Football: Adams - I couldn't play for George

Norman Fox hears why life with Arsene means more to Arsenal's captain
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The Independent Online
TONY ADAMS yesterday confessed that had George Graham stayed as Arsenal's manager he would have left. As captain and the most influential player at the club, his departure would have led to the break-up of the team that since Graham was sacked has defied the age of its defence and become winners of the Premiership and FA Cup Double.

"I could never play for George again," Adams said. "We're still good friends but when I've told him I wouldn't like to play for him again, I think he thinks I'm joking." Graham left Highbury in 1995 following a Premier League inquiry into alleged illegal payments made to sign players. Adams said in his biography Addicted that he felt he was good for Graham and "Graham was good for me". It was obvious that the relationship was never warm but it was not until yesterday that Adams let his real feelings be known.

He said: "There are ways of managing and you're not going to like all of the people all of the time. I'm happy with the atmosphere we play in now. I've played under a few managers now and I just know I wouldn't want to play under George again." Reacting to a suggestion that he might not have achieved what he did without Graham's management, he said: "It's an old cliche, but there is more than one way to skin a cat." He accepted that "George had a system of playing and he got success by it". But he added: "I can see now that maybe if you had let that team fly they would have been more successful."

Now moving towards the end of his career, the 32-year-old Adams also said that although he thought his own future could be in coaching or management "I can't consider this while I am still a player. You can't be a player and manager - too many players have fallen into that trap and not done the job". However it was his views of Graham, now Tottenham's manager, compared with the present one, Arsene Wenger, that were more revealing.

Wenger, he said, was "an incredible man; a spiritual man; a lovely person to talk to. I've got great admiration for the guy. I have tremendous respect for him and I love playing for him. When he first came here we were all a bit suspicious but he listened to us older guys." He recalled that when Graham first arrived at Highbury in 1986 the first thing he did was to get rid of the older players.

Explaining why his opinion of Graham as a manager was hostile by comparison with his attitude towards Wenger, he said: "My relationship with George was completely different. What was it he said recently? `I've really changed. I listen to the players... then they do what I say.' He was was always totally in charge. It was very difficult." The players' nickname for Graham was Gadaffi.

Adams said it was always "like following orders". He, personally, felt like Graham's "general on the park", telling the players the way the manager wanted them to play. "Now there's a lot more communication. There was a fear of George." He said that Graham played on the idea that everyone, including referees, was against the club. "We don't need that - it's old hat now. It's what Alex Ferguson does."

Wenger says he is an Adams fan ("tactically the best defender in the world") and confirmed that there are two years remaining on his contract. "He is an exceptional player but at the end of the contract in two years, then we will go from year from year. We could integrate him into a non- playing role. But you cannot play and think what you will do afterwards. If you start believing that if you don't play next week then you will coach, that's the best way to go down. I thought that you couldn't play after 32 at the top level, but we've got some players who are exceptional."

Not that Wenger thinks his "exceptional" players are likely to recover lost ground in the Premiership and retain their title. On the eve of another "huge" match against Chelsea today, he predicted that, whatever the result, Chelsea would go on to become champions, followed by Manchester United ("who are too involved with Europe") and Aston Villa. He thought that one more defeat for Liverpool and their challenge would be "all over".