KENNY DALGLISH once called me "a tube" (a Glaswegian term, not of affection) for writing that Liverpool had got away with it when they made him manager. "I won the f****** Double in my first season," he said, which was a compelling argument, but I thought mine had some merit. He had been put in charge of what was then the biggest club in England without a day's experience in a hugely difficult role.
"Like putting a racing car in the hands of a learner driver," Fabio Capello said when Gianluca Vialli was appointed manager of Chelsea and, although he won a few cups, the Italian lost some very good friends as he struggled to make the transition from dressing-room to dugout. There is talk of Newcastle United appointing Alan Shearer as manager. The former England striker is studying for his coaching badges, but is that really sufficient preparation for duelling with Arsene Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson?
Which brings us to Tony Adams and Wycombe Wanderers. Adams did not need to start at the bottom of the Nationwide League second division. West Ham United were willing to take a gamble and there were offers to go straight into the Barclaycard Premiership as a right-hand man. Instead, today, Adams will be heading to Stockport County to continue the sort of lower-league apprenticeship that might - at the risk of another blast of Glaswegian -have helped Dalglish to sustain the considerable success he enjoyed with Liverpool and Blackburn Rovers.
Adams is certain that it would have helped Vialli. "He's maybe had his career already," he said. "Chris Coleman walked into the Fulham job. Will he be managing in ten years? I don't know. He might be good enough and quick enough to learn while you're in the hot seat. He might be Wales manager or he might be looking to manage Wycombe when he's 37 or 38.
"I woudn't be surprised if Alan Shearer is manager of Newcastle. Such is the public demand, but whether he will take it and whether he can turn it on straight away, who knows? It's the fans, it's the popular thing to do. I imagine if Arsene Wenger got the sack tomorrow, some people might scream my name, but I'm nowhere near ready. Honestly, I've got a big job here and it's getting me ready. Everyone has to do an apprenticeship.
"It's about ego -you have to throw it out of the window. To walk into university with 120 students, sit down, get your pencil case out and start writing things down and learning, that takes an awful amount of humility. Maybe that's why you come down to a club like this. It teaches you and that's why you have to give people time."
Two months into the job that plucked him out of university, Adams has made mistakes already. After a couple of heavy defeats around Christmas, he tore into his players and suggested that barely half the team was good enough. He had underestimated his own fame and a chat to the Bucks Free Press became big news.
"It's ended up in The Sun, but most things get two lines in the paper and that's why I'm here," he said. "Because you can do it in relative safety. You can make mistakes and do it away from the public. If I went any higher, my first job could have been my last. Here, I can recover from a dodgy quote, the wrong (team) shape or not putting the centre forward on.
"I made a mistake, to be honest with you. One of my basic principles was to never have a go at your players and I've apologised publicly for that. But I don't regret it. I'm going to make mistakes. If people judged my football career on my first game, I'd never have played again."
Adams went on to make 677 appearances for Arsenal, winning four championships in three different decades. He won 66 caps for England and reckons that there could have been plenty more. "I was probably pulled out of ten or 20 when I was fit in my early days," he said. "George (Graham, then Arsenal manager), bless him, used to say: 'What's England got to do with Arsenal? You don't want to go with England, they're crap, Bobby Robson's crap.' I could have put on another 20, but there we go."
It was a colossal career, but Adams has always believed that he could be a better manager than he was a player. "Even as a six-year-old I was working on systems, tactics," he said. "You see kids playing with Transformers. I had a team of pencils, another team of Panini stickers. Two up, two back, I was running home from school to play them. I've always been an organiser. I guess that's why they made me captain."
Adams's problem at Wycombe is that, whatever his abilities, the club's finances are as parlous as their league position. "I don't want to be cruel, I want to be compassionate, but some of them here are Conference players," he said. He is having to beg and borrow reinforcements from old friends.
So grave is the situation that the squad could not afford to be dazzled for long by their new manager's status. It was only three years ago that he was captain of his country, his last appearance against Germany in the 2000 European Championship qualifier, the farewell game for Wembley and Kevin Keegan. Adams looks taken aback when I suggest that defeat and Keegan's resignation in the toilets was not much of a way to go out. "That's not a regret, that's a highlight," he said. "It was a pleasure to be in the bogs alongside Kevin and trying to talk him into getting more guidance from someone else.
"Sven (Goran-Eriksson) is a good man with a little bit of intelligence. For me, which is really highly critical, they (England) are a little bit too much counter-attacking to win a major tournament. They struggle when they go behind, but with a little bit more technically and moving the ball, they should be nearabouts for the European Championship."
For Adams, though, it is off to Edgeley Park to continue the education. On Thursday night it was a trip to the theatre to see Anything Goes and he is not short of distractions. His girlfriend is due to give birth in less than a fortnight and, when he can, he helps to run the Sporting Chance clinic to help others to recover from alcoholism.
Plenty to do, then, but it is Wycombe's fight against relegation that consumes him now. "I could have been an assistant in the Premiership, but that doesn't prepare you," he said. "People sleep as assistant manager. At this level, you get to experience being manager, coach and kit man."
Copyright (C) The Times, 2004
Photograph by MARC ASPLAND
"Apprentice happy to learn his trade; The Saturday Interview." Times [London, England] 10 Jan. 2004: 34. Academic OneFile. Web. 12 Nov. 2009.
Gale Document Number:CJ112058224
(Album / Profile) http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=10035&id=1661531726&l=f3f19215d0