Tony Adams was a giant of a man and one hell of a leader. As a child growing up Arsenal were known as boring, boring Arsenal. They were defensively solid, very organised and the man at the middle of that unit was Tony Adams.
A man mountain and natural leader on the pitch he captained the side and dictated matches on his terms.
His stature in the game was so great that Alex Ferguson once said of him;
“I can’t wait for him to retire”
Such was he a player of magnitude he was respected by his peers and only the bravest and most combative players would have truly enjoyed going up against him.
The Telegraph reported Alex Ferguson particularly held Adams in high regard as he was such a strong willed defender and saw him as a Manchester United man playing in the wrong strip.
Ferguson saw in Adams a leader on the pitch. Similar to that of Bryan Robson, Paul Ince and Roy Keane. Born leaders who would epitomise Ferguson’s ideology and raise the game of under-performers on-the pitch.
Sir Alex was rarely drawn on lamenting his opponents but players like Steven Gerrard at Liverpool and Tony Adams he admired because of their strength of character.
In fact Adams once said of himself;
“It’s quite natural for me to be captain,”
The self confidence that protruded from him drove him on and inspired others to succeed. He had an incredible will to win and playing in a team where his captaincy shone drove his team mates on to glory.
Tony Adams always loved football. He found it an escape. A way to leave the everyday norm behind and seek solace on the football pitch. He was talented and on the field he excelled. His leadership skills were obvious and his will to win was evident as early as 9 playing for Dagenham United in the Essex Count (TheBigIssue).
While playing there it didn’t take long for him to get noticed and at 16 Arsenal took the young Adams under their wing.
Adams quickly made progress and observed that now he was signed he could see the progression into the first team as there were only three players ahead of him in his position.
Adams reflected in TheBig Issue that it was much different then to it is now as now 99 per cent of EPL players taken on at 16 fall out of the system by 21 (ibid).
Adams became a regular in the 1986/ 87 season. Playing in a team containing Kenny Sansom and Charlie Nicholson the young defender made his mark early with some impressive performances.
LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM – AUGUST 01: Arsenal defender Kenny Sansom pictured ahead of the 1984/85 season at Highbury Stadium in London, England. (Photo by Allsport/Getty Images)
When Kenny Sansom eventually fell out of favour with George Graham at Highbury, the manager turned to Adams to lead the team. Adams was to jump at the chance and opportunity to make his mark.
Confidence and arrogance made up some of Adams persona in the early days and this was observed in his very first match.
The 17-year-old managed under Terry Neill got his chance against Sunderland when David O’Leary was injured.
Neill used to tease Adams, saying
“You will never be as good a centre-half as a I was”.
The teenager quick witted was to respond,
“I don’t even remember you playing. Were you actually a player?”
Adams was a colossal defender, and an absolute master of his trade. He was able to time tackles to almost perfection and his strength, speed and aerial agility endeared him greatly to football fans up and down the country especially the Arsenal support.
He was to win trophies at Highbury. His first being the Little-woods Cup and then part of the famous Arsenal team that beat the mighty Liverpool to the Division One Title in 1989.
More cup success was to follow in 1993 and beating Parma in the Cup Winners Cup (1994) was a success as Adams lifted the European trophy after a defensive masterclass.
By 1996, Adams was the England captain and under Arsene Wenger he thrived. Although he had suffered problems in his personal life Wenger’s philosophy and footballing ethos helped Adams and his preparation towards matches became even more professional.
Wenger allowed Adams to express himself on the pitch and his more direct and attacking style of play was different from previous managers. Adams flourished in his new role showing more composure in possession and initiating attacking play from the back.
Playing with more forward minded players such as Dennis Bergkamp, Ian Wright and Marc Overmars he captained the side to victory in the Premier League and FA Cup in 1997/98. A fantastic achievement for the team as the overhauled Man United’s dominance.
Adams was also to finish that season with World Cup disappointment as he was dismissed as England Captain in favour of Alan Shearer and he would see England lose on penalties to Argentina in the World Cup quarter finals.
The next few years would see Adams suffer from various injuries and there was much disappointment as Manchester United their main rivals would continue to dominate.
However he would eventually have the final say and in his final year (2002) as a player he won the League and Cup double.
There are few players that are the ultimate one club man. Steven Gerrard, Ryan Giggs, Matt Le tissier are among the few. A rock in the heart of the Arsenal defence for 14 years he was the leader of the defensive back four.
Adams seemed to have an almost telepathic understanding with Steve Bould, Lee Dixon, and Nigel Winterburn. The Premier League haven’t seen the likes of them again.
Fourteen years as captain, 669 appearances and 10 major trophies, including League titles in three different decades. It’s no surprise that ‘Mr. Arsenal’ himself is regarded as one of the Gunners’ greatest ever players.