Football: Adams backs out of England squad

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The Independent Online
TONY ADAMS has decided to put club before country in order to prolong his Arsenal career and fulfil his ambition to lead the Gunners to glory in the European Champions' League next season.

The Arsenal captain, who will be 33 in October, has informed the England coach, Kevin Keegan, that he will not be available for the Euro 2000 qualifiers against Sweden and Bulgaria next month after experiencing more problems with a back injury during his club's end-of-season trip to the Far East last week.

Although Adams, who has played 57 times for his country, has not formally announced his retirement from international football, he has made it clear that his priorities now lie with his club.

Adams has played only three times for England since returning from the World Cup finals in France last summer and has taken a six-week mid-winter break in each of the last two seasons because of problems with a long- term back injury.

He has played in only 36 of Arsenal's 55 matches this season, having warned that he would seriously consider retiring altogether if he had to keep taking pain-killing tablets to sustain him from match to match.

Arsenal face a minimum of 12 extra fixtures next season just to reach the quarter-finals of the enlarged European Champions' Cup. That prize remains a major target for Adams, who recently admitted he is jealous of Manchester United's success in the competition and wants to help emulate it at Highbury.

The Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger, is keen to see his top players rest as much as possible before the new season in August. The Dutch winger Marc Overmars, troubled by a groin strain, has now joined his club-mate Dennis Bergkamp in withdrawing from the Netherlands' two-match trip to Brazil next month, although both players are expected to appear in their country's next friendly against Belgium in Rotterdam in September.

Meanwhile, Wenger is weighing up a possible pounds 2m bid for the Dynamo Kiev right-back Oleh Luzhny, even though it would go against his preference of not signing players who are over 30.

The Ukrainian, who helped knock the Gunners out of the Champions' League last season, is 31 this year. But Wenger, who has re-signed Steve Bould, Nigel Winterburn and Lee Dixon - all over 35 - on new one-year contracts, admits: "I want at least three new signings for next season because the fixture list is crazy and we will need some experienced players, especially in the Champions' League."

Wenger may have to spread his net even wider if, as likely, he receives transfer requests from the midfielder Stephen Hughes and the defender Gilles Grimandi. Hughes, 23, is unsettled after making just 10 starts this season, while Grimandi, 29, says he also needs more first-team opportunities.