Football: Inspirational Adams fit and ready for fray

weaknesses of every player. We're very professional'
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The Independent Online
TONIGHT, like every night, Tony Adams will pause for a moment and consider how his day went. Was it a good one? Was it a bad one? Did he achieve anything?

"It might have been a depressing, blue, horrible day, but, if it was, the important thing is that I acknowledge it," said Adams as he prepared for England's opening World Cup game against Tunisia on Monday. "I try to have good days. I want to do a good day in the office, that's where I get my self-worth from. But I'm a realist. You don't do everything good in a day; the thing is to acknowledge the mistakes and get on with the next day. I have fun today, I live my life, it's a great life."

It was not always like this. Adams is now almost two years into his well- documented fight against alcoholism and, so far, things are going well. But when he moves into the confessional mode, as he did when we spoke at England's Brittany training camp this week, it is evident that the fear remains, the fear of slipping back into the blackness.

Every so often this fear is given an edge by an unwanted reminder. Most recently it was the sight of Paul Gascoigne drinking his World Cup place away in La Manga. With the focus moving to the players who are in France, Adams was reluctant to discuss Gascoigne, but he repeated last week's pledge of a shoulder to lean on if Gascoigne wanted it.

"I'm there for Paul, he's a wonderful, happy, lovely, lovely soul. He's a beautiful man and there is a sadness in last week's events. But there are 22 professional players here trying to win the World Cup for England and talking about whether he should be playing is a derisive to the likes of David Beckham, Paul Scholes and so on. I wanted a fit, talented Paul Gascoigne in the World Cup, but it was not to be and you have to accept the reality of it. He's gone."

Adams remains with England and his condition is an example to Gascoigne of what a change in lifestyle can achieve. Mentally and physically, he has rarely, if ever, been in better shape.

"I'm true to myself today," he said. "I've got rid of all the guilt. I can sit here and talk to you knowing you've got nothing on me. There are no ghosts in the cupboard. My physical condition is very good. The rest after the FA Cup final did me good. We worked very hard in La Manga then rested again. Now I'm strong."

His revival as a person has coincided with the emergence of the footballer Adams looked like he might become when he first broke into the England team. While he remains sceptical about his supposed transformation from braying centre-half into ball-playing libero, he accepts that, under Arsene Wenger, he is a far more rounded player than under George Graham.

"People say all I could do was head a ball; now I go forward and score beautiful goals. It's not as simple as that. If you go and look at the tapes you'll see I was a bit better than that, a player who could play a bit. I was playing a particular way because the boss wanted me to and it was successful. My game might have been suffering but I was winning so I thought `why should I change?'

"I've changed now, but everyone does as they get older. I'm more experienced and the new manager has been wonderful for me. But I still play to my strengths, I still defend first and foremost. This player who brings the ball out, beats three or four people and sets up the centre-forward with a pass, he is a media figure."

This ball-playing sweeper exists even more vividly in Glenn Hoddle's imagination and it is no secret that Adams does not agree with the England coach's defensive vision. In the absence of an English Matthias Sammer, Adams remains England's defensive heart and he is already preparing for the Tunisian game.

"I'm very excited, the World Cup is the top of the tree, but I'm keeping it in perspective. I'm not focusing beyond the first game. By the time we play them I will know the strengths and weaknesses of every player in their team. I won't build them up, but I will know how they are on their right foot, their left foot, how good they are in the air. We watch videos, we're very professional, but it's nothing new, we used to do the same with foreign clubs at Arsenal.

"I started at 17, I saw that Pat Rice kept a notebook on left-wingers. I wanted to learn, I wanted to be a professional footballer, so I went home and put it all down. All about Cyrille Regis, about Garry Thompson, the way he out-jumped me. It's knowledge, it's my job. I still do it."

Watching Colin Hendry up against Ronaldo did he think, "I'm glad it's not me out there?"

"If I thought that I wouldn't be here. You relish the challenge. But it's not just about Ronaldo. They are an excellent team."

And England strikers? "Potentially they are as good as anyone in the competition."

Adams appeared to be equally unphased about the new interpretation on tackling. "I won't be changing my game. Good players can adapt, you stay on your feet. It was the same situation at the Arsenal a couple of years ago when they banned the tackle from behind and back-passes to the goalkeeper. They said it was all over for us but we went on and won another championship."

After this year's successes, the latest brace of trophies are still settling into their new Highbury accommodation but, said Adams, that is past history. "It's gone, it's finished. The important thing for Tony Adams is to look forward."