema in our team, we don’t need a 25-goal-a-season striker or the next Pelé (if indeed Neymar is either of those things). We need variety and depth, both of which would be provided by Adebayor for a fraction of the price. Most importantly, retaining him would allow the team to continue developing the way it has been over the last two seasons. Adebayor represents continuity, and continuity is the order of the day at Real Madrid.