Saturday 10 December 2016

Hard knocks and tough lessons on Adam's long road to Anfield

Sometimes you have to take a step back to take two forward, as Charlie Adam tells Marie Crowe

Published 01/01/2012 | 05:00

What is it about the festive season and Charlie Adam that don't go well? A missed penalty and an own goal blighted this year's celebrations, while 12 months ago his failed transfer attempt to Liverpool got the New Year off to a shaky start. And in January 2009 he was dealt a devastating blow to his career when Rangers let him go.

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But each time Adam picked himself up and came back stronger and this time round should be no different. Because having experienced both sides of being a footballer, Charlie Adam knows what it takes to make it; he learned the hard way.

In the space of a few years he went from picking up £300 a week on loan at Ross County to being a £7m pound signing for Liverpool.

Undoubtedly, it's been a rocky road. More than once his future as a professional footballer was uncertain. As a schoolboy growing up in Dundee, he was tipped for great things, his left foot, good attitude, hard work and dedication made him stand out. Everybody who saw him play said Charlie Adam would succeed.

He was in demand. Big clubs in England and Scotland wanted him. He was linked with Manchester United, Liverpool, Celtic and Rangers. Adam's father, Charlie Snr, was an accomplished player, most notably with Jim McLean's Dundee United. So when it came to choosing who junior should join, his father helped with the decision. Charlie Snr was a Rangers fan and this gave them the edge they needed to secure their new teenage star.

It was Alex McLeish who brought him to the club and gave him his first start. Initially it looked like he would be the perfect fit for Rangers, so much so that when he was just 16 McLeish brought him to Prague for a UEFA Cup trip. He didn't play but it appeared he was set for great things.

Not long after, Adam's fairytale started to fall apart. He was sent on loan to Ross County and St Mirren and in over three years he'd barely got a look-in with Rangers. McLeish told him that sometimes in football you had to go one step back to go two forwards and now Adam echoes those words.

"When you are a young player going on loan is part and parcel of the game. If you are not in the first team of the club that you are at then I think the best thing that you can do is go and play on loan somewhere. Once you are playing week in, week out then that's all that matters."

After McLeish left Rangers in 2006, Paul Le Guen took over for a short time before Walter Smith took the reins. Adam seemed to get back on track under Smith, playing 32 times and even testing himself against Barcelona in the Champions League. But once again Adam fell out of favour and by January 2009 he was on his way out of Ibrox

He found an unlikely home on loan in Blackpool. They were struggling to avoid relegation in the Championship while the 23-year-old was struggling with his career. Yet it turned out the two were in many ways the perfect match.

"People were saying that going to Blackpool was a step back but it was a step forward for me. I wasn't playing regular enough at Rangers. I chose to go there to play, that was a step forward for me and that is the way that I look at it. I was playing with good players and they helped me over the two and a half years that I was there.

"When I went there I was probably using it as a stepping stone to hopefully go to a bigger club. You need to go to the right club and fortunately I went to the right club in Blackpool and they gave me the opportunity to play."

In saying that he didn't have the smoothest start at Blackpool. He got sent off on his debut against Doncaster Rovers for an off-the-ball stamp on Richie Wellens. He admits it was difficult adjusting to the new club but the bottom line was that he wanted to play so he needed to make that happen. He went on to play 13 times for the Seasiders that season, scoring twice, and they wanted to keep him.

In August 2009, Adam made a permanent switch to Blackpool for a then club record of £500,000. He quickly became their main man, justifying the club's outlay. At the end of the season they reached the play-off final at Wembley and this was a big turning point in Adam's career.

Supporters, managers and fellow footballers all watched on as the Tangerines secured a win over Cardiff City and Adam scored a terrific free kick to help send his side to the Premier League. Any doubts that hung over his ability to cut it were answered. Finally Charlie Adam had arrived.

Within his first month in the Premier League, he had made an impact. Adam was proving he could compete with the best players in the world and people were standing up and taking notice of the midfielder. By the time the January transfer window opened he was in demand.

Liverpool led the chase.

Of course Adam wanted to go; it was "a no-brainer". Liverpool bid £4.5m but his manager, Ian Holloway, described it as a disgraceful offer. Adam did everything in his power to make the move happen, it just wasn't meant to be.

After the dust settled he resumed his role in the engine room for Blackpool, despite everything that had happened his loyalty never wavered. In his mind he was still a Blackpool player and they needed him.

Indeed Adam's efforts were unquestionable; he was even nominated for PFA player of the year along with the likes of Carlos Tevez and Gareth Bale, incredible really when you think he was playing for a team that was relegated. He was now officially one of the best players in the Premier League.

"I think that year we were a wee bit naive -- when we were winning we'd sometimes go for another goal and we'd get sucker-punched and either lose or draw the game. That comes with experience of playing in the Premier League. It's the best league in the world and if you make mistakes you get punished for them and we definitely did that."

Thankfully for Adam, Blackpool's relegation didn't mean the end of his Premier League career. Liverpool resumed their chase for the midfielder and an offer of £7m meant the deal was done.

Growing up, Adam's heroes were the footballers who played in his position. Going into the Liverpool dressing room for the first time was an experience for Adam albeit a good one. The players he looked up to and admired were now his team-mates and the likes of Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher were everything he expected them to be.

"They've been Liverpool players for ages, they are the heart and soul of the club and the respect they've got in the dressing room is superb and deserved. They are top players and it's great to be able to step on the pitch with them. They look after everybody. When I first joined they came up and said if you need anything just let me know. It's great to share a dressing room with them."

And so was his new manager, Kenny Dalglish. He enjoys his fellow Scotsman's enthusiasm and appreciates how hard he works.

Adam's relationship with the Liverpool fans is a far cry from his days at Ibrox when his father stopped going to the games because of the abuse the Rangers fans dished out to his son. They've taken to him at Anfield and the number 26 jersey is fast becoming one of the most popular in the club.

Many see him as a cross between Liverpool legends Jan Molby and Terry McDermott, passing combined with work-rate. He has been pulling the strings as the team's playmaker in the absence of Gerrard and has been Liverpool's go-to man. He is the most fouled player in the league so far this season. Gerrard's return is a mixed blessing for the Scot -- as twice over the Festive season he had to make way for the captain but in the long run he is looking for the pair to form a partnership.

Adam and his Liverpool team-mates faced criticism after a string of draws so Friday night's result -- the 3-1 win over Newcastle -- was badly needed. A lack of goals has been a problem, and Gerrard's cameo on Friday showed his importance to the team.

Criticism and pressure are common place in all levels of football, currently Blackburn manager Steve Kean is being subjected to both from disgruntled fans, Adam believes this is just part of the game but admits it's not always easy to deal with.

"There is a lot of pressure on managers, but when you come into the football world there is pressure on everyone. But I disagree with how people get treated especially the way Steve Kean has been but that's football. The way Steve has handled it has been excellent. All he can do is keep trying to win games and that's what we try to do too, is keep winning games. Sometimes it's hard but you have to keep at it."

It's been a tough journey for Charlie Adam but one that's been worthwhile because it's led him to Liverpool. He's learned that it takes more than talent to make it to the top and with that in mind he's going to keep climbing.

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