The coronavirus break offered Che Adams much-needed refuge. Now it’s time to step-up


Three games into his Southampton career and Che Adams was making a habit of fast starts.

It was the 1st of July 2019 and sat in a plain black T-shirt, Saints’ new £15 million pound signing unperturbed his gaze from the interviewer. It was shortly after his arrival and was speaking with the club’s media team for the first time. It was all but set to be an unremarkable, typical signing interview, where players wheel out the cliche’s and trusted narratives.

They are supposed to express how delighted they are to be joining ‘such a great club’ and promise to work hard for their teammates and supporters. They are supposed to say that once they heard *insert club name* was interested, well of course, ‘they didn’t think twice’ about joining, since that was the only option in their mind for where they would head.

Aside from his banal choice of clothing and unmoving facial features, the interview was anything but tedious or standard. “Southampton’s a huge club,” Adams began with. “Obviously, we want to win the league. Obviously, it’s a lot to ask for. But you have to set yourself new targets to hit. And with the squad here that I’ve seen from last season, there’s no reason that we can’t (win the Premier League).”

Despite the interview lasting for a further 5 minutes, those few lines were the only thing seized upon and thereafter taken in isolation by the Twitter world. It simply confounded the footballing social media police. They could not comprehend how a player joining such a lowly-ranked side could even utter such a declaration. A new signing wants to get his hands on some hard silverware and believes going to Southampton would provide that? Yeah, okay.

Due to the nature of what was perceived as an outlandish, extroverted remark from a footballer, many felt it reeked of impulsive delusion. From all angles, from fans from different clubs, a storm of ridicule ensued.

But like anything on social media, Adams went off trend as he quickly as he was on, soon becoming yesterday’s news. In spite of the jeers, there was no disguising the crux of an ambitious young man, steadfast on reaching and staying at the top. It showed a distinct confidence, an innate belief as a goalscorer.

His belief was well-founded. It had spawned from a 22 goal campaign just weeks before arriving on the south coast. Featuring in all 46 matches, Adams was the first Birmingham player in 20 years to score over 20 goals in a single season and boasted a minutes-to-goal ratio of 170 minutes. He was subsequently described as “unbelievable” by his then-boss Garry Monk, who had been incensed to hear that his forward had not made the Championship’s team of the year, branding the decision “ridiculous.”

Still, for a player that had been plying his trade at non-league Ilkeston five years prior, the 2018/19 represented a significant evolution in his development. Southampton had inherited a striker brimming with confidence and more notably, conviction.

A few weeks later, Adams put his words into action. It was mid-July and Southampton were embarking on Ralph Hasenhuttl’s first pre-season. They had just reached the manager’s homeland of Austria for their first stop in a frantic pre-season tour that would see them travel to four countries.

Talk about hitting the ground running. On his debut, it took the 23-year-old all of 116 seconds to open his account. The following game he found himself in Asia, but still scored. This time in 60 seconds. Adams then had something of a slump the next game in Holland, taking the extensive time of six minutes to score against Feyenoord. Three games, three goals. All before the clock hit seven minutes.

Adams was sharp, fit and certainly firing. He had started his Southampton career with zip and vigour, intent on proving that his sizeable ambitions mirrored his ability. Although not scoring early on in his Premier League tenure, the signs were promising. He had outfoxed Virgil Van Dijk but missed a one-on-one chance in the second game of the season, then hit the post with a scissor volley against Sheffield United in the fifth.

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He was also willing to prove his worth within Hasenhuttl’s kamikaze, pressing-frenzied game. He soon became a pivotal trigger for the side when hunting in packs high up the pitch, closing down with such an eagerness and intensity, Charlie Austin – Adams’ predecessor – could only dream of mustering.

Yet here we are. All early optimism that began his Southampton career has dissipated. We are in mid-June of 2020 and the  Premier League season is still yet to reach its conclusion. We are now forced to be watching from our own homes when we were supposed to be in the beer gardens watching the Euros. For Che Adams, 27 appearances after those pre-season fixtures in July, he’s accrued a grand total of 0 goals.

Right now, normality feels like a distant memory for everyone. For Adams, scoring goals feels like an obscure dream. The forward that strode into Staplewood rife with enthusiasm and drive has developed into a poor caricature of himself. The player that drew a swell of admirers little over a year ago has become a clumsy, out-of-touch centre-forward who appears to find keeping control of the ball as a genuine challenge to him.

Pre-lockdown, there were no incisive runs in-behind the defence or deft touches. Instead, he just lingered on the periphery of matches, focusing solely on keeping his footing, albeit not too successfully. Considering he registered five assists for Birmingham last season, he now hardly features in Saints’ build-up play. And due to the fact that he cannot seem to score, it’s hard to state what he currently brings to Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side.

Perhaps the much overused footballing phrase of ‘he just needs a goal’ has never been more appropriate. It was getting to the point where St Mary’s was willing the ball in for him. Take Stuart Armstrong’s winner against Aston Villa, who just had to pass the ball into the back of an empty net. Despite the jubiliant celebrations, you were left to wonder: ‘I wish that was Che Adams.’

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But all is not lost. Unlike some players that have fallen victim to St Mary’s recent restlessness and frustrations, they are still giving Adams the benefit of the doubt. They understand they see an individual visibly struggling with form and confidence and is tirelessly working to change that. They have not given up on him, nor has Hasenhuttl, who vetoed a loan move to Leeds in January.

While it’s hardly the most suitable of circumstances, COVID-19 has provided a receptive shelter from the natural pressures of being a Premier League footballer. It’s offered an unusual period of respite, where fatigue mentally and physically was beginning to tell.

There had been a vicious cycle in Che Adams’ season. He was trapped in a wrath of wilting confidence, loss of form and exile from the starting eleven. Nonetheless, the 99-day break away from football – it seems longer I know – can psychologically supply clarity.

Just like he did 11 months ago, Adams needs to start fast. Forget what has gone before and see this mini-season has a chance to start again, to wipe the slate clean. The time to reset, evaluate and improve, has happened. Now it’s time for Che Adams to reap the rewards he so desperately craves.


About Author

Football, Boxing and Cricket correspondent from Hampshire, covering southern sport. Editor and Head of Boxing at Prost International. Accreditated EFL & EPL journalist.

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