Charlie Adam interview: From fighting for a place to scoring goal of the season

For Stoke’s Charlie Adam the campaign that finishes today began with frustration but ends with elation and acclaim

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Pre-season buzz, then life on the bench

Charlie Adam’s build-up to the 2014-15 season started in front of the TV, watching the World Cup and dreaming of a Scotland return to the international stage. "When you watch the World Cup, you want to be there, you want to be part of it," he says.

At this stage, he was preparing for Stoke’s pre-season – “just going for runs, going on the bike, swimming,” and by the time Stoke’s players reported for training, on 10 July, he was raring to go. “We’d done so well the [previous] season, we got top 10 and there was a buzz about the place. We had signed Bojan [Krkic], we had signed Mame Diouf.”

Adam had ended the previous campaign with eight League goals – his best return since his head-turning debut season with Blackpool four years earlier – as Stoke finished in the top half of the top flight for the first time since 1975. However, Mark Hughes’s men won just once in pre-season and Adam began the campaign as a late substitute in the home loss to Aston Villa.

 

“We never really started the season well,” says Adam, who had to wait until late September for his first run of League starts. “In that period of six games I scored a couple of goals and thought I did OK,” he adds. There was the satisfaction of converting a penalty in a televised home win over Swansea – “I got man of the match” – but he soon found himself back on the bench.

For Adam, the excitement of signing the highly-talented Bojan was tempered by the knowledge that he would be competing with the young Spaniard (and Stephen Ireland) for the No 10 role in Hughes’ favoured 4-2-3-1 system. Adam actually sees central midfield as his best position but Hughes prefers him higher up the field in a role Bojan was soon excelling in, the former Barcelona player opening his account in England with a spectacular winner at Tottenham in early November. Looking back now, Adam insists he understands his manager’s decision. “The manager tried to get Bojan in the team which is understandable. I respect that decision as the little man just went on an unbelievable run where he was incredible.”

Adam’s response to losing his place shows the kind of professional he is. Instead of sitting on the bench and sulking he tried to help those who were playing. “I try to analyse the game. Try and help myself and help the lads as well. Sometimes the lads playing in my position don’t see things. It is a good thing to have sometimes – a player [speaking at half-time] to another player. I would say, ‘This is what is happening, the spaces are there, try and go there’.”

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Charlie Adam celebrates after scoring for Stoke

At the time Stoke were struggling for consistency and impressive victories, such as at Spurs, were mixed with disappointing defeats, though one of them, by Burnley in mid-November, remains in Adam’s mind the best team performance against Stoke all season. “They came to us and they had a plan for us and we never knew how to change that game plan.”

During these up-and-down periods, Adam has no doubt who was his side’s key player: Glenn Whelan, the unsung midfield pivot. “When he is not in the team we seem to be a bit ragged. He is the focal point, he sits there he knows his job, he does his job well. He had a period where he was captain and for me, for those eight games he was unbelievable.”

Adam turned 29 in December and Stoke ended the year sitting 11th in the table after a home victory over West Bromwich in which he featured for the last 13 minutes. He began the new year with a 90-minute run-out in the FA Cup third round against Wrexham, his first start for three months. But in the League he remained on the bench. However, there was never a falling-out with Hughes. “I respect him as a manager and coach and he has been brilliant for me and the players,” Adam says. “I spoke to him two or three times and asked, ‘When am I going to get an opportunity?’ and he said, ‘You’re going to get back in’. I was coming on as sub and making an impact but wanted to start games.”

At Stoke’s Clayton Wood training ground, Adam compensated for his lack of minutes on the field with an extra work-out with the club’s fitness coach, Damian Roden, every Thursday to maintain his sharpness. “When you are not playing it is hard and it just keeps you ready, topping your fitness up,” he says of sessions involving a series of “three-and-a-half, four-minute runs”. Did they work? Adam thinks so, “because when I have come on as a sub or started games I have made an impact on the team.”

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Charlie Adam shoots on the turn to score for Stoke

You might think that in frustrating times like these Adam would use his spare time to get away from football as much as possible. The opposite is true: he is obsessed by the sport. He sponsors a Sunday league team in Blackpool, Blackhurst Budd, and has been a regular at their matches. This season, however, with a one-year-old daughter, Anabella, at home, it has been harder to maintain that routine. “It is something to switch off with on a Sunday though now I have a baby, Sunday is more a family day for me. I try to get down as much as I can to help, though. I want to get into coaching when I finish.”

It’s not just Blackhurst Budd he watches. “I enjoy football. If I can, I try and go and watch a game once a week in midweek local to me – if Blackpool are playing at home I go and watch that,” says Adam, who lives up in Poulton-Le-Fylde. “I just love watching the game. Switching off for me is watching the game.”

At last a chance to shine

In January, Stoke lost Bojan to a cruciate knee ligament injury but even then Adam did not find himself back in the first XI. Hughes turned initially to Ireland, leaving Adam waiting once more. Yet, eventually, his policy of not making a fuss, coming off the bench and waiting for his opportunity brought its reward.

He replaced Ireland at half-time during the victory over Hull on 28 February and four days later, for the midweek home win over Everton, took the Irishman’s place in the starting line-up. It was his first League start since 25 October and after keeping his place for the trip to West Bromwich, he felt he was rediscovering the best of himself by the time Crystal Palace visited the Potteries a week later. Stoke lost but Adam “felt as if everything I did was right for the team: the way I want to tackle, chase, drive with it, create chances”.

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Bojan's injury opened the door for Adam

At Stamford Bridge a fortnight later, on 4 April, Charlie Adam conjured one of the truly memorable moments of the season with a bold,  breathtaking goal. From there Adam’s campaign really took off. “It just gave me confidence to play and the season just kicked on from there really,” he recalls.

In Stoke’s next two home fixtures he hit the winner against Southampton and then an emphatic equaliser against Sunderland, the latter strike leading Gary Lineker to liken him to Matt Le Tissier. It is a comparison that fits with the popular image of the Scot as a slightly tubby 70s or 80s throwback with his magic left foot and gap-toothed grin. Yet in person, in his club training top and shorts, he is taller than you might think and understandably he is dismissive of the caricature,  and resents any suggestion that he is any less fit than his team-mates.

“A lot of people say to me, ‘You don’t look the same as on the pitch’. I have a short-legged running style and it looks as if I’m a bit heavier. But if you look at the stats and what I’ve covered, even in training, I will be as high as anybody.

“When I was at Liverpool I was one of the [players with the] highest distance covered, and since I’ve come here, it is the same. The thing about football is everybody has an opinion and the only opinion is Saturday afternoon at three o’clock. They don’t see Monday to Friday and it is only for that hour and a half on the pitch that everybody tries to make a decision on what you are like as a person.” One striking feature of Stoke’s season has been their strong finish. Adam, who scored the opening goal, believes the 3-0 win over Tottenham a fortnight ago was the best they have played.

“For 45 minutes, we were unbelievable, we could have been five or six up,” he says, adding that Hughes’s methods are geared to his team gathering momentum as the season goes on. “When everyone else is dipping, we are still going. We still train as hard at the back end of the season as we trained pre-season.

“Normally Tuesday is a difficult day – it is a running day for us, [playing] five-a-side with a good intensity. Certain clubs have maybe taken their foot off the gas a bit but we have just kept on and it’s a credit to the staff here and to the players who’ve taken it on board.”

The Scot, who spent his first season at the club working under Tony Pulis, speaks admiringly of the transformation of style overseen by Hughes. Where Pulis’s Stoke side would be working on shape from Monday onwards – “you probably could know you’d be playing on a Tuesday because of the way he sets up the training” – and spent Thursday and Friday doing set-piece drills, now it is all about ball work. “The progress over this two-year period has been enormous in terms of the way we play, passing it, and the amount of goals we are scoring; we are conceding goals but we are scoring goals which is great.”

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Steven Gerrard will play his final game for Liverpool against Stoke

Liverpool have been warned. Today’s game will be Steven Gerrard’s last in English football, a player for whom Adam has the highest regard. A team-mate of Gerrard’s in 2011-12, he played in the Liverpool captain’s charity match at Anfield in March.

“He was always one player I wanted to play against and I did that, and was fortunate enough to share a dressing room with him for a year,” Adam says. “He is a quiet guy in the dressing room, it is all for the players, everything he wants to do is for the players and he is one of the best captains I ever played under.”

There’s no prospect of an immediate break for Adam at the final whistle this afternoon, though. The planned family holiday to Portugal has been delayed by five days following his recall to the Scotland squad after a 14-month absence.

As for next season, Adam has another year on his contract with Stoke and he would happily sign for longer. “I’ve not spoken about it. If there is an opportunity to sign again, I will sign but that is the club’s decision. We will see what happens, it is up to them. I still have a year to go. I want  to stay.”

If not, prospective employers will hardly need telling what he can do – just ask the champions.

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Charlie Adam unleashes an audacious shot from inside his own half

Beating Courtois from 55 yards - bold, skilful and utterly deliberate

It took vision and inspiration, power and precision to beat Thibaut Courtois from 55 yards but Adam’s wondergoal at Chelsea also owed a little to some clever homework from Stoke’s goalkeeping coach Andy Quy and first-team coach (and former Chelsea goalkeeper) Eddie Niedzwiecki.

“They said to me, ‘just watch where the keeper is, as he is off his line quite a bit.’ You see it with Manuel Neuer who comes out a lot and Courtois does it as well. He was on his 18-yard box and I had looked a couple of times during the game and seen him there. I’ve tried it often enough and it hasn’t come off – and you do look silly – but fortunately for me it came off.”

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Charlie Adam's goal left Thibaut Courtois in his own net

Adam had scored from the halfway line twice before – for Ross County in a Scottish league fixture at St Mirren, then for Blackpool’s reserves at Accrington Stanley – but to pull off such a feat at the home of the champions-elect, against one of the world’s best goalkeepers, was surely something else.

“You have got to have the character to be able to handle the pressure,” he admits, “as if it doesn’t come off, your team-mates are in your ear.” Instead, he had Chelsea players in his ear. “During the game, John Terry and Didier Drogba said to me, ‘What are you trying there?’  That just shows the respect the Chelsea lads have got for you. It is great everybody wants to talk about it and hopefully in 10 years’ time when the kids are grown up they will see it and say ‘Dad scored that goal’.”

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