Veteran Togo striker Emmanuel Adebayor says the main reasons he decided to join Paraguayan side Olimpia Asuncion were the influence of ex-Manchester City team-mate Roque Santa Cruz and the club president’s six-year-old son.
The 35-year-old former Arsenal striker, who quit Turkish club Kayserispor in December, signed a deal until the end of the year as giants Olimpia hunt for domestic and South America’s Copa Libertadores silverware.
“At first I was impressed after speaking to the club president and Roque Santa Cruz who was my old team-mate at Manchester City,” Adebayor said at a news conference.
“He told me that in his country, people live and breathe football. I asked him for verbal assurance that everything will be fine.
“Santa Cruz gave me his word that I will love it here, so he played a big role in me coming here.
“I also got a lot of personal messages from some of the fans on social media and that made a big impact.
“But I was mostly touched by the words of the president’s young son who, at six years old, said I am his idol. That was very emotional for me.”
Aside from Turkey and England, the forward has also played in France and for Spanish giants Real Madrid.
A few hours after his medical, Adebayor realised that football in this South American nation is completely different to Europe. Paraguay holds two separate championships a year and Olimpia have won the last four.
“Obviously, I knew a bit about the club from Santa Cruz and of course how he is doing well in Paraguay,” he added
“Apart from Olimpia I won’t lie, I don’t know anything about the league or the format, but I can’t wait to find out.”
The former Tottenham and Crystal Palace striker arrived at Asuncion airport, with 5,000 Olimpia fans turning up to welcome their new signing to Paraguay.
“This was one of the most emotional days in my life,” said Adebayor.
“I understand that maybe some people know my name already, but I never expected the large turnout that greeted me so early on my arrival.
“We landed at 1am in the morning and to see about 5,000 fans singing my name was emotional and unbelievable.
“They could’ve been sleeping or watching a movie but they came out to welcome me. I’ve played around the world but what I’ve seen, the Olimpia fans is one of the best.”
Olimpia is Adebayor’s tenth professional club since leaving his native Togo in 2001, with his European odyssey starting at French clubs Metz and Monaco.
Named the 2007 BBC African Footballer of the Year and the Caf African Player of the Year the following year, he admitted that he never saw himself playing in South America but relishes the opportunity.
“Like many young boys growing up in Africa, football was the only sport we know. So I left home at 15 for France because I wanted to become a footballer.
“I arrived in Metz in northern France in the winter and it was difficult, but I was encouraged not to give up by the staff of the club.
“Here I am after playing in top European leagues with a chance to experience life in Paraguay and football on another continent.
“The weather feels like home, so I love it here already. I would love to help the club achieve success but we have to take it step by step.”
Despite his on-off relationship with the football authorities in Togo, he remains his country’s all-time top scorer with 32 goals and played for them at their only World Cup appearance in 2006.
He has played for the Sparrow Hawks in four Africa Cup of Nations in 2002, 2006, 2013 and 2017.
Adebayor’s last appearance for Togo was in a 2-1 away defeat to neighbours Benin in March in a 2021 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier.