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Tony Adams: the accidental manager who has to be Granada’s Winston Wolfe

Former Arsenal and England captain Adams reacts after being presented as new head coach of Granada soccer club, in Granada

Tony Adams could see the main pitch from the first-floor office he has occupied at Granada’s training ground since November, but it was not until Wednesday morning that he took up his place in the middle of it – and he had never intended to be there at all. Nor will he be there for long.

The former Arsenal captain arrived in Spain to carry out an audit and restructuring of the Primera Division club on behalf of its Chinese owners, weeks passing before anyone was even aware of his presence. Now, boots on, “TA” stamped on his top, he is the coach, restructuring the team as cameras clicked.

Adams had been presented as the new coach of Granada the previous day, having sacked Lucas Alcaraz. The news travelled fast and was met with a mixed reaction, not least after the recent experiences of Gary Neville and David Moyes. The new “míster” began with a double session, morning and afternoon, and two new faces familiar to fans back home if not in Spain. Kieran Richardson and Nigel Reo-Coker joined the session – free agents who could occupy two spare slots in the squad, although neither will be included for Adams’s debut against Celta de Vigo at the 22,000-capacity Los Cármenes stadium on Sunday night.

“I didn’t see this coming,” Adams insisted. He does not see himself staying either. He intends to be here until the end of the season and not beyond. He will choose his successor and that search is under way. His time as coach will be limited to seven games in which he seeks, by his own admission, “a miracle”. The team are second bottom, seven points from safety, a situation that moved Adams to sack Alcaraz, a legend at the club, in the hope that he can at least provoke a reaction. “I have come to kick them up the arse,” he said at his presentation.

That is not what he originally came for, and his task runs far deeper than simply sorting out the defence – his priority now.

Adams arrived as vice-president of the Chinese company DDMC, belonging to Jiang “John” Lizhang, which bought Granada in the summer from Watford’s owner, Gino Pozzo. DDMC also owns the Chinese club Chongqinq Lifan and is close to announcing the acquisition of two others, one in Belgium, the other in England. Its intention is to add a fifth. Adams had coached Gabala FC in Azerbaijan, later becoming sporting director, before joining DDMC. He had been won over by Jiang, whom he met there, and who had asked him to join the company. Adams was seduced.

Although Adams had no official post at Granada, he came as a kind of auditor, sporting director and CEO in one, working with the club’s vice-president Kangning Wang. His brief was, put simply, to sort Granada out.

DDMC’s purchase of Granada had been overseen by Mediabase and the Catalan company was initially involved in the running of the club but DDMC was unconvinced. Adams had to find solutions, advising and guiding the owners, cleaning up the mess. As it turned out, he has been entrusted with finding solutions on the pitch as well, a man with a dual role: in the short term to sort out the team, in the long term to restructure the club.

Granada’s squad contains players of 17 nationalities, 13 of them on loan. They have only four Spaniards. Adams found that the economic rights of a significant number of players belong to Pozzo, not the club. Negotiations have begun over the contracts of some of them; there will be legal challenges over others. Only eight first-team players are contracted to Granada and the problem runs right through the structure. Of 106 players in the first team, second team and juvenil (under-19s), only 44 belong to Granada.

They had begun the season coached by Paco Jémez but he became the first manager sacked in Spain, having publicly aired the tension that swiftly emerged between coach and club, in the shape of the then sporting director. Jémez was replaced by Alcaraz, who took charge for the second time. Alcaraz, born in Granada and a former player for the club, was a fans’ favourite but had to work with a young, inhibited squad that lacked personality and leadership, and where many of the players were passing through.

DDMC took the decision to sack the sporting director Javier Torralbo following the January transfer window, believing the recruitment policy to have failed. The club had not been built as it had hoped in the summer, so it in effect had to start again. Adams began the restructuring, planning the technical staff and squad almost from scratch, although his personal intention is to play a different role for DDMC next season – possibly as coach at one of its other clubs.

Interviews for a new, Spanish sporting director have begun, and they hope to make the appointment official before the end of the month. Recruitment will be adapted depending on whether they remain in the first division. Within the club, there is a recognition that relegation is likely, an eventuality for which they are planning.

Granada had initially chosen to stick with Alcaraz, whose relationship with Adams was cordial, but he was sacked after defeat against Valencia. He was rated as an excellent analyst but had been unable to get the best from his players on the training pitch and Granada decided that, with time running out, they had to try something. Adams was considered as good an option as they had available and, after five months’ study, he knew the club. His contractual situation remains unchanged and nor has he been offered a bonus for keeping them up.

Although survival is difficult, the belief is that it is not yet impossible. Adams takes over on an interim basis, with the intention of provoking a reaction from the players. The former player and club delegate Manolo Lucena remains assistant coach, while José Alfonso Morallo continues as fitness coach. The search for a new permanent manager will be finalised once the new sporting director is in place. The ideal is for him to be a Spaniard, preferably from Andalucía.

DDMC is aware that having Chinese owners and an English manager risks alienating fans, and Adams insists: “We want to give Granada their club back.” Despite DDMC’s growing portfolio, and although the planning is carried out at macro level, not solely club by club, he is also adamant that Granada will not be a feeder club.

Adams said that it would be preferable for them to play with those footballers contracted to the club – and, by extension, theoretically committed to it – but there are not sufficient of them to make up a starting XI. Granada recently made history by fielding a side made up of 11 nationalities. Adams’s Spanish is limited but, having worked in Azerbaijan, he believes he can coach better through demonstration than instruction and will keep things simple. The team manager Javi Jiménez is acting as translator and a handful of the players speak English.

Organisation and motivation will be the central planks of his approach. Alongside the training pitch is a scaffold lookout tower, but he was at ground level, in the middle of it all, an active presence seeking to enliven the group and bring them out of their shells. The presence of Reo-Coker and Richardson can also be seen in that context, as part of the attempt to shake things up and they were vocal during the session.

Granada have conceded 65 goals this season, keeping only four clean sheets. Conscious of the limitations of the squad, Adams’s primary concern is to make them harder to beat and his first session involved defensive drills in which he stressed the need to force wingers inside, while a full-scale practice match the following day suggested his preferred formation is 4-1-4-1. That breaks with Alcaraz’s three central defenders. There has been no sign of the Arsenal back four step-up routine yet.

But this may be less about tactics than temperament. Granada had become a team whose vital signs were weak, lacking confidence or concentration and unable to react to adversity. Now they must, or they will go down. “Soldiers” is a word he has used and he believes Granada require more of them. Whether they have actually got them is another matter. “The team needs leadership, and that has to come from the manager,” he said. That manager, to everyone’s surprise, is Adams: former Arsenal captain and now Granada’s very own Winston Wolfe, on and off the pitch.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Sid Lowe, for The Guardian on Friday 14th April 2017 13.52 Europe/London

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