Tony Adams stood on the touchline at his new home ground, with his arms crossed as behind him Granada’s fans began heading for the exit. There were still 15 minutes to go but it was all over – the match and maybe even the season.
They had just seen their side concede the third goal of the game, hope extinguished, and left quietly, resigned to relegation. Others made their voices heard, calling for the board to resign – the same board that he came to advise and that appointed him coach with seven games to go. There are six left now and Granada are seven points from safety.
Nor is it just about the points; Adams has spent the last five months here and he knows that their problems run deep. Here he saw them from edge of the pitch, a particularly painful vantage point. A goal down after 22 minutes, Granada briefly responded but Celta Vigo found a way through as easily as others have done all season. Three more for the goals conceded column: 68 now for the season. Adams admitted they would need a “miracle” to survive; on Easter Sunday there was no resurrection, just more depression.
This was not of his making; but his first team was his team, if not exactly the one he would ideally have chosen. Of the 106 players Granada have in the first, second and under-19 teams, only 44 actually belong to the club: 13 of the first-team squad are loanees, while others belong to the former owner Gino Pozzo. Adams said he would prefer to play only those under contract to Granada but conceded it was impossible – there are not 11 of them, for a start.
Adams had also said that his intention is to make Granada a more Spanish club but there were no Spaniards in his starting XI. Instead there were 11 other nationalities. In the squad there are 17; soon there will be 18. There was no place for Kieran Richardson or Nigel Reo-Coker, who trained with Granada this week. “It’s Easter,” Adams noted with a rueful smile. Richardson is not yet in shape but the manager believes their example on the training pitch is contagious and that they can be useful. He will speak to them on Monday; his intention is for them to fill two free slots in the squad.
Having tried 4-1-4-1 in training, Adams went for a 4-4-2. Four central defenders were strung across the back four – Gastón Silva, Sverrir Ingason, Matthieu Saunier and Rúben Vezo – with Wakaso Mubarak and Uche Agbo in front and Andreas Pereira and Rene Krhin on either side. Krhin, in the side for the first time in 12 games, was the captain for the first time. Up front were Enrique Ponce and Artem Kravets. “Classic England in the 90s,” joked one local journalist. Celta, focused on Thursday’s Europa League quarter-final second leg at Genk, included only one regular starter.
Adams strolled the pitch in beige tracksuit trousers and a blue polo shirt, arms behind his back, as the teams warmed up. He had said his side would “go for it”, but this XI underlined that his priority was tightening a defence that had conceded 65 goals this season. His name was read out after those of his players’, to little real reaction. Around 16,000 people came.
The defence did not convince their new manager, who had promised to kick them up the arse and must have felt like doing so as Celta found space between centre-back and full-back, on both sides. Six minutes had gone when they faced the first shot, 23 minutes when they fell behind. Guillermo Ochoa was off his line quickly but his headed clearance did not travel far. The ball was turned back by Claudio Beauvue and Jozabed Sánchez lifted it gently over the keeper and into the net. Watching through black-rimmed glasses, Adams turned and looked towards the bench.
That reaction was quiet compared to what had gone before. He had crouched and paced and gestured his way through the early minutes, looking like a 10-pin bowler as he pointed to the pass he wanted his players to deliver – and the way he wanted them to deliver it. “A homage to the Big Lebowski,” local radio called it. “The spectacle is on the touchline.” Arms out, knees bent, a constant stream of instructions, hands rotating. When he clapped, it could be heard high in the main stand; when a Celta player tumbled before him, he performed diving gestures for the fourth official.
In the second half he called over Pereira, one of the few who speak English, the “translator” who also speaks Portuguese, Spanish, French and Flemish. Whatever Adams said, it worked. Or something did, anyway – and the coach surely knows that he has a player here. It is just a pity that will be gone by the end of the season, yet another portrait of their problems. A lovely run from the Manchester United loanee, sprinting in from the right, swerving past challenges, altered the mood. From the corner, which he took, Ingason headed over. Soon, Pereira brought a save from Sergio Álvarez. Next, Agbo smashed a 30-yard shot off the bar.
This was a team that lacked personality as well as play, that barely communicates and is too easily sunk, so he might have been pleased to see a rebellion, some reaction at least, had it not been so fleeting. It is that he came to provoke, he admits. Instead he watched Marcelo Díaz curl in a wonderful free-kick and then, having taken off Pereira, Beauvue score the third. If he did not see supporters depart, it was because he did not turn around. “We have nothing to lose,” Adams had said, but Granada lost his first game in charge. Their first division status will surely follow.
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