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Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Big-Time Charlie

Before the start of Blackpool’s incredible dalliance with fame and fortune in the Premier League, Ian Holloway intimated that his side were going to have to play like world champions Spain to keep their heads above water. In Charlie Adam, the Blackpool manager seems to have found his very own orchestrator, his puppeteer, his Xavi.

Adam might not be blessed with the darting acceleration and quick feet, or indeed the stamina over 90 minutes of the Spanish maestro, but his touch and passing range make him as valuable to Blackpool – and in my opinion, Scotland, though he has featured only intermittently thus far – as Xavi is to Barcelona and Spain. In fact, Adam’s appearance on the Hampden Park turf against the World Champions for the second half directly contributed to Scotland being able to finally see more than 4% of possession, and in turn, to score two improbable goals.

Few would question his place as one of the best midfielders of this fledgling Premier League season. While the first most will have seen of him will have been against Manchester City on Sunday evening, the moment that sticks out for me is his free-kick against Liverpool at Anfield. Reina might have saved it, but the collective intake of breath from the Kop as it was upon them in a split-second was the most indicative sign. It was an absolute bullet. A cultured passing range disguises a sledgehammer left foot. And his goal-saving tackle on Gerrard in the Blackpool box? He might be a surprise package, but he is also a particularly complete one.

It took a while for Adam to get into the game against City on Sunday, but once he dropped slightly deeper to collect the ball from his defenders, he became relatively untroubled by City’s starkly defensive central midfield of Nigel de Jong and Gareth Barry. From here, his influence grew – de Jong and Barry were reluctant to push on and you could bet your life Emmanuel Adebayor wasn’t going to be chasing after anything. Adam therefore had time and space to dictate the play, with the also-excellent David Vaughn offering tireless protection.

Adam’s effect on a game often comes from finding space in the holes between his opposition’s midfield and attack and this goes some way to explaining his side’s successes this season, particularly on the road against mid- and lower-table opposition. Every manager in the league will be targeting ‘Blackpool (h)’ for three points. Most will play two up front as a result – even Roberto Mancini used a centre-forward pairing for once – and in the gaps left by teams attempting to get on the front foot, Adam flourishes. Holloway’s propensity for three attackers gives him every opportunity to rake passes across the field for the pace of DJ Campbell and Luke Varney. Blackpool were certainly underestimated by Wigan, Newcastle and of course by Liverpool at Anfield. Not for much longer will the Seasiders be taken as lightly.

Much of the credit must go to Holloway, but it was caretaker manager Tony Parkes that brought Adam to Blackpool, initially on loan, where he was sent off on his debut. The unsettled course of his professional life in Scotland can’t have been easy, where after two seasons and only three games at Rangers he was sent on loan to first Ross County and then St. Mirren, with a year and one appearance for Rangers in between. A further three seasons and 63 games (18 goals) at Rangers followed before he moved south for £500,000, Blackpool’s record transfer fee.

The responsibility he feels for the fee – and as club captain – has been decisive. “I'm proud that Blackpool paid out the sort of money they did for me because they've never done it before. I want to repay them for that”. Given the size of the fee, you could argue he’s paid it back many times over already. Players of his type are an exceptionally valuable commodity.

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