Being Charlie Adam was originally published on my now defunct Imposturous blogspot, on June 22nd 2010. It was an article that partly addressed the serious dearth in creative footballing talent within Scotland at the moment (something Pat Nevin has since pursued in his Radio documentary, The Perfect 10), whilst giving an overview of one of the few Scottish players who has really set the pulses racing over the last few years. Back at the start of last season Adam had resuscitated a career that had looked almost flatlined in his last few months at Rangers, under Walter Smith. This was in part thanks to the midfield responsibilities Blackpool manager Ian Holloway assigned his captain, in what was a very, almost suicidally so, attack-minded team. Everton were seen as the main suitors for his signature last summer. However, Blackpool managed to cling onto him for an entire season, and although he ultimately failed to keep the team in the top division, he didn’t half impress with his spectacular range of passes and his dead-ball excellence. In the January transfer window, Liverpool’s returning hero Kenny Dalglish, attempted to bring Adam to Merseyside. In the event his arrival was simply postponed for six months and now Adam is in the perfect place to realise all of that early promise that the much-maligned Paul Le Guen first saw in him. The impressive start both Liverpool and Adam have made to this new season promises much, particularly if Adam continues to create such a strong on-pitch relationship with young Jordan Henderson and the wily Uruguayan Luis Sanchez. I’ve a gut-feeling this could be a very good campaign for Liverpool, and what better person for Adam to develop into his golden years under, than perhaps the greatest ‘number 10’ figure Liverpool ever had. If only more Scottish players would take a leaf out of the Adam playbook. On the continent he would be heralded as the midfield maestro, he surely is, whereas in Scotland (much as in England, in the recent past), he’s seen as a maverick throwback to the days of Jimmy Baxter and Alan Gilzean. I believe that Craig Levein is trying very hard in a near thankless position at the SFA, but unless that clownish organisation manages to put its house in order and come up with a top-to-bottom regeneration programme for the Scottish game, then the likes of Charlie Adam will continue to be the exception, rather than the rule.
Why are so many talented Scottish footballers so bloody enigmatic when it comes to displaying their talents consistently at the highest levels? Despite the greats of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, such as Laws, Hansen, Bremner, Jordan, Souness, Dalglish and Robertson, there has been a steady stream of untapped, or not fully realised, talent frittered away before a generation of Scots’ fans teary eyes. Think of the sublime gifts of Jimmy Baxter, or Davie Cooper, that, due to the traditional Scottish disdain for healthy living, were so infrequently shared with the Rangers, Raith and Motherwell fans who worshipped them. What about the myriad talents of Giggs’ contemporary Eoin Jess, a player that back in the early 90’s had many Scottish football journalists predicting a similar career trajectory to the Welsh wizard? Aside from his all too brief halycon years at Pittodrie there is now as little to admire of Jess’s career, as there are trophies on his CV.
In recent years the youth teams at Motherwell, Kilmarnock, Hibernian and Hearts have developed a number of promising young talents, only for the Old Firm to come-a-calling and set their development back a few years at best (Kevin Thomson, Steven Naismith), or leave them cryogenically frozen at worst (Derek Riordan). Part of this is down to the players themselves, groomed in the goldfish bowl that is Scottish football, they nowadays tend to have an over-inflated opinion of their own talents, achievements and self-worth from a ridiculously young age and quickly fall into all the extracurricular traps their relative affluence allows them. Often it is only on descending down the Scottish League that such players begin to realise a fraction of that potential that initially got them the big pay cheque (just take a look at where some of the journeymen assembled by Derek Adams at Ross County this season started their careers).
One of the most glaring details about talented Scottish footballers’ habits (much like many young English players) in the past few years has been their relative inability to seek out better opportunities in leagues other than their own. Since the tail-end of the Merseyside duopoly of Everton and Liverpool in the 80’s and the likes of McClair and Strachan at United, successful Scots’ players abroad have been an endangered species. Gary McCallister was perhaps the last truly great Scottish player to achieve tangible success abroad, although the mercurial gifts of James McFadden helped David Moyes settle into the Goodison hotseat and perhaps Manchester United’s most consistent performer of the last few seasons has been the tenacious midfield dynamo Darren Fletcher. There really is though no comparison between the current crop of Scots’ players parked in mid-table Premier League and Championship outfits and the greats of the Leeds, Liverpool, Everton and Forest teams of old, not to mention the continental pioneers like Souness, Jordan and Archibald, unless you harbour an ironic soft-spot for Holland’s favourite Scotsman Scott Booth.
Amongst the current crop of Scotland players, I would argue that only McFadden (and where has McFadden disappeared to???) clearly has more natural skill and ability than the former ‘Ger Charlie Adam. Darren Fletcher has grown into a truly world-class talent more through ferocious willpower and sheer, Ferguson-implanted, single-mindedness than by dint of being blessed with fantastic football skills. Adam, much like his former team-mate and club captain Barry ‘pass-back’ Ferguson, comes across in interviews as somewhat lacking in the verbal skills to adequately discuss the weather, let alone his footballing ability (since when has that been an issue for English, French, or Spanish footballers andtheir bland, airbrushed platitudes), yet unlike Ferguson he seems to have an awareness of these limitations. In his most recent incarnation for Championship outfit Blackpool, Adam has literally been following that tired old cliche and doing his talking on the pitch, orchestrating Blackpool’s frenetic brand of attacking football from the centre of the park, turning into a box-to-box midfielder in the Steven Gerrard mould.
As manager Ian Holloway’s club captain and Blackpool’s most expensive signing (at a paltry £500,000 pounds), Adam has embraced the tough fitness training sessions and pass’n’move offensive play of his new club and in the process has blossomed into the player that Paul Le Guen considered to be one of the most promising youth products coming through the Ibrox ranks in his short tenure at the club. It is somewhat troubling to consider that Adam has clearly performed for the likes of Gus MacPherson, Le Guen and Holloway, all managers who demand high fitness levels of their players and yet frequently throughout his time at Ibrox was the object of terrace abuse and derision, due to his ballooning weight and propensity to jog, or waddle, after the ball. He would not be the first player, nor the last, to let Glasgow living get the better of him. I seem to remember Peter Lovenkrands having similar weight issues in his time atIbrox, as well as Riordan, Caldwell and Boruc in more recent times at Celtic.
Despite being given his first Scotland cap by Alex McLeish, at club level Adam clearly did not win Big ‘Eck’s trust on the football pitch, being farmed out first to Ross County and then to his successful stint at St. Mirren under MacPherson. Le Guen succeeded McLeish in the summer of 2006 and after a pre-season goal blitz by Adam the Frenchman regularly selected, and got the best from, him. However, Le Guen’s brutally short reign at Ibrox saw Walter Smith takeover in early 2007 and gradually the dynamism of the last 18 months drained from Adam’s performances. By 2009 Adam was a peripheral figure at Ibrox, seemingly resigned to never quite making the grade for Rangers. It was at this juncture that Adam initially took up a loan option with relegation threatened Blackpool, a move he would later make permanent under the stewardship of Holloway in August 2009.
Adam in the few, mostly dull, football interviews that he has given, has frequently alluded to his need to ‘feel wanted’ and his willingness to ‘play anywhere’ as long as it meant playing regularly. Being a natural left-footer with a thunderous shot, he frequently found himself being asked to play out on the wing at Ibrox, cutting inside when necessary. Yet under Holloway at Blackpool Adam has found himself being utilised in a more demanding central role, where he can show-off his full range of passing and his previously much-maligned capacity to intelligently link up defence and attack with well-timed charges from deep. As a result his goal ratio has also swollen, acceding the near-double figure tally he clocked up in that excellent season in Paisley. A look at some of Adam’s more outrageous finishes against Stuttgart, Celtic, Queen of the South and West Brom, demonstrates his inherent strengths: a precision delivery from dead-ball situations, an excellent first-touch, the ability to turn defenders with intelligent movement and a rocket left-footed finish. Why is it then that it has taken Adam so long to fulfill the potential observed by MacPherson and Le Guen way back in the 2005-06 season?
Adam’s personality in the past has seemed to be a fairly benign one, that demanded the strict motivational abilities of a hard task-master to get the best from it on the training pitch. Adam also seemed previously resistant to playing a strict role within a tactically disciplined side, which both McLeish and Smith frequently demand of their charges. Under MacPherson and Le Guen, Adam seemed to blossom by being given a degree of freedom to run at defences and utilise his strength and balance to break teams down from a number of different positions across the midfield. Holloway has seemed to encourage this with his own preference for open, attacking football, played through the midfield, yet he has also managed to harness Adam to a stronger work ethic by placing the responsibility of the captaincy squarely on his young shoulders. Adam has certainly risen to the occasion this season, dominating a number of key matches for Blackpool with his ability to pick the right pass and his set-piece expertise. In fact Holloway, often derided as a clownish figure in the past, has managed to imbue Adam not only with the confidence to take his abilities to the next level, but also the willingness to sacrifice for the team and also to demonstrate a strong streak of loyalty that few had previously thought possible once Adam’s Rangers dream lay in tatters.
Ominously for Blackpool their captain’s revitalisation has won him a new group of admirers, including McFadden’s former mentor/nemesis David Moyes at Everton. If rumours are to be believed Adam has a tough choice to make this summer between the comfortable existence he has established for himself at the Premiership’s newest club, or pushing himself to achieve further success as part of Moyes robust and competitive Goodison midfield. He would do well to look at the example of a former team-mate who has excelled since arriving on Merseyside. Mikel Arteta had a miserable spell at Rangers in the early part of the decade and yet has become one of the key creative influences for Moyes’ team. Adam may yet become a proper Big Time Charlie.