The former England captain discusses with Donald McRae his new book reflecting on 20 years sober and how his texting love with Arsne Wenger has stopped since his recent criticism of the Frenchman who he doesnt think can let go of Arsenal
I was married to the club for 23 years so Arsenal are like an ex-wife, Tony Adams says with a rueful grin as we reach the end of a tumultuous season for him and his beloved Gunners. Just because she doesnt want you back, theres no reason why you dont still love that woman, that club. Im 50 so almost half my life was at Arsenal. Ive got a bloody statue outside [the Emirates Stadium]. What have they done to me?
On a beautiful morning in London, in a moment which shows his tangled feelings for Arsenal amid renewed tension between him and Arsne Wenger, Adams laughs. Its the sound of pride smudged with hurt. As their inspirational captain, Adams led Arsenal to 10 trophies, including four league titles, in three decades, after joining the club as a schoolboy and playing the last of his 669 games in May 2002. Adams lifted the FACup for Arsenal that month and, 15 years on, he shares the elation of another thrilling victory.
On Saturday Arsenal beat Chelsea in the FA Cup final and displayed the resolve and verve missing from a disappointing campaign in which they finished outside the Champions League places for the first time in 20 years. We played brilliantly the best weve played all season, Adams says.
That we sounds as natural as him naming every family member he took to the game. Poppy [his wife] and Amber, Hector and Atticus, with his youngest son being named after Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird. We were in a box with David Seaman. Everybody was surprised. Arsenal wanted it more but over the course of the season Chelsea are far superior [and finished 18 points clear of Arsenal]. Lets enjoy the day but, long term, nothing has changed.
Adams has endured his own upheavals this season. Last October, while working as a sporting director for the Chinese club Chongqing, he felt so paralysed and inexplicably depressed he began sobbing like a baby in his hotel room. Adams was about to turn 50 and, as an alcoholic, he was approaching the 20th anniversary of remaining sober.
With admirable grit, Adams overcame his emotional crisis in China so convincingly he accepted an invitation to move to troubled Granada owned, like Chongqing, by Jiang John Lizhang. In November Adams began a comprehensive audit of Granada which resulted in him becoming the clubs temporary coach for the last seven games of their LaLiga season. Granada lost every one of those matches.
Now, Adams is upbeat and rightly proud of his new book, Sober, which documents his success in overcoming alcoholism. But it seems appropriate to concentrate first on Arsenal. Wenger has endured the most traumatic season of his career and been wounded by brutal criticism both inside and outside the club. He said he was sad when hearing his coaching had been dismissed in Adamss book.
Adams still believes that Arsne, essentially, is not a coach. Despite the acrimony, Adams says: I was delighted for him on Saturday. Ive never seen him so animated. He was doing a lot of waving after the game. I dont know what that means. Hes the greatest Arsenal manager ever so it would be sad if that was spoilt. Arsenal are not in the Champions League next season. I dont think theyre going to be anywhere near the title. Theyve just had a fantastic FA Cup win after an amazing 20 years. I hope he calls it a day.
Could all that waving from Wenger really mean he might shock us and leave after the board meeting on Tuesday? I would. But hes not me. Maybe he thinks they can win the league next year or get back into Europe. I dont know if he can let go.
The last time Arsenal beat Chelsea in an FACup final, in 2002, Adams decided to retire. Zinedine Zidane once told me: Its better to go five minutes too early than five minutes too late. We were about to do the Double. I made the right choice to go out at the top. Maybe in the next two years Arsne wants to get the club in position for a smooth transition because if he suddenly went now Arsenal would be in a bit of a situation.
Adams doubts Wenger has the energy to really coach his players. When Arsne first got here he spoke about Lilian Thuram. He had him at Monaco and Thuram was making mistakes and costing him game after game. But Arsne worked with him and coached and trained him. Eventually they sold him for a lot of money, he became a French international and the rest is history. But Arsne said: Ill never do that at Arsenal. I cant afford these players to cost me anymore.
But players need more discipline, more guidance, more training now. Our famous back four [Lee Dixon, Nigel Winterburn, Steve Bould and Adams] were individually nowhere near as good as the players I worked with when I broke into the team in 1983 Viv Anderson, Kenny Sansom, David OLeary. Dixon, Winterburn, Bould? Couldnt lace their boots. But we worked at it morning and afternoon.
I said: Dont you remember, Arsne? We used to do this? Dicko [Dixon] would [attack] and Id get Nigel in tight so when it broke down a holding midfield player came between me and Bouldie. Wed shout to each other: Oi, see it here! Wenger said: Yes, I know. I said: But you dont fucking do anything about it. Youve just conceded four against AC Milan. Thats when he said: Yes. And people now keep putting balls in through our channels, behind our full-backs.
Was he amazed when Wenger resorted to a back three last month? It was a big surprise. Its ironic because when Arsne arrived our first game was in Europe against Borussia Mnchengladbach and wed been playing a back three under Bruce Rioch. Arsne pulled me aside and said: Were going to a back four. For the last 20 and a half years he stuck with it. But we used the three with George Graham in 1989 in that final game against Liverpool at Anfield [when Arsenal famously won the title] me, Bouldie and OLeary. It certainly worked for us on Saturday. Per Mertesacker was fantastic and everyone defended brilliantly.