“Mr. Arsenal” Tony Adams was undoubtedly the best defender to ever play for Arsenal. He started and finished his career playing in Highbury, captained Arsenal for 16 years, and scored multiple vital goals.
There was a time when the Gunners boasted an impenetrable wall at the back—a wall that consisted of four men who seemed to instinctively understand each other: Nigel Winterburn, Lee Dixon, Tony Adams and Steve Bould.
They had all the qualities needed to counter the English type of football; well, they can be even considered founders of it. None of the four shrunk from intimidation of physicality. Rarely someone got caught out of position. The understanding was working on a deeper level.
Four individuals with great qualities as footballers bonded in a way that formed an organism at peace with itself—and England legend David Seaman was behind it.
The “famous four” was headed by Tony Adams. The leadership came naturally to him and no one seemed to oppose it as they knew it will lead them to success.
On numerous occasions, Adams succeeded to inspire his team-mates to victory. In fact, his leadership was so unwavering in its consistency that he has come to be considered the best Arsenal captain ever.
But to talk about his leadership only will be like to try to paint an image of a country and talk only about its weather.
Adams had much more going in him than that.
His reading of the game was second to none. Backed with his intelligent timely tackling, oppositional players met a formidable challenge, in fact, so formidable only a few have managed to tell the tale of overcoming it.
When asked which players he found most difficult to deal with in an interview for arsenal.com, Adams responded with a smile: “Those who wouldn’t fight me.” He meant the fast ones, those who would choose to go as far from him as possible and had the speed to do it.
He was a formidable leader and defender indeed, but he also had his demons: he was an alcoholic.
His battle with alcohol was long and hard. It started in the mid 80s. First, in 1990, he crashed his Ford Sierra into a wall, and upon breath analysis was found four times over the drink-drive limit.
Later that year, he was sentenced to four months in prison, from which he served half of it. After being released, he went on with the drinking tradition and his involvement in incidents and fights in nightclubs didn’t cease.
In September 1996, Adams finally admitted his alcohol-related problems. The battle became public.
But as seen on the field before, his resilience kicked in again and would not allow him to succumb. He started to change his lifestyle drastically. He returned to education, started learning the piano.
His recovery was also significantly benefited by the timely arrival of Arsene Wenger at the club. The Frenchman was quick to introduce new dietary practices and changes in the lifestyle of the players—something that enormously helped the recovery of Tony Adams.
Slowly but surely, he matured into a better person and player. As if to confirm Adams’ victory over alcoholism, success soon followed. He won the double twice more with Arsenal–in 1998 and in 2002.
Victory was his. Tony Adams did what great men do: overcome their demons, climb over mountains of trouble, and come out triumphant.
His resilience on and off the field reflected on his team-mates, pushing them to overcome any challenge they faced. “Mr. Arsenal” came to be recognized as one of the most important factors for Arsenal winning 10 major trophies during his tenure.
A life of darkness and light intertwining, lessons, and guts, Tony Adams’ story is undoubtedly an inspirational one. And how couldn’t it be? It’s Tony Adams; he just did what he could do best: inspire.
Eight years after his retirement, he is still considered the best defender, best captain, and one of the best footballers to ever play football in red and white colors.