Tony Adams returns home today. Well, not so much "home" in the physical sense, as he never actually played at the Emirates, never raised his right arm there to trigger the offside trap that made him the bandleader of Highbury. But in the spiritual dimension, Adams's slippers will forever reside at the Arsenal.
What chance his size-12 brogues ever slipping under the desk in N5? It is a possibility that many Gunners may ponder this afternoon as they watch their legend of 22 years, of 504 appearances, of 32 goals, lead out Portsmouth. It is an eventuality that Adams, himself, has admitted visualising. "Well, who wouldn't?" he says.
But not now, not today. This will palpably not be the time for fanciful notions, as one look at the book-makers' odds will tell you that the 42-year-old has his work cut out simply to remain at the club feeling the squeeze of the credit crisis with more catastrophic potential than anyone else in the Premier League.
Adams is down to 7-2 to be the next top-flight manager out of the door; only Mark Hughes is rated more likely.Furthermore, the cynics with the satchels regard him as odds-on not to be in charge there for the new season. Maybe this was what Arsène Wenger meant when he rang up to congratulate Adams on joining "the hell of managing in the Premier League".
Adams laughed last week when this was put to him. "I've already been to hell and this is not hell," said the recovered alcoholic. "I am having fun – this is fun. OK, it wasn't so much fun in the first five minutes at Bolton [on 20 December, when Portsmouth went 2-0 down]. But pick up the pieces, get on with the job, train with them, put the team out there, work hard, try to get your rewards."
The trouble is, those rewards at the moment seem inextricably tied to the club's burgeoning financial predicament. A five-match unbeaten run has been followed by three straight defeats,the last of which, at home against West Ham on Boxing Day, was particularly hard to understand and even more difficult to swallow. By the time Carlton Cole gave the Hammers their goal advantage that the much sought-after Craig Bellamy was soon to treble, Portsmouth should have been out of sight. They weren't because of poor finishing, the excellence of the opposing goalkeeper, Robert Green, and a worrying "we must win" propensity that is totally un-Adams. He is not the first Gunner to hark back to the days of "one-nil to the Arsenal".
"We are trying to win football games and getting done on the counterattack," announced Adams, the trace of foreboding in his voice all too clear. "Arsenal are probably the best team in the country at counter-attacking. So it'll be very difficult for us. I don't think it'll be a game where we'll lose it trying to win it, put it that way. Other teams who have gone there and won have fought every tackle, every header, every challenge. That's what you need to do."
An alien concept to Wenger, no doubt, but then Adams confesses to having next to no contact with the manager he refrains from calling his mentor. In another time, at anotherclub maybe. But for now he accepts he has to work with what he has and adopt the pragmatic approach of another former gaffer.
"I am more George Graham at the moment, to be honest with you," he revealed. "I see myself doing a lot of Harry [Redknapp], obviously – Harry was very successful here. But in terms of Arsène and Arsenal, well it's a completely different environment, and if I did some things Arsène was allowed to do at Arsenal, I don't think I would survive two minutes. Two minutes."
Adams was talking resources, or in his case the lack of them. When he assumed the tiller as Redknapp's successor 14 games ago it was plain this would be no steering job. Portsmouth's owner, Alexandre Gaydamak, is trying tosell, and in the case of three mid-fielders (Sulley Muntari, Pedro Mendes and now Lassana Diarra) he did sell. It ripped the heart from the side,but then the heart was beating tosomeone else's tune anyway.
Adams yearns to create a team of his own. "Of course I do," he said. "I'm desperate to." But he realises that chance might only come in the summer, when the remnants of a much-mooted January sell-off have settled and when he prays his and Portsmouth's survival will also have been settled. Today will all be about weathering another storm. And, naturally, of accepting the adulation.
"It's not my stadium, but they're my people," he said. "I worked there for a long, long time and loved every minute of it. I'm honoured they respect me so much."Reuse content