Friday, August 21, 2009
ESPNsoccernet: December 16, 5:03 PM UK
Adams: Back from the brink
It is one of the most iconic moments in the history of the Premier League, and of Arsenal's rich heritage. Tony Adams storming forward, collecting a lofted pass from Steve Bould and hammering a superb shot past Thomas Myhre to clinch a 4-0 win against Everton and the 1997-98 title.
"And that sums it all up!" was the perceptive cry of the commentator, who was referring to Arsenal's new-found swagger and style under one Arsene Wenger. But he could equally have been alluding to the remarkable rebirth of Adams - one of the finest defenders to grace the Premier League.
A consummate leader who brought the best out of his team-mates thanks to his vocal style and imposing performances, Adams was the epitome of the never-say-die defender and, in the latter years of his career, tackled a well-publicised battle with alcoholism with all the fight, commitment and guts that marked him out as such a special player during his 19 years at Arsenal.
While his most recent contribution to the top flight of English football was a poor spell in charge of Portsmouth last season (in which he won just four of 22 games), in North London and beyond, Adams will forever be remembered as one of the great modern leaders and one of the last one-club men.
Born in Romford less than three months after Bobby Moore lifted the World Cup for England, Adams took the first steps of a career that saw him emulate the West Ham great by captaining his country when joining Arsenal as a schoolboy in 1980.
He made his debut three years later at the age of just 17 and, after impressing with his towering strength, accomplished defending and formidable personality, was made the club's youngest ever captain at the age of 21 - a position he would not relinquish until his retirement in 2002.
Having already claimed a winners' medal in the 1987 League Cup, Adams the skipper began a steady accumulation of silverware under manager George Graham - the architect of a robust Arsenal side that were derided for being boring.
But clean sheets and 1-0 wins were a worthy currency for Adams and alongside Lee Dixon, Nigel Winterburn and Steve Bould he was the cornerstone of one of the most famous defensive units in the history of English football, helping the club win two league titles under Graham, including a final-day victory at Anfield on May 26, 1989.
Perhaps their finest moment as a unit came in the 1994 Cup Winners' Cup final though when Adams and his colleagues produced a heroic backline resistance to deny a talented Parma team that included Gianfranco Zola, Faustino Asprilla and a slimline Tomas Brolin. The score? 1-0 to the Arsenal of course.
Such was the quartet's intuitive understanding and grasp of the offside trap, they even earned a mention in 'The Full Monty', with Adams receiving a personal name-check in the 1997 film that was nominated for best picture at the Oscars the following year.
But at the time that the film was being conceived and put to celluloid, Adams had little affinity with a group of unemployed steelworkers from Sheffield. The trappings of fame and the attention that naturally followed a player who was a regular in the England side had taken its toll on the Arsenal man.
Having won two league titles (thanks to that goal from Michael Thomas at Anfield and after losing only one game in 1990-91), a Cup Double in 1993 and a European trophy in the following year, Adams should have been a man revelling in his excellence and enjoying a constant stream of influential displays on the pitch that saw him firmly established as one of the Premier League's finest players.
But the personal demons that reared their ugly head in 1990, when he served two months of a four-month jail sentence for drink driving, were finally given a public airing in 1996. Adams confessed to being an alcoholic after years of indulging in a damaging drinking culture that permeated the Highbury dressing room.
Tabloid tales of excess, with team-mates like Ray Parlour and Paul Merson as his accomplices, had become commonplace. Adams was in a dark place. The scale of his problem was exposed in his critically-acclaimed autobiography, 'Addicted', which chronicled his battle with alcohol, and memorably a bender which followed England's heart-breaking penalty defeat to Germany at Euro '96.
At the depths of despair and grappling with a problem that has consumed so many others, Adams found an unlikely guardian angel in the form of a studious Frenchman who had been coaching Nagoya Grampus Eight in Japan before his move to England in September 1996.
That man, of course, was Arsene Wenger. The arrival of the Frenchman in North London sparked a revolution in dietary and training methods that reverberated across the English game. But for Adams, the impact on his career and personal life was immeasurable.
Having found a kindred spirit in Wenger, Adams was encouraged to be a more introspective, honest and mature individual and it is no exaggeration to credit the Frenchman with extending the career of his captain who battled against his addiction with success.
Changes were palpable in his public image with tabloids jumping on tales of Adams learning the piano, reading Shakespeare and studying for a sports science degree. Dating the supermodel Caprice also earned him a reputation of being a very modern kind of renaissance man.
On the pitch, Adams was also a beneficiary of Wenger's forward-thinking strategy and, emboldened by a licence to roam, cast off for good the 'Donkey' tag that had followed him for so long - thanks in no small part to an own goal against Manchester United in 1989 and, four years later, when he dropped Steve Morrow in the aftermath of the League Cup final victory over Sheffield Wednesday, breaking his arm.
Instead, Adams was very much captain sensible as he led the Gunners to the Double in 1998 with some typically uncompromising and vigorous performances, the pinnacle being that famous goal against Everton. The image of Adams celebrating the strike, and the title it set the seal on, still adorns the walls of Emirates Stadium outside the current first team dressing room.
On the international scene too, Adams enjoyed something of a rebirth, albeit brief. Having competed in three major tournaments for England, including Euro '96 when he captained Terry Venables' side, Kevin Keegan handed him the armband again in 2000. It was relinquished inside a year though when a defeat to Germany ended Keegan's reign, with Adams opting to retire in order to focus on club concerns.
Injuries began to take their toll as Adams moved into his 30s but he still celebrated another Double in 2002, before announcing his retirement from football after making 669 appearances for Arsenal and scoring 48 goals.
Patrick Vieira has been the only Arsenal player to come close to Adams as a leader of men since, and while Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp have also achieved legendary status in North London, theirs is not a story that competes with the ultimate one-club man.
Bergkamp and Henry were football geniuses, robots in their devotion to the game even if they were artists on the pitch. Adams, with all his flaws and failings, was very much human. A man who had reached rock bottom and clawed his way back, to the delight of his many devoted fans.
That is why his defining moment at Everton - the exuberance of his run forward, the confidence needed to dispatch an emphatic shot and the outpouring of emotion from the stands it generated - summed it all up so well.