Blackpool's fairy-tale season is in part so enchanting because of our natural misty-eyed joy at the sight of collective industry. All over the pitch, and waiting to come on from the sideline, Ian Holloway has players committed to the cause. No one rolls his eyes as a teammate's pass goes astray. No one stands, hands on hips, muttering under his breath, after his run goes unnoticed. No one has a tantrum about being subbed off. The Tangerines have played some genuinely brilliant soccer, but it shouldn't be patronizing to salute also their unfailing Musketeer spirit.
And yet, there is one player whose contributions have been especially crucial to Blackpool's achievements. Keen to fight for his place at Glasgow Rangers, the club he grew up supporting, Charlie Adam initially resisted the Seasiders' advances -- they came on strong after a promising loan spell, offering a then-club-record $782,000 in July 2009. Once it became evident that Rangers wouldn't budge, Adam traveled south to be wooed by a charismatic manager who has embraced Blackpool's comparative limitations and turned them to its advantage.
Holloway's side was among the favorites to be relegated from the Championship at the start of the 2009-2010 season, but the manager and his new signing were both determined to upset the form guide. What marked Blackpool's promotion campaign -- it squeezed into the playoffs thanks to a late run of six wins in seven, then overcame well-fancied Nottingham Forest and Cardiff City -- was what continues to define it in the Premier League: lung-busting attacks, diligent defense and, above all, total commitment.
It's Holloway's blueprint, but Adam embodies it perfectly. He doesn't have much pace -- he was lambasted by Rangers supporters for being overweight and unfit, to the point, it was reported, that his father could no longer bear to attend matches -- but he is the ideal pivot on which to turn. Pace is an irrelevance when a player is so serenely comfortable on the ball. Sitting in a central trio, his no-nonsense tackling helps shield the back four and his instinctive passing ability sets the forwards on their way as surely as the hare starts the hounds.
If that sounds like hyperbole, revisit footage of Manchester City's trip to Blackpool in October: Adam, partnered by the excellent David Vaughan, was indifferent to the attention of usually trustworthy guard dogs Nigel de Jong and Gareth Barry, controlling the midfield and laying on a handful of chances. Officially, he is credited with four assists this season; unofficially, he has set countless Blackpool moves in motion with a well-timed drop of the shoulder and a deft flick of his left foot.
Along with the kind of jaunting, jinking ball play that we associate with crackling footage from the 1970s, he can strike it with oomph, too -- he was the Championship's top-scoring central midfielder last year, with 18 goals. His effort from the halfway line during this week's 2-1 victory over Liverpool dropped wide, but
No wonder that Holloway described putting Adam in to the distinctive Tangerine shirt as being "like putting a hand in a glove." And no wonder that the Scot -- who's still only 25 -- is now attracting attention from half of the Premier League. Though the club on Thursday refused to identify which teams had tabled bids (believed to be worth around $5.5 million), Everton, Aston Villa, Liverpool, Birmingham, Bolton, Newcastle and Blackburn have all been linked with a move.
The buzzards are circling, and their mewing sounds all the louder when the club targeted has the league's smallest turnover -- eventually the return on a player that cost just $782,000 (and who has only 18 months left on his contract) has the chairman eyeing the balance books, even if the manager insists: "We don't need to sell."
Holloway didn't exactly gamble on signing Adam, but the player's stock wasn't high either. He was available for a fee small enough to be considered trifling by Premier League clubs but only Championship Blackpool, for whom the fee was a proportionally bigger risk, took the plunge. It had little competition for Adam's signature. Holloway put him straight into the team and gave him the captain's armband. His reward will be to have to do it all over again now that bigger clubs have seen the move pay off.
But Holloway is realistic as ever, and playing the window very nicely. He has scoffed at the bidders' valuation of Adam -- and rightly so, since we live in a world where Carlton Cole has been mentioned in the same breath as $15 million. "[An estimated $5.5] million for him?" he asked aloud. "You're taking the mickey out of us. It is an absolutely disgraceful offer." It's unlikely that he believes he'll get the "astronomical figure" he has spoken of, but he's pushing the counters in the right direction.
Especially as he's also attempting to engineer an offer from the top five (virtually the only clubs
His most successful bit of negotiating, however, may be with the player himself. Adam enjoys hero status at Bloomfield Road, a far cry from his treatment at Rangers. "The crowd loves him, the players love him and he's part of a very successful team at the moment," Holloway said. He insists his side has the personnel to plug the gap left when Adam does leave, and his willingness to throw every member of his squad into the fray backs that up as more than posturing. But Blackpool's survival chances could do without that being tested until the summer.