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Brewin: Hammers raid at Palace

Premier League about an hour ago
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Atletico MadridAtletico Madrid
Real MadridReal Madrid
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Leg 2Aggregate: 2 - 1
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Jan 29, 2009

Adams struggling to unite broken Pompey

The contrast between past and present is marked. On the field, it is the difference between their finest side for six decades and a team that, depending upon interpretation, are either in transition or a state of deterioration. In the dugout, it is the disparity between a manager who seems to display his impatience on a daily basis and one with a Zen-like calm in his interviews.

Portsmouth can't afford the drastic approach to change that Harry Redknapp is taking at Tottenham, but one questions if they are better served with Tony Adams' relaxed style of management. Panicking is rarely sensible, but Adams is so unruffled he can appear impervious to Pompey's plight. Yet Portsmouth, seventh when Redknapp defected, are now 15th, without a Premier League win since November and very much embroiled in a relegation struggle.

Coupled with the rather embarrassing elimination from the FA Cup, courtesy of Swansea, it amounts to an extended slump. Adams may be presenting a calm image, but that does not suggest he recognises the gravity of the situation. Likewise, when he had spoken - before the sales of Lassana Diarra and Jermain Defoe - of keeping his key players, observers close to the club questioned his understanding of the circumstances. When, after Diarra's departure to Real Madrid, Adams appeared to believe the entire proceeds were at his disposal, most realised they were not.

Some senior members of the squad are thought to have their doubts about Adams, opinions that may have been formed when he spent his early weeks at the helm talking about the need to forge his own team. Where, it could be asked, could a club of Portsmouth's stature attract footballers of a higher calibre than Defoe, Diarra, Niko Kranjcar, Glen Johnson and Peter Crouch? And what were the implications for a group who had confounded expectations to win the FA Cup?

However, Adams has long held some leftfield ideas. Now they are being put to the test. He spent much of the 2002 World Cup, for instance, advocating Rio Ferdinand's use as a holding midfielder, while the then-Leeds captain was among the tournament's outstanding central defenders.

Now a distrust of Defoe might be detected. The striker was demoted to the bench for Adams' second game in charge. Securing a draw at Anfield was a vindication of his reversion to the 4-5-1 system that served Portsmouth so well last season, but hardly a vote of confidence in their most potent finisher. Moreover, as seven of Crouch's eight league goals have come when he has been partnered by Defoe, the latter's return to Tottenham has impacted upon Portsmouth's gangly top scorer. Often deemed selfish, Defoe's presence nonetheless seemed to aid his strike partner.

That Adams omitted Ian Wright from his favoured Arsenal team in his autobiography may indicate a suspicion of the specialist goalscorer. A more versatile forward, in David Nugent, is one of the few to benefit from Redknapp's exit and bagged his first league goal against his former boss' side.

Indeed, and though he played 4-4-2 against Aston Villa, it appears Adams' preference is for a five-man midfield. Signing Jermaine Pennant and making Nadir Belhadj a Portsmouth player on a permanent basis suggest width and pace are integral to his vision of football. Yet when the attack comprises of Crouch, sometimes accompanied by Kanu, the frontline lacks speed and that helps account for a meagre tally of three goals in their last six games.

With a creaking defence and a midfield decimated by injuries, it is understandable Adams wants three more recruits after the arrivals of Porto's Pele and West Ham's Hayden Mullins. If Joey Barton is bought to join Pennant, however, Fratton Park could take on the appearance of a home for wayward souls. It would be an admirable project, if not an advisable one.

Yet the last dozen years of Adams' life can appear a self-help project. It is to his credit that he has transformed himself so radically. The concern should be the scale of change to what was, briefly, a terrific team.

Adams was bequeathed the best Portsmouth side in most supporters' lifetimes, yet his was an unenviable heritage in some respects. With the majority of the squad due to be out of contract in the summer, uncertainty shrouds them. A precarious financial position means replacements are invariably cheaper than their precursors in the team and the importance of the remnants of Redknapp's team is exacerbated. Yet there are signs of decline in valiant performers such as Sol Campbell while, impeded by injuries, Croatian midfielder Kranjcar has made a negligible impact under his new boss. With each setback, the shape of the season increasingly resembles a downward spiral.

Perhaps Redknapp recognised this. He was savvy enough to leave after realising he could not achieve more at Portsmouth, even if he now appears bemused by Tottenham.

Adams provides a very different impression. With his cool demeanour, he gives the feeling of being in complete control, just not of the team he is managing. He merits some sympathy, and many would agree with the view expressed after Tuesday's defeat to Aston Villa that Portsmouth just need some luck. Perhaps, however, Adams is not a lucky manager. One former England captain - Paul Ince - had his first stab at Premier League management curtailed amid fears of relegation. Another may experience the reality of it.

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