How Tony Adams’ appointment has unearthed the Spanish Paul Mersons

Words By Euan McTear
April 13, 2017

Picture the scene. A pundit named Paulo Merson is sat in a TV studio in Spain, being asked questions about the latest foreign coaching hire on his show Gillette – pronounced with a throaty ‘G’ – Fútbol Sábado. He’s not happy. “Why does it always have to be a foreign manager, Jefe?” he laments. “What does he know about LaLiga? Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got nothing against foreign managers. Zinedine Zidane and Diego Simeone are top-drawer managers, but this Tony Adams geezer ain’t any better than Pako Ayestarán.”

The host points to Adams’ record, from Fratton Park to the Azerbaijan Premier League, but that still doesn’t convince his colleague. “I could win 10 points in 15 games with Portsmouth and I’m not even joking. They’ve won about 107 points in the last few seasons and there were only 106 available.”

Sound familiar? Well, that has been the reaction in some quarters to Granada’s decision to give local lad, former player and three-time coach Lucas Alcaraz the boot in order to give the job to Tony Adams, as they attempt to cut the seven-point gap to LaLiga safety with just seven matches remaining. The hiring of ‘yet another English coach’ has well and truly unearthed the Spanish Paul Mersons.

There are, it should be said, a few nuances to the bewilderment at the appointment of the former Arsenal captain. While Marco Silva’s arrival at Hull City was viewed by some as a let’s-appoint-a-foreign-coach-just-because-it’s-trendy type of hire, fans and pundits in Spain believe this is a let’s-appoint-an-English-coach-just -because-he’s-a-friend-of-the-owner type of hire.

Jiang Lizhang, DDMC Football Club Management Company president and a friend of Adams, purchased the club last summer from the Pozzo family and appointed the Englishman as sporting director in February, with the move to the dugout the next logical step in that relationship, even if just on an interim basis. For many, this is eerily similar to when Valencia owner Peter Lim handed the club’s reins to his business partner and associate Gary Neville. Lim’s decision had devastating consequences, with Neville departing the Mestalla with the fourth lowest win percentage – of 18.75 percent – in the club’s LaLiga history and the scars of a 7-0 Camp Nou battering.

There is, therefore, a similarity in the way Adams got his hands on the job, but just because he hails from the same country as Neville – even if they were born on opposite sides of it – doesn’t mean it should be assumed that Adams will have as poor a record as his former England teammate or as David Moyes, the league’s other recent failed British coach. His press conference promise to give the Granada players “a kick up the arse” won’t have helped convince many that he knows what is required to succeed in this more technical division, but it is wrong to write him off purely based on where he comes from, how he takes his tea or whether or not he approves of putting Coca Cola in red wine.

That is the kind of prejudiced thinking that many so rightly condemned Paul Merson and Phil Thompson for at the time of their Marco Silva criticism, yet it has been on show on the Iberian Peninsula in recent days. “The English are incompatible with Spanish football,” was the take of one journalist. “It’s not surprising that an Englishman is coming to a tourist city in Andalusia where they have lots of tapas and beer, but it’s shocking that he’s there to coach,” read another comment. Someone else called for Brexit to be completed as soon as possible.

Adams may well fail and, looking at the lack of quality in the current Granada squad and their significant gap to safety, he probably will. Yet it won’t be because of the colour of his passport. If he doesn’t enjoy success then, like Neville, it will probably be due to his lack of experience, one of the criticisms of his appointment which is fair. The sad part is that Adams failing will only make it even more difficult for a British coach to make the move out to LaLiga and to break the stereotypes in the future.

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