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.

Adams
Adams new book, Sober, looks back on the 20 years since he admitted his alcoholism. Photograph: Graeme Robertson/for the Guardian

The stand-off between Wenger and Adams continues. Im disappointed in Arsnes reaction. I had a book signing at the Arsenal, and hes cancelled it. The club said: Can we rearrange for June? Obviously this was a serialisation in the Sun. Educated people understand they take bits out and put it in a way to get maximum effect.

Wenger is intelligent and so, maybe in a few months, he will feel less hostile? Yeah, I think so, Adams says, before shrugging. But I dont really care because he stopped me from getting back into the club. That has been real. Hes a great coach, dont get me wrong, but hes not the best Ive worked with. Don Howe taught me. Terry Burton taught me. Terry Venables taught me. George Graham taught me. They taught me how to defend, how to work lines, how to push up. Arsnes a better physiologist than all of them. Better economist than all of them. I would say better psychologist than all of them. He is one of the greatest managers of all time.

Adams makes a clear distinction between coaching and management. Thats all my point was. The annoying thing is he usually texts me, I text him. Weve got a texting love thing. Well, not now. Hes not texted me. But hes just got to say: Tone, whats this? I would have talked to him.

He suggests that Wengers response echoes the way in which, when Adams applied unsuccessfully for one of many youth coaching positions at Arsenal, he was shunted from one person to another without any clarity from the manager. Id been at the club 23 years and they treated me like that? It was a fucking disgrace. I wanted to say: Arsne, I understand Ive got no right to go back to Arsenal just because I played here. Tell me if Im not good enough. But dont tell me: Youre going to be the next Arsenal manager, Ive got high hopes for you. I just said: Good luck for the season, Arsne. Im not going to fall out with you. I love you lots. Ive got compassion for him as well. Hes been there 20 years and cant keep everyonehappy.

We discuss the people whom Adams can talk to when afflicted with doubt. He shakes his head when asked if he has any idea to whom Wenger might turn when he suffers. I wonder whats really going on inside him. But when you meet him one-to-one hes the most charming, sensitive human being.

Wenger likes to be in control but he can appear evasive and keen to avoid confrontation. A stubborn determination still beats within him. Thats why I think hell hold on to Arsenal. He said: Ive turned down every club in the world. But he wouldve been sacked after a year at Madrid. He wouldve had to go to from club to club. But, at Arsenal, hes got total dominance. The board do nothing. Arsne has a free rein. Hes earning them so much money he can do what he wants. And I dont think Arsne can let go. Its an addiction.

Hes also got a weird relationship with money. Hes on 8m a year but Arsenals junior coaches are on 30 grand. Chelseas coaches are on 90,000. Take 7m, Arsne, and give them all a rise. Its not like hes using the money to throw lavish parties for his friends because he hasnt got none. Hes only got a few guys in France. I feel a bit sorry for him.

Adams believes that, even if there was no role for him, Wenger might have brought in Patrick Vieira, another steely former captain, instead of quieter assistants like Pat Rice or Steve Bould. Vieira has apparently also said Wenger will always shy away from bringing in big characters who might challenge his methods.

Too many players are saying that now, Adams claims. Emmanuel Petit. Lauren whom I spoke to in Seville. Sol Campbell phoned and said: Spot on, Tone. Too many people are saying that for it not to be true. But hes kept the job 20 years so he might be right. If I was in his situation, would I have wanted Patrick to join me? Maybe not. When I aint won a league title for 12 years it could have heaped more pressure on to me.

Adams
Adams during his ill-fated spell as Granada coach at the end of the season which saw the Spanish side relegated from La Liga. Photograph: Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Meanwhile, the only time Arsenals largely absent American owner Stan Kroenkes voice has been heard during months of turmoil was through a terse statement saying he would not sell his 67% shareholding, after he was reportedly offered more than 1bn by Alisher Usmanov, the Russian who owns a 30% stake.

In one of many revelations in his book, Adams explains how he tried to convince the late Danny Fiszman, the Arsenal shareholder whom he respected most, to form a consortium so they could obtain 31% of Arsenals shares at a time when Kroenke and Usmanov both had 25%. I didnt know them, Adams says of Kroenke and Usmanov. I just foresaw a problem with a dictatorship. Its OK if you get a good leader. But if youve got a dictator thats earning lots of money by silence I dont think its going to change.

While deadlock remains at Arsenal, how is Adams after his crisis in China? Im in a different place now. Drink is completely not an issue but it was confusing. Ive got a wonderful family, a great job and Im in floods of tears? Absolutely sobbing like a baby. A doctor would say I was clinically depressed. I was coming up to 50, just got through my heart scare and realised Im closer to the end than the beginning.

Its fear, mortality, death. My doctor said: A midlife crisis is completely normal. But I felt, because I was supersober, I cant have these problems. Of course I can. A good friend loved the book but when I sent him a draft he said: Do you really want to include this stuff? I fear you wont get another job. I said: If they dont want me because Ive been through this, I dont want the job. This is real stuff people go through all the time. We all have problems but we dont have to get drunk. We can get through it.

It still seems incredible he was working in LaLiga a month later. Weirdly, as soon as I hit 50 [on 10October 2016] I came out of it. I was in Granada in November and its a magical place.

There are terrible problems at Granada but Adams has a passion of football. He says: I loved being in Azerbaijan, building a club at Gabala, but after six years I needed to coach again. I went to China and John [Jiang] said: Come be Chongqing coach. But then he said: Maybe build the club first. I said: OK. But promise me at some stage I can coach one of your winning teams. We were in Madrid recently, after four losses with me as Granada coach, and I said: Im going to kill you. I wanted to coach, but not this!

Adams laughs when I say how consumed he looked even when Granada were getting pasted. Its a drug. But I phoned my wife after the first defeat and said: Poppy, I dont want to be a coach no more. Poppy couldnt believe it. She said: Six years youve been telling me you want to coach. I dont know whats good forme.

Was he shocked by the mess he discovered at Granada when it emerged that only 44 of the 106 first-team, reserves and under-19 players are owned by the club? Yeah. Its my biggest challenge. When you dont own the players, and 56of them have not even touched Granada soil, its a long clean-up process. Ive appointed a sports director and hes a good man. Hell build a decent second-division team and weve now got a general manager to control the business. Progress is being made but it was like someone was dying and, for seven games, I was the relative holding their hand. The fans are unsure, scared, angry. They could not identify with the players. That hurt them more than relegation. I absolutely understood and our message is: We need time but were giving you back your club.

Adams has regained ownership of his own life. Twenty years without a drink is explained and celebrated in Sober. Addicted [published in 1998] got a lot of people sober. Hopefully this book will keep them sober. But if you dont address your illness youre knackered.

Far beyond Arsenal, and even the immediate tasks in Granada, where does Adams see his life unfolding? He smiles. I dont know. My favourite words before I got sober was: I know. But now I just say: I dont know. I just rock up, a day at a time. I do whats in front of me. I keep it simple. I do my best.

Sober by Tony Adams is available from the Guardian bookshop.

Adams
Adams and Patrick Vieira lift the FA Cup for Arsenal after victory over Chelsea in 2002. It was Adams 669th and last game for the Gunners. Photograph: PA

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/football/2017/may/29/tony-adams-arsenal-arsene-wenger-board