As Arsenal continue the search for a dominating central defender, one of their best was back in north London last week when Gabala FC played Barnet. Tony Adams, the Gunners' former captain, has been managing the Azerbaijan team for a year, the latest step on a career path he hopes will lead him back to Arsenal one day as successor to Arsène Wenger.
While Adams' attention is fixed on building a club in the former Soviet republic, Arsenal remain close to his heart. He notes that among the most significant changes since his previous visit has been the death in April of Danny Fiszman, the diamond merchant who joined the board in 1992 and helped finance Wenger's Double-winning teams of 1998 and 2002.
Those calling for more spending on the current team will be interested to learn how highly Adams rated Fiszman's contribution. "I think that a significant factor, 90 per cent, in why we achieved so much is that Danny Fiszman invested £50m in the club and we were able to go to the next level," he said. "I got my first decent contract at the club, so did David Seaman, we were able to bring in Dennis Bergkamp – and that was before Arsène arrived – David Platt, Patrick Vieira, Nicolas Anelka, and were able to pay them – top players from around the world.
"I'd like to feel that a good manager can get the best out of those players once you've got them, but more often than not, if you've got the best players you win the League," he added. "And more important than that, if you've got the best defensive record you win the League. Fact."
That view will chime with Arsenal's fans, for whom improving the defence is a priority, but Wenger's loyalty to his young players often seems immutable. "I can understand his philosophy," Adams said. "That's the man he is, and I respect his beliefs and standards." Completely? "If I was playing for Arsenal Football Club, I would want to win the League. And I'm sure he does, and I think he believes that he can."
Adams is searching for his own identity as a manager after a year at Wycombe and four months in charge of Portsmouth that amounted mainly to fire-fighting. "Arsène is an exceptional physiologist. As a tracksuit coach, out on the training ground, I loved Terry Venables. Harry Redknapp was a fantastic man-manager. They have influenced me, but I'm developing a Tony Adams style."
That development will continue at Gabala for at least two more years, after which a spell in charge of a European club, perhaps in Holland, is in his sights. But he has no plans to be an assistant again. Well, almost none. "Under Jose Mourinho at Real Madrid maybe?" he muses. "It might be an interesting experience. As a career move it would have to be something that enhances my development and I don't feel that's my next thing."
Adams is unconcerned that, at 44, he is 11 years older than new Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas. "He's been 17 years in the coaching game. I'm only nine years down that line. He's far in front of me. I went and saw Mourinho last year and he said to me: 'Listen, I had 10 years watching [Louis] van Gaal, watching Bobby Robson. You've got to learn your trade'. You could do that here a few years ago, but they're not giving people time. The average tenure has gone down to 1.3 years. So where do you develop? My path is in Azerbaijan."