Tony Adams: The One-Club Man Who Led Arsenal to Premier League Glory

One-club men tend to be very rare in football - especially in the modern game. Even the likes of Steven Gerrard, John Terry, and Matt Le Tissier spent a year or so elsewhere.

When it comes to true one-club men, there are seldom many better than Arsenal's Tony Adams.

Tony Adams was the captain of the best England team I’ve ever seen – Terry Venables’ Euro 96 side – as well as four Arsenal title-winning teams, bestriding the eras of George Graham and Arsene Wenger. Adams was the best purely defensive defender England have ever produced – an absolute rock for the Gunners and the only player to captain a title-winning team across three different decades. If a young Tony Adams were to come on the scene now, any club in the Premier League would be happy to pay tens of millions for him

Jimmy Greaves

A rock at the back, Adams was renowned for his leadership, toughness, aerial strength, and reading of the game, as well as his on-the-ball ability during his later years.

As a teenager, Adams signed his first contract with an Arsenal side who had won just one trophy in the previous 12 seasons. However, his emergence made sure this would all change.

His debut came at home to Sunderland on 5th November 1983, less than a month after his 17th birthday.

However, it wasn't until three years later in the 1986/87 season that Adams became a regular in the Gunners lineup. He scored his first career goal in a 2-1 defeat at Anfield in the third game of the season.

Featuring in all 42 league games, Adams helped George Graham's side to a fourth place finish - their best result in five seasons. It was also in this season that Adams won his first career trophy, beating Liverpool 2-1 in the League Cup final. He was subsequently named as the PFA Young Player of the Year, as well as earning a spot in the PFA First Division Team of the Year. His form earned him his first England cap in a 4-2 win against Spain.

The following season was less successful for the Gunners, as they dropped down to sixth and lost to Luton in the League Cup final. Nonetheless, Adams was named as club captain in January 1988, aged just 21. He also made his way into Bobby Robson's Euro 1988 squad, and scored against the Soviet Union. However, the Three Lions lost all three group games and exited early.

In his first full season with the armband, Adams helped Arsenal to their first league title since 1971, largely thanks to a dramatic injury time goal by Michael Thomas at Anfield on the final day. This was the first season of George Graham's famous back four, made up of Adams, Lee Dixon, Nigel Winterburn, and Steve Bould.

However, while he was succeeding on the pitch, Adams struggled with alcoholism, and was arrested for drink-driving in May 1990, missing out on the World Cup as a result. He was later sentenced to four months in prison.

Once he was released, Adams returned straight into the Arsenal lineup, and led the north Londoners to another league title in 1991, losing just once all season.

Two seasons later, the Englishman became the first captain to win both the League Cup and FA Cup in the same season, despite an underwhelming tenth place finish in the Premier League. Adams scored the winner in the FA Cup semi-final against bitter rivals Tottenham Hotspur, heading home from Paul Merson's free kick.

Tony Adams, David Seaman
Tony Adams and David Seaman celebrate the domestic cup double | Getty Images/Getty Images

Adams proceeded to captain his side to the European Cup Winners' Cup in 1994, netting the only goal in the two-legged quarter-final against Torino. He was later named in the PFA Team of the Year for the second time in his career.

Despite his immense success at club level, the centre-back missed three international tournaments in a row. He was left out by Bobby Robson in 1990, was sidelined through injury in 1992, and failed to qualify in 1994. However, he made his return to the big stage at Euro 1996 after earning a place in the PFA Team of the Year for the third time. Adams captained his country to the semi-finals of the tournament.

His drinking problems continued, however, and his struggles with addiction threatened to cut his career short. But the arrival of unknown Frenchman Arsene Wenger at Highbury turned things around for the Englishman.

Wenger quickly changed the lifestyles of his players, encouraging health and nutrition. Adams later confessed his problems to his manager, who helped his rehabilitation. Adams has been sober ever since, writing about it in his 1998 autobiography Addicted, as well as setting up the Sporting Chance Clinic for athletes in similar situations.

Arsene Wenger
Wenger was an influential figure in Adams' later days | Stu Forster/Getty Images

Adams rewarded Wenger's faith in him in immense fashion, being an influential figure in a league and FA Cup double in 1998. This was the Gunners' first league title of the Premier League era. After three years without a trophy, Arsenal achieved the same feat again, finishing seven points clear of Liverpool in second, and beating Chelsea in the FA Cup final.

During this time, Adams earned call ups for England's 1998 World Cup squad, and Euro 2000 squad, although manager Glenn Hoddle gave the captaincy to Alan Shearer. By appearing at Euro 2000, Adams became the only English player to appear at a tournament in three different decades. He also scored the last England goal at the old Wembley Stadium in a 2-0 win against Ukraine.

The 2001/02 double-winning campaign was to be Adams' final year as a player. The last goal of his career came against Gillingham in an FA Cup fifth round tie, and his final appearance was in a 4-3 home triumph against Everton.

Adams ended his 19-year career as Arsenal's most successful captain, having won 13 trophies while making 672 appearances. To honour his contribution, a statue of the defender was placed outside the Emirates in 2011.