LOOKING back, I believe there were a couple of major reasons why Arsene didn’t want me back at Arsenal.
First, the club had put up a statue of me outside the Emirates and — given the career I’d had — it might have been difficult for Arsene to bring me in at that time.
He was coming under pressure for not winning a major trophy and to have me around as a successful old captain might have highlighted the underachievement.
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Patrick Vieira once suggested Arsene does not like big characters and personalities around, especially ones from Arsenal’s history.
Perhaps Arsene thought I might be too challenging for him.
He seemed to like an assistant such as Pat Rice or Steve Bould, both great club men who were not going to ruffle feathers.
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Arsene is so dominant that he was probably not going to like it if I said, “We’re conceding bad goals, I’m going to take the back four today and organise them.”
Because Arsene is essentially not a coach — and that is the second reason why I believe he didn’t want me. Back in the day I said in an interview coaching wasn’t Arsene’s strong point.
Actually in the original draft, I said he couldn’t coach his way out of a paper bag. And though I modified that in the final article, it didn’t go down well.
It all left me feeling that I would never get a chance in any capacity while Arsene was there.
Much as I respected him for his long and successful tenure, my occasional willingness to pass comment on him and the team probably counted against me.
Arsene was absolutely the best man for Arsenal when he had his English defence and more exotic overseas attacking talent.
He was also the perfect manager to keep Arsenal competitive with the big-money clubs during the transition from Highbury to the Emirates. But I do believe, after the departures of Ashley Cole and Sol Campbell in 2006, a lot was lost and never recaptured.
The replacement defenders have simply not been up to the same standard as what went before, because they have not been taught the art of defending properly.
I have seen players like Gael Clichy, Hector Bellerin and Kieran Gibbs coming to Arsenal and not progressing as they might have — and Per Mertesacker exposed because of a lack of protection.
I first tried to go back in early 2012, when I heard Pat Rice was retiring as Arsene’s assistant.
Pat confirmed he would definitely be going in May — but when I spoke to Arsene about it he said “Oh no. He won’t retire. He said that last year.”
He said he would be convincing Pat to stay, as he had done 12 months before. “Fair enough,” I said and shook his hand.
Then came Pat’s leaving do, which Arsene did not attend. I texted him again and asked if I could come to see him.
“I went to Pat’s leaving do and I understand there is a job going,” I said. “Oh no,” said Arsene. “I am moving Steve Bould and Neil Banfield up from the academy.” I texted Steve to congratulate him.
He texted back to say he knew nothing about it. Two days later, Arsenal announced that Steve and Neil were stepping up. The next day, I texted Arsene to ask if I could come to see him again about the vacancy in the academy.
This was three times in just over a month.
Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine began and I’d heard nothing. Arsene texted that I should talk to Ivan Gazidis and Liam Brady, as they were choosing the candidates.
I rang Liam — who said it was the manager’s decision — and emailed Ivan, who said it was Arsene and Liam deciding.
Then Liam rang, to tell me I was overqualified, they wanted somebody younger who they could train up. I was not going to let this go by now, having been messed about so much.
So I met Arsene yet again and this time he told me, “I see big things for you. You are a great coach and you will be the next manager of Arsenal.”
But I said, “Arsene, Arsene, Arsene,” proud I did not raise my voice or lose my temper.
“I have too much respect for you to fall out. It would have been better if you had just told me you didn’t want me.”
“No, it is not like that,” he replied. “You have got the wrong end of it.”
“Arsene, let’s forget it,” I said. “Have a wonderful season.”
Then there was the time when ex-chairman Peter Hill-Wood questioned where all the people who gave time and expertise — and ran football clubs for free, out of love — had gone.
I wrote to him. “I am in my 40s, I don’t need paying. I will advise about playing matters and the future, perhaps be Arsene’s long-term successor.”
The board needed someone like me, I reckoned. I never got a reply. So that was four attempts to come back — one to get on to the board, one to become Arsene’s assistant, one to do the reserves, then even the offer of a freebie.
But I still wasn’t done yet. My next one was partly tongue-in-cheek, to make a point.
Arsenal were advertising for a coach to take the Under-14s. I thought “f*** it. I’m going for it.”
I got a call from the HR department asking if I was serious, pointing out the modest salary of £15,000 a year and that it involved five nights a week in London and a Sunday game.
I said that, on reflection, it wasn’t for me, though had I lived nearer I would certainly have thought about it. It was the Arsenal, after all. It was the way Arsene dealt with it all, rather than not getting a job, that saddened and annoyed me.
He never liked confrontation. I recall a time when Ian Wright was getting in late for training most days. Arsene just made training later but the boys were fuming. We, as players, then told Wrighty to get his act together.
But in Arsene’s later years, I couldn’t envisage any other player having the authority to challenge him like that, which worries me.
In 2016, the European Under-17 Championships were held in Azerbaijan. I went and noticed Arsenal weren’t represented. I asked the chief scout if he’d like analyses.
He emailed me back adding: ‘There’s a vacancy for an Under-18 coach in the Arsenal academy.”
My relationship with Arsene had been warm for six months after my heart scare. He texted saying: “I admire your strength. Respect and love.” It prompted a bit of a text love-in. I texted him about the under-18 job and he just replied: “Good luck Tony.”
The salary would be £45,000 gross. I would give it a month.
Another club, this one a step up in the Chinese Super League, were interested. They were Chongqing Lifan, lower to mid-table.
Had the Arsenal money been better, I might have had second thoughts. There were people who thought I was wrong. Perhaps the big job would come up, they said.
It was not going to happen, though. It was made clear that the Under-18s was not preparation for bigger things, even if I was on the inside when Arsene left.
Of course I wanted — still want — to come back as Arsenal boss, but I don’t think I was seen as management material by the club.
- SOBER: Football. My Story. My Life, published by Simon & Schuster, is out on June 1.
TOMORROW: Tony Adams on the day he called Jermain Defoe a f***ing disgrace