Adams' pragmatism prepares Leicester for the long siege

Manager at club with lowest budget in top flight makes 11 close-season signings and expects fight for survival
Click to follow

Eat your hearts out, Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsène Wenger. Stick this one up your chequebooks, Claudio Ranieri and Gérard Houllier. Going into this weekend's opening round of fixtures, only one manager can boast an unbeaten record in the Premiership. Come on down, Micky Adams of Leicester City.

"I wonder how long that will last?" asks Adams, grinning as he proceeds to read aloud from a wallchart in his office at Leicester's suburban training complex. "Southampton at home to start with on Saturday. Then Chelsea away - should be interesting - and Middlesbrough home. I wonder."

Adams has, admittedly, presided over just four matches in the top flight. They came 15 months ago, when Leicester were already relegated, and produced a victory and three draws. But in the context of that wretched campaign it felt like a 10-match winning streak and set the tone for last season's promotion.

In fact, there are few, even in the illustrious company he now keeps, that can match Adams' capacity for proving hard to beat. Since taking over from Dave Bassett, who remains director of football at the season-old Walkers Stadium as well as mentor to the manager, Leicester have lost only six League matches out of 50.

Adams realises it will be far harder prising points from Manchester United, Arsenal et al than it was keeping the Sheffield Uniteds and Nottingham Forests at bay en route to the runners-up spot in the First Division. Which is why the 41-year-old Yorkshireman has been working overtime in the transfer market.

His 11 close-season signings represent the most by any club since the Premier League was formed in 1992. The influx includes Les Ferdinand, Steve Howey, Craig Hignett, Riccardo Scimeca, Keith Gillespie and Ben Thatcher. Unremarkable players, perhaps, but all of a proven pedigree and calculated to provide competition for Muzzy Izzet, Matt Elliott and other remnants of bygone eras.

Of equal importance, for a club that went into administration amid crippling debts last year, is that Adams' recruitment campaign was conducted on the cheap. "I'd have bought Wayne Bridge, Juan Veron and Damien Duff if I could," he admits. "But my market is free transfers, 'Bosmans' and people other clubs don't want.

"It was a matter of how many I could get in on a limited budget. Given the same money three years ago, I'd have got five, maximum. It reflects the current market and the way players' wage demands have dropped. Even agents are being more realistic."

Adams was in charge of Fulham, Brentford, Swansea and Brighton before arriving at the now-demolished Filbert Street as assistant to Bassett after Peter Taylor's tenure turned sour. Almost proudly he says: "Every club I've been at has been skint."

Yet has all his "creative dealing", as he calls it, delivered quantity rather than quality? "I like to think the players I've brought in have something to prove, to themselves and to other people. Take Les Ferdinand. I'm convinced he can still score goals at this level. He'll have to."

Adams, it seems, is braced for a fight against the drop, cheerfully accepting the West Bromwich Albion mantle "because they had the lowest budget then and we've got it now".

Super-optimists among Leicester's supporters may protest that targeting mere survival is a defeatist strategy. However, the man they see as cut from the same cloth as Martin O'Neill believes in plain speaking.

"The players aren't daft. They know we're favourites to go down with the bookies and the pundits. We had a siege mentality last season and we'll probably adopt it again. Our motivation comes from proving people wrong.

"If we stayed up, it would represent success to most people. For me it would be my players going out and having a real go, so there's no regrets come the end of the season, no one saying 'if only we'd given more'."

The same pragmatism informs his approach to preparation. More than one rival manager last season sneered that Leicester "only beat us on set-pieces". Adams, who also became accustomed to hearing that Portsmouth and Forest were purer footballing exponents, has a blunt response.

"Defending and attacking at free-kicks and corners is part of the game," he says. "I'm not naïve enough to think we're going to out-football the rest of the Premiership. What might win us a match is a set-piece. So we'll keep working extra hard on them."

The importance of organisation was something Adams absorbed particularly when he was briefly Howard Wilkinson's left-back at Leeds. He hopes he also brings to training the enthusiasm that characterised Billy Bremner's management, while his recent wheeler-dealing evokes Bobby Gould when he bought him for Coventry.

"I haven't modelled myself on any one manager. The biggest influence on me is 'Harry' Bassett. I reckon he's wasted doing what he does. With his knowledge and experience he should still be a manager."

Adams will surely need his colleague's ebullience and ready wit this season, though he has few problems keeping setbacks in perspective. "I've got a handicapped brother, a big Sheffield United fan, who has cerebral palsy but loves his life. Football has pressures and stresses but nothing compared to what many people go through."

Comments