No less an authority than Sir Alex Ferguson once decreed that "Port Vale should go down on their knees and thank the Lord for having him". The manager in question was John Rudge, yet within football circles people are beginning to say the same about Micky Adams.
Now in the ninth job of a managerial career that has pitted him against Ferguson, Arsène Wenger, Jose Mourinho and the Spanish legal system, Adams has led Vale to an encouraging start in League Two, two tiers below where they were when Rudge was fired 11 years and six managers ago.
Tuesday's visit of fellow pacesetters Shrewsbury could draw the division's highest crowd and, after a fourth successive away win, Vale's chairman pronounced himself "fairly certain" that the 48-year-old Sheffielder would deliver promotion and "get us back up the leagues".
But Adams, who refers affectionately to his illustrious predecessor as "Lord Mayor of Burslem", has a blunt take on whether Vale should count themselves lucky to have him: "Forget what I've done for this club. It's what they've done for me."
In truth, the appointment, 15 months ago, has been mutually beneficial. Vale, who had slumped into the fourth tier as neighbouring Stoke City surged into the Premier League, needed an experienced hand to halt the decline and restore self-respect. Adams, having parted with Brighton, wanted a challenge to "get me going again", and to remind people there was more to his CV than "fire-fighting" and what he terms "the La Manga affair".
In 2004, when Leicester were in the Premier League, he took them for a winter break at the recreational resort. Nine players were arrested, with three of their number – Paul Dickov, Frank Sinclair and Keith Gillespie – imprisoned while allegations of sexual assault were investigated. "That has probably cost me jobs in the Championship because clubs thought I wasn't disciplined enough to run a club at that level," Adams says. "Which is nonsense, because the fact is that the three lads were completely exonerated."
Vale represented a chance to develop a club almost from scratch. "When the job became available I looked at it and felt they were in a false position. It wasn't so long ago Rudgey had them high in the Championship with gates of nearly 10,000. My first job, at Fulham, was as hard as it gets. We were 91st out of the 92 clubs when I took over, even lower than the Vale [who had just finished 86th] when I arrived. But with both clubs there's huge potential. The season before I came, Vale averaged 6,000 in this division.
"I wasn't desperate for the job, but I was keen. I was hurt after the way it ended at Brighton. I think some of the people there let me and my family down. They tried to damage my reputation so I needed to kick-start my career again. I wasn't worried that it was a struggling 'Fourth Division' club. It didn't matter what they were going to pay me; I wanted the job whatever it was. Because I've had a few clubs I'm deemed 'not sexy' any more, but I told the people here I'd prove I was capable of doing it."
Adams has achieved three promotions, all of them against a backdrop of adversity. Fulham were in danger of losing Craven Cottage when he took the helm; Brighton were making 150-mile round-trips to play home games at Gillingham; and Leicester had just emerged from administration. Vale suffered a similar financial meltdown, yet the faithful are learning to stop ruefully defining themselves in relation to the big spenders from the south of the Potteries.
"Stoke may be five miles down the road but they could be 100 miles away as far we're concerned," says Adams, who played for Stoke on loan as a marauding left-back. "They're in a different world, paying £8 million for players, and good luck to them. Tony [Pulis] has done a fantastic job."
His own team-building has been exclusively in the free transfer and loan end of the market. He felt top-scorer Marc Richards needed a partner, so he signed Cheltenham's Justin Richards. Their goal tally is already in double figures. He also gave a six-month contract to Gary Roberts, a midfielder dumped by three clubs because of alcohol and gambling problems. The former England youth captain's playmaking ability is not in doubt, and his manager, who idolised Tony Currie as a boyhood Sheffield United fan, has seen enough to extend the deal until next summer.
"I don't mind the bad boys. Gary knows that if he steps out of line, I'm going to deal with him," says Adams, adding a line that could sum up his own circumstances. "He should be at a higher level, but maybe he can get there with Port Vale."Reuse content