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John Brewin profile picture  By John Brewin

Tony Adams and Gary Neville's travails show the pitfalls of management

Tony Adams during Granada's La Liga defeat against Celta Vigo in April 2017.
Tony Adams' reputation fell in England, so he went to Spain.

"I will not go away," Tony Adams declared after Granada lost 4-0 to Real Madrid on Saturday, the fifth successive defeat the side have suffered since he took over as caretaker coach on April 10.

Adams' Spanish sojourn reminds of Gary Neville's similarly ill-fated stay at Valencia last season. Neville lasted four months (winning just three of 16 games and losing eight) before owner Peter Lim, the former Manchester United defender's financier in his Salford City FC venture, sacked him in order to avoid relegation.

Neville's misadventure, and Adams' travels after leaving English football, which have taken in Feyenoord, Azerbaijani football and China, provide examples of the difficulties that former players, even leading names like two former England captains, find in getting into frontline coaching.

Adams has been subjected to heavy derision. A couple of weeks ago, a video went viral of the former Arsenal captain's clumsy dad-dancing routine in a training drill. On Saturday, his critics on social media targeted a 17th minute tactical substitution of winger Aly Malle, and choice of a brown waistcoat as touchline attire.

But his actual, designated role at Granada is that of sporting director and troubleshooter for Chinese owner Jiang Lizhang. Adams began working for Jiang at Chongqing Lifan FC in China's Super League last August, and jetted in to Spain last month to shake things up at a club already heading downwards. That dance routine had been his attempt to show Granada's defenders how to play in a back four, as opposed to the back three used by previous coach Lucas Alcaraz, but a candid camera drew the wrong kind of headlines.

Arsenal's greatest captain of the modern era, someone who has put a great deal back into the game through Sporting Chance, the charity which assists sport professionals suffering problems with addiction, has been unable to find a role for himself within English football.

Having retired in 2002 with little hope of a role under Arsene Wenger, he plunged straight into management with Wycombe Wanderers in November 2003. However, after 12 tough months in charge, he resigned.

A spell with the Feyenoord youth side followed. Then having assisted Harry Redknapp at Portsmouth from June 2006 to October 2008 and being key to the club's 2008 FA Cup triumph, he was handed what Ian Ridley, ghostwriter of his award-winning autobiography "Addicted" and the forthcoming "Sober," described to ESPN FC as "a smoking gun."

Ahead of the club's financial meltdown that eventually took them down three divisions, almost making the club extinct, Adams gained just 10 points from 16 matches before his February 2009 sacking, eventually landing at Azerbaijani club Gabala FC.

"After Portsmouth, he is regarded as a failure as a coach in England," Ridley said. "And that's not fair, he's got a pretty decent reputation in other parts of the world. He's a figure to be respected. That he can't cut it is an easy, lazy judgement, but Tony's not alone in suffering that."

The post-1992 Premier League era has been a fallow breeding ground for managers. Only West Ham's Slaven Bilic and Stoke City's Mark Hughes have played in England's top league of its 20 current managers. Playing for England yields slimmer returns than that.

England manager Gareth Southgate last managed a club in 2009 at Middlesbrough, and there are just two former England internationals managing among England's 92 league clubs: Keith Curle at League Two Carlisle United and Nigel Clough, of Championship side Burton Albion.

Ryan Giggs is now seen as a risk in management.

A year ago, Ryan Giggs was a leading candidate to be Manchester United's manager. Having failed this season to land the twice-vacant Swansea job, he has been touted as the man to take over at Middlesbrough, relegated on Monday after losing at Chelsea, in the summer. It would represent a serious risk for Boro chairman Steve Gibson.

Managers have increasingly short lifespans, especially in the Championship where 18 bosses were dismissed during the 2015-16 season. That is no place for a rookie and not a particularly attractive proposition for financially independent millionaires. Fail in your first job; suffer Adams' fate. When Steven Gerrard turned down MK Dons in November, he suggested the opportunity had come "too soon," before taking a youth coach role at Liverpool.

"In order to be appointed to one of the top jobs in the country, a manager will need to have dedicated years to the profession and building their career," League Manager's Association CEO Richard Bevan told ESPN FC.

"Being a world class player certainly isn't a prerequisite of being a successful manager, as many of the world's top coaches have demonstrated via their own pathways."

The argument that great players cannot make good managers is somewhat debunked by Zinedine Zidane's achievements in 15 months as Real Madrid coach, or the presence of Manchester City's Pep Guardiola and Everton's Ronald Koeman in the Premier League's top seven. However, in English terms Bevan's words ring true. Adams is on a long list of former national team captains to struggle in management.

While nobody can be guaranteed success in management, the loss of such figures to the game represents a significant "brain drain." There is knowledge to pass on to future generations. The English FA are attempting to harness that by modifying coaching qualifications to fit relevant top-level experience, and through attempting to get the current generation of players thinking about a future in football beyond playing.

"Dan [Ashworth, FA technical director] will be having informal conversations with the players," Chris Earle, head of FA Education said last month. "Wayne Rooney has already stepped into the coaching journey."

Rooney's colleague Michael Carrick has begun his coaching badges; Gerrard and Frank Lampard have been approached for involvement at training HQ St George's Park, and Lampard's former Chelsea teammate Joe Cole has coached England Under-18s. In February, Nicky Butt was joined on a Pro-Licence course by fellow former United player Nemanja Vidic.

Adams could be lost forever to English football, but perhaps the lessons of his exile are being learned.

John Brewin is a staff writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JohnBrewinESPN.


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