Mr Arsenal is home, but is he home for good?
In a pretty quiet Arsenal week, the return of our former captain still went somewhat under the radar, but Tony Adams is back on the Arsenal training pitches, this time to coach our Under 18s alongside a certain Thierry Henry. Throw in the the u18 manager, Kwame Ampadu, and the lucky teenagers in our academy have a full quota of outfield coaches.
It’s a big move for Adams, who has previously resisted any involvement with the club – bar a brief spell moonlighting as a scout – despite indicating his interest in the main job, as and when it becomes vacant.
Yet his career since hanging up his boots does little to recommend him for such a high profile role. His first management role at Wycombe Wanderers ended in relegation and resignation when promotion the following season became unlikely. Various short coaching roles and a stint as Assistant Manager at Portsmouth saw him inherit the main job on the South coast, only to be sacked after 16 games and just ten points to show for it.
Following his Pompey disaster, Adams drifted out to Azerbaijani side Gabala FC, where he has been ever since, first as manager and latterly as sporting director. A heart operation appears to have made Big Tone yearn for home again, and so he finds himself back at Arsenal.
His is a long employment history, and a far from dazzling one, but he’s hardly alone in the collection of former players who took the Premier League by storm on the pitch, but have struggled to deliver on the touchline.
Take Ryan Giggs, now surplus to requirements at Man United. To his obvious irritation the club have turned to Jose Mourinho to restore their fortunes, after his own efforts following David Moyes’ departure underwhelmed.
Or Alan Shearer, who relegated his beloved Newcastle. Or even the well-respected Gary Neville, who established himself so convincingly as a pundit, yet couldn’t translate his ideas into results at Valencia.
These men were all highly talented, intelligent footballers with a great deal of tactical nous. Neville in particular has proven that he can also take that step back and assess a game from beyond the pitch in his Monday Night Football evaluations. Yet when it comes to turning that into on field success, it has evaded all of them.
It perhaps serves to underline the difference between coaching, where you can focus on specific elements of the game, technical skills and tactics, versus management.
At a club like Arsenal, there is simply so much more to being a successful manager than the coaching.
The mental side of the game is increasingly important in the small margins at the top level, and the manager also influences what players the club can attract (think Ozil, Alexis and most recently Xhaka), the spirit in the face of adversity or pressure (as Ranieri has so aptly proven) and of course handling the press with any element of control, something both Mourinho and Van Gaal, for example, have spectacularly failed to do at times.
Perhaps it says volumes that our u18 manager is not our record goalscorer Thierry Henry or our legendary one club captain Tony Adams, but instead the understated midfielder who made just two first team appearances, both as an 18-year-old substitute, before a much lower profile and well-travelled career which took in four years at Swansea (144 league games) well before their Premier League days, and a further five years at Leyton Orient (162 league appearances).
There are of course exceptions.
Zinedine Zidane has experienced success in his first season at Real Madrid – after 18 months in the youth setup – in the shape of the Champions League. And of course, Manchester City’s new manager also did a year’s apprenticeship in charge of Barcelona B before winning three consecutive league titles, two cups and two Champions Leagues in four years, then a further three consecutive German championships and two cups in three years with Bayern Munich.
Yet closer to home, the three most successful Premier League managers all had unremarkable playing careers – neither Mourinho nor Ferguson enjoyed stellar playing careers and of course we all know Arsene’s own on-pitch efforts were fairly unimpressive.
Adams will hope that a stint in the youth ranks at Arsenal will be just what he needs to kick-start his chances of emulating Zidane and Guardiola in managing the clubs where they spent the majority or entirety of their playing careers.
Even if he (and indeed his contemporaries in the Arsenal academy, Henry and Freddie Ljungberg) never makes it as a manager, they can surely offer unmatched value to the club in terms of experience, skills and winning mentality. Sometimes those skills are simply better suited to the minutiae of coaching than the all encompassing nature of management.
In a week where leadership has been at the forefront of the news (in the UK at least), and talk turns to the best candidate to replace the man departing the top job, there’s little consensus on who could fill the void left behind.
Similarly, while many want a change at the top of our club, there’s no obvious candidate – certainly with any experience and credentials – waiting in the wings.
Adams will hope that this opportunity is the stepping stone he needs to prove he could take the reins, but history is against him, with his own managerial record and the demographic of successful managers in the UK top flight.
Perhaps we’ll find that when the time comes, it’s the less heralded Ampadu who emerges to be the most likely manager.
Stranger things have happened. Remember Arsene who?