I interviewed Tony Adams in May for BMI’s Voyager magazine, and we talked at length about Arsène Wenger, who is currently under all sorts of pressure at Arsenal.
To my surprise, Adams refuted the notion that Wenger completely transformed the football culture at Highbury. Received wisdom is that Wenger brought with him ‘European’ attitudes towards diet and fitness that revolutionised English football. Adams, though, insisted:
‘That’s a bit of an insult to the directors and dieticians that had been at Arsenal for years. We were reading books on diet in 1987, ten years before Arsène walked into the club. Arsène came with his own ideas and strategies, and brought in an osteopath and acupuncturist. But there’s no secrets. Diet won’t change anything if you don’t have great players and I still ate fish and chips every week for the last six years under Arsène Wenger. Every Friday on Putney Bridge I went and got battered cod and a chip sandwich and sat there looking at the river.’
Adams says that ‘the coaching system is the same as it was under George Graham’ and feels Wenger’s biggest triumph was that he ‘walked into a squad of great players. The 1991 squad was the best I’ve ever played with. I’d love to have walked into a squad of players that good as a manager. He brought in everything he learnt, that’s what managers do. He’s a fantastic physiologist and psychologist, that’s where he excelled.’
Adams clearly holds Wenger in great esteem and affection, but seems to feel the pre-history of Arsenal – the terrific team put together by George Graham – has been unfairly forgotten. His comments are an attempt to place Wenger’s achievements in perspective and to understand that his success was only a continuation of what was started by Graham. Wenger is often credited with ending the drinking culture at Arsenal, but Adams says he’d already given up booze at this point and that was something else Wenger benefited from. This terrific interview in The Sunday Times about Graham and Wenger with Adams, Steve Bould, Nigel Winterburn and Lee Dixon seems to back up what Adams told me.
Adams went on to say, ‘Don’t get me wrong, I’m not having a go at Arsène Wenger. One of the gifts he’s got is that he’s a lovely human being and I respect him a great deal. But I’ve got to get it real, he coaching isn’t his strong point [Adams's original phrase was far more damning, but he later asked for it to be toned down]. I love him dearly, he’s a fantastic physiologist but he’s not a great motivator. I’d just laugh at his attempts to gee us up, but I come from a different place, time and culture. But he got me in the best condition I could possibly get in to do my job, and for that I love him and have so much respect for him.’
It’s an interesting argument. The counter-argument is this goal, although in light of Adams’s comments it no longer looks quite so remarkable – just a triumphant and fit centre-half with a three-goal cushion running through a knackered, battered defence at the end of the season and belting the ball unscientifically past a beleaguered keeper. Total football, or just taking the piss?