MANCHESTER// "When it happened on January 8, a Friday, around 2pm, I told myself that I might never be on a football pitch again, that I might never score goals any more. But God took a hand." The words of Emmanuel Adebayor are enveloped in sadness, yet now he is determined to make the most of life after surviving the shootings that saw three of Togo's travelling party killed on the eve of the African Cup of Nations.
His goal in Manchester City's 2-0 win against Bolton on Tuesday was the third in successive games for the Togo captain since returning to action after the terrifying ordeal in Angola, which he described as being like an episode of the television series 24. Scoring goals gives him pleasure, but he said the pain from that fateful day will never pass. "I could have been buried somewhere," said Adebayor. "I love scoring goals, but whenever I do now, I say, 'yes, you are scoring goals, you could be in a coffin now, you could be in paradise, I don't know'.
"Some people passed away, and you have to be playing for them now. Every time you put the shirt on, you have to be scoring for them. "What happened [in Angola], it's in our heads. We can never forget it. I have been in a shooting for 32 minutes. I love watching action films and 24, and I found myself in 24. It's something I don't wish anyone to go through. "When it happened, I thought, 'You are in a film and you just have to keep quiet'. Some of my teammates thought I had been shot because I was not talking for 10-15 minutes. Everyone was shouting, 'Where's Adebayor?'. I told them, 'I'm here and everything is OK'.
"At the end of the day, I have a chance to see a better life and I thank God for that. But when you have been through things like that, you definitely look at life a different way. In one second, you are gone." Togo's suffering was compounded by the decision of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) to suspend them for the 2012 and 2014 tournaments for pulling out after the attacks through what they described as "governmental interference".
"These are the things I can't understand about African people," said Adebayor. "We went to the Africa Cup of Nations to play. We got attacked; two of our people passed away, and our goalkeeper [Kodjovi Obilale] got three bullets in his body. They managed to take two out and he's still got one. He will live all his life with that bullet in his body - and the CAF decide to ban us. "I'm surprised and, for me, it shows that for human beings in Africa, our life is very cheap. That's the worst thing."
Adebayor wants Fifa, the world governing body, to intervene and overturn the decision so he and his country are not deprived of playing on such a stage. "I hope so. We lost people. We have young talent coming through," he said. "I've been talking to our keeper [Obilale], who is in South Africa and he's getting better every day. We are praying for him so he can get back on his feet and play football once again."
Adebayor has enjoyed his own return, replicating the form he showed at the start of the season when he scored four goals in five games before he was suspended for a stamp on Robin van Persie, his former Arsenal teammate, in September. That affected him, mentally and physically. "I was eating because I wasn't playing. I went home, the press was on me, and when I was in Togo with my family, what does the African family do? They cook for you. I was eating at 7am, 9am, 11am, 1pm," he said.
"Every two hours I was eating so I put a little bit of weight on. But sometimes people say good things come out of the bad. I think what happened in Cabinda made me lose weight. When that terrible attack happened, I lost seven kilos in three days. Now I'm very slim. "I can't eat, I can't sleep properly. Sometimes I get hungry, but I can't eat; my stomach is just closed. "I have been through a lot of things this season and I'm just happy to be on the pitch and playing football again."
"When I came back it was a bit difficult, but now I'm happy. I'm fit, enjoying myself and scoring goals. I hope that will keep going until the end of the season. "We have a chance to win the FA Cup and take fourth place in the league. Everyone is here to make things happen, achieve things and to give the fans a dream." firstname.lastname@example.org