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Matches 21 October 2023, 10:21

Nonda, The Galacticos, the Champions League in 2004… We catch up with Emmanuel Adebayor!

Nonda, The Galacticos, the Champions League in 2004… We catch up with Emmanuel Adebayor!
This Sunday at 5:05 p.m., AS Monaco hosts FC Metz at the Stade Louis-II. On the eve of this new match in the league, we caught up with the former Togolese striker, a player who played for both teams including in the Principality between 2003 and 2006.

He played in the biggest European clubs! But before making a career at Manchester City, Arsenal or even Real Madrid, Emmanuel Sheyi Adebayor spent almost three years of his life at AS Monaco, between 2003 and 2006. Arriving from Metz at just 19 years old, the former Togolese international, having been retired since 2020, thus was part of the epic run in the Champions League. The man who scored 26 goals in 114 matches tells us, among other things, about this memorable moment, as well as his relationship with Shabani Nonda, during a long and rich interview. 🎙

Hello Emmanuel. How are you and what are you doing now?

Things are going well, I retired in 2020. I am in Togo, with my family. This is going very well. I work in entrepreneurship and I have my foundation with which I do a lot of things in Africa to help and support young people. For the moment, I have cut out football even if I am a little involved via CAF. It’s not full time, I do what I want.

 

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Une publication partagée par The Real Adebayor (@e_adebayor)

Tell us about your arrival at AS Monaco in the 2003 summer transfer window…

I was very young at the time, only 19 years old. I had a good season with FC Metz in Ligue 2, where we managed to move up to the first division. At the end of it Didier Deschamps was on the phone.

He asked me lots of questions and notably asked me if I would like to play for AS Monaco. My answer was immediately yes because there was an African legend at the Club — Shabani Nonda. I saw him all the time on TV, he was a player that I adored enormously. He was a big brother. Monaco was also a very good team in France. For all these reasons, I told him yes.

Weren’t you afraid of joining the a Club that was in the Champions League, with all the competition?

No not at all. As proof, after Monaco, I joined Arsenal which had Dennis Bergkamp, Robert Pirès, Thierry Henry and I still went. Since I was little, I had confidence in my qualities and I knew that by signing for the Club, I would not be a starter.

But by being serious and learning from other players and my older brothers, I could improve and learn a lot of things. That was the case, I was never an indisputable starter but I made my way. And if I had the chance to play at Arsenal, at Manchester City, Real Madrid or Tottenham, it’s because of what I learned at AS Monaco.

Especially since Monaco is renowned as a training club, did that reassure you in your choice?

I think that when we talk about the quality of training in Europe, there is none better than France, and in particular FC Metz, Sochaux, Saint-Etienne or even Monaco… I stayed 12-13 years in England and I immediately saw the difference. AS Monaco is an excellent training club and I am very happy to have been here.

I didn't really realize it at the time because I was very young. I came from FC Metz and I had never known or participated in the Champions League. I didn't know it was as important as that. And it was really when I signed in England that I saw what it was. And then, I said to myself “Wow, what we achieved with AS Monaco was really magnificent!”
Emmanuel Adebayor on the run of 2004Former AS Monaco forward

How did you experience the European run, even though you were only 19 years old?

I didn’t really realize it at the time because I was very young. I came from FC Metz and I had never known or participated in the Champions League. I didn’t know it was as important as that. And it was really when I signed in England that I saw what it was. And then, I said to myself “Wow, what we achieved with AS Monaco was really magnificent!” And now even more because since my retirement, I have seen the excitement around this competition.

I had a huge chance to play for AS Monaco and reach the final. Fernando Morientes was splendid, Ludovic Giuly was strong, Jérôme Rothen was unstoppable on the flank,  no one could dribble like Patrice Evra… It was a magnificent year for all these players. And even if we were on the bench, we knew we could come back and make a difference. These are truly unforgettable moments.

That’s it, you were mostly a substitute but you knew you could make your contribution.

Yes of course, we were ready to make our contribution. We must not forget that we had a coach on the bench, Didier Deschamps, who trusted us enormously and who spoke to us a lot. He is truly a leader of men who knows how to talk to his players and how to manipulate his team. I think he does things very, very well.

And yet, at the end of August, Shabani Nonda was seriously injured. I imagine that must have taken a toll on your morale?

This was a double whammy for me because you have to remember that I am an African. He’s like my older brother. When I arrived in Monaco, he was the one who took me under his wing. He made me work in front of the goal, I went to his house to eat… He was even the one who dropped me off at home after training, at my hotel. For me, Shabani is not a fellow player but a big brother.

His injury obviously affected us all but when we saw Fernando Morientes, the Real Madrid legend, arrive here, it was impressive. We saw a very simple player, very polite and at the service of everyone. Obviously, we all had questions about Raúl, Zidane, Ronaldo, Roberto Carlos… He was there, laughing to answer and giving us advice, it motivated us.

In the end, it was perhaps this injury that united you more because we know that there was a great atmosphere in the team.

Of course because we knew that if we wanted to have a good season, we had to be a family, united and strong, already for ourselves. This is where the coach was very interesting because we know that Monaco is not a Club where the stadium is sold out for every match, but which wants to be more family-friendly.

So to move forward, we had to support each other, help each other and resolve the small problems between us internally, before it came out. I think we were like brothers. For example, every two to three weeks, we would meet to eat together. That was really our strength.

The matches against the Galacticos. What struck me was seeing the Bernabeu for the first time in the colors of AS Monaco. When I saw players like Raúl, Zidane, Roberto Carlos... It was an African kid's dream, and seeing them and then playing against them, there is nothing more beautiful.
Emmanuel AdebayorOn the memory of playing against Real Madrid

And that’s what allowed you to beat Real, Chelsea… Precisely, what is the match that made the biggest impression on you the most during this incredible journey?

(Without hesitation) The matches against the Galacticos. What struck me was seeing the Bernabeu for the first time in the colors of AS Monaco. When I saw players like Raúl, Zidane, Roberto Carlos… It was an African kid’s dream, and seeing them and then playing against them, there is nothing more beautiful. Furthermore, I had only been in France for three or four years and only a few months since I debuted in the Champions League. And having the chance to play against these players was even more impressive.

In your position, there were experienced players like Dado Pršo or Fernando Morientes. How were they with you, giving you advice?

If you look closely, after my departure from AS Monaco, I scored a lot of headed goals (34 to be exact, editor’s note), and it’s partly thanks to the two of them who helped me in this area. Pršo but above all Morientes had an extraordinary heading game. Each time, they would talk to me and throw the ball to me so that I could jump. And if there were things to correct, they would tell me so that I could improve.

But honestly, the nicest player I’ve known in my entire career is Dado. He looks like someone who is a little crazy but he is a person that I will keep in my heart all my life. He’s a real pro, he has a big body… He’s everything you want but when you talk to him, he’s so nice. I would love to see him again.

Exactly, are you still in contact with certain players on the squad?

Yes, I am still in contact with a few players, notably Patrice Evra. He was my neighbor in Manchester, when he was at United and I was at City. He was also like a big brother. When I was in Monaco, he lived one floor above where I was. From time to time, I call Shabani Nonda. As he is part of the African legends, and when there are legends tours, we cross paths.

It always gives me pleasure to see him, to chat with him and to get some news about him and his family. I also recently made contact with Jaroslav Plasil because he was of my generation. We were the youngest players in the squad, I am very happy with his career. He played in France at a high level for a long time. He was a player who had a lot of qualities, I’m not surprised.

More generally, who are the players who impressed you the most in your Monegasque career?

I would say Ludovic Giuly because with his small size, we sometimes wondered what he was doing and how he managed to dribble past his opponents. We couldn’t see him but he was still effective. On a human level, he was a person who always made us laugh at the training center. He was actually the one who set the tone for the squad. On and off the pitch, he really impressed me. Sometimes he came in cars as small as himself. Everything he did was different.

It's the Champions League final. We were a very young team, not necessarily known and not made up of stars. Despite that, we managed to eliminate Chelsea and Real Madrid. For me, it remains something that I treasure. In the end, it's true that we lost the league although we had an eight-point lead, but we focused on the Champions League.
Emmanuel Adebayor, on his favourite memoryFormer AS Monaco forward

His injury in the Champions League final was unfortunately a turning point…

Yes because in the round of 16, quarter-finals and semi-finals, he was practically our man of the match. And when he got injured and came off after 15-20 minutes, we knew at that moment that it was going to be a very tough evening, and it was. He brought a different style of play to the team and pushed the opposing defense back because he could make deep calls. As soon as it came out, our game was more based on crosses to Pršo and Morientes for headers because they weren’t the fastest running players.

What is your best memory in the Principality?

It’s the Champions League final. We were a very young team, not necessarily known and not made up of stars. Despite that, we managed to eliminate Chelsea and Real Madrid. For me, it remains something that I treasure. In the end, it’s true that we lost the league although we had an eight-point lead, but we focused on the Champions League.

We felt tired, and had injuries to players like “Toto” Squillaci, Gaël Givet. This caused us problems and we dropped back to third position. But the most important thing is that we managed to reach the final, especially since it is so rare for a French club. Afterwards, it was in fact only Paris that did that.

After everything you went through, wasn’t it difficult to get back into it the next season?

You know, what’s wonderful when we’re young is that we tell ourselves that we can do it again, maybe the year after, in 2 or 3 years… After a while, it becomes your daily life so we said to ourselves that we could repeat this performance and it motivated us each time. This is the state of mind I have had throughout my career.

Is this what helped you succeed at the biggest European clubs?

Of course because I said to myself that if with Monaco we managed to get to the final, why not try to win it with Arsenal, Manchester City or even Real Madrid? Like it or not, these teams have something more than AS Monaco. And everything I learned here, it was up to me to put it into practice in these clubs to win it.

Unfortunately, that was not the case but I am still happy with my career because I come from a neighborhood called Nyékonakpoè, there was not a single grass pitch. So to be able to do this while playing in the biggest stadiums in the world, I can only be proud and I am convinced that my country is too.

I had already done a lot of things with my respective clubs; in 2006, I helped bring my country to the World Cup, because even though there were more than 30 players in the team, I was the top scorer in the African qualifiers, with 11 goals. We couldn't ask for better.
Emmanuel Adebayor, on the 2006 World CupFormer AS Monaco forward

Especially since you managed to qualify Togo for the 2006 World Cup, the only one in the country’s history!

This is the icing on the cake. I had already done a lot of things with my respective clubs, for example being one of the key players in promotion for Metz in 2003 and a member of the squad which reached the 2004 Champions League final with Monaco. In 2006, I helped bring my country to the World Cup, because even though there were more than 30 players in the team, I was the top scorer in the African qualifiers, with 11 goals. We couldn’t ask for better.

And subsequently, you became the leading player for your country…

Yes, for years, I was the player who had the chance to play in big clubs and I am recognized among the legends of African football by CAF. Now I pray that there are other players like me and maybe they surpass me because these are difficult things when I hear other legends say that there are no others. I pray to God that they give me some and that we manage to qualify for the next AFCON and World Cups.

Photo: Icon Sport

Finally, would you like to say a word to AS Monaco supporters who will read this interview?

Thanks to them because it is here that I experienced a high level. I have lots of friends who have sent me messages on social media telling me that they saw me play and grow up, and who were there in Monaco. I want to thank them because without them, I would never have had the chance to pursue this career. Big ups and long live AS Monaco! I will of course continue to monitor the results. I’ve been living in Africa for a year and a half, two years now, it’s easier to look at all the scores of my former clubs.

Rise. Risk. Repeat.