The new Portsmouth manager, Tony Adams, went on the offensive over the potential fire sale at his club yesterday when he announced that any player who wanted to leave and join up with Harry Redknapp at Tottenham Hotspur could go.
In a move that could backfire disastrously, Adams said that he had made it "crystal clear" to his players that he did not want anyone to stay who was not committed to the club.
It was a typically outspoken introduction from Adams (right), 42, who is back in management for the first time since he left Wycombe in November 2004. The former England captain knows that he is treading a fine line, with his predecessor Redknapp understood to be interested in a host of his former Portsmouth players, including Lassana Diarra, Glen Johnson, Nadir Belhadj and Jermain Defoe. However, after signing a contract until July 2011 Adams said he would not stand in the way of those who wanted to leave.
"None of my players have come to me and said they want to leave," the new manager said. "If they want to go I will let them go. I want people who want to play for Portsmouth – absolutely. That would be the case wherever. The manager at Arsenal would be no different, if you didn't want to play for Arsenal he would let you go. You've got to have players who are happy and want to play for the club."
Asked whether he had made that clear to his players, Adams said: "One hundred per cent. Crystal clear. If they don't want to play for Portsmouth, then they will do me no good in the long run. That's my experience."
It was an uncomfortable day for Peter Storrie, Portsmouth's executive chairman, who, under the gaze of the owner Sacha Gaydamak, fended off questions about the club's parlous financial state as "boring". Adams reminded Storrie that he did not want to find himself in the same position as during his time at Wycombe when he was forced to sell off players to cut the wage bill from "£1.5m to £800,000" which, he said, contributed to their relegation, under his management, from League One to League Two.
Adams said: "The chairman and the owner has already answered those questions [about the finances]. If they are going to get rid of all my players, I would go and do your job [work for a newspaper]. They [Portsmouth] would cut my throat if the chairman does that or the owner starts selling all my players. What am I left with? I haven't got a chance then, have I?"
With Gaydamak making a rare public appearance at the back of the room during Adams' press conference – he did not speak – Storrie was at pains to make clear that he would not be forced to sell players this January. Storrie's credibility was rather undermined by him having authored a piece in a newspaper yesterday in which he had vowed to take his time over the appointment of Redknapp's successor, only to give the job to Adams.
"People are going on about our finances and it's getting boring now, it's a boring, boring subject," Storrie said. "We have appointed a fantastic guy and the club moves on. The club is fine, our owner is here and he continues to put money in and support the club. Our transfer spend is far in excess of what we have sold. There are players that we might look to sell and if we do we will invest it. The fans are aware of the situation."
Storrie would not be any more specific on the club's finances, although he said that his change of heart over waiting to appoint Adams had come because he had decided that there were no better alternatives. Adams explained he believed that his brief would be "more of the same" of what Redknapp had delivered. "If the owner had said 'I want to get into the top four', I don't think I would be standing here," he said. "We are not Manchester United, we have to be realistic."
Adams will return to Anfield tonight for his first game in charge against Liverpool at the ground where, as captain of Arsenal, he won the championship in such extraordinary fashion 20 seasons ago. He said he had spoken to the Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger, soon after he accepted the job and that his former manager had greeted him with the words, "Welcome to hell". Adams said: "I replied: 'Are you scared?' When he asked what I meant I said: 'I'm coming for you'."
At Wycombe, Adams' record in just less than a year was 12 wins from 53 games and he admitted to nerves this time around. Having described getting the job as being "like Christmas, the best job in the world", he admitted that he had concerns. "I've got fears. I'm human. I'm scared to bits. I couldn't sleep last night. I wanted to get out there and get on with it."
There are doubts surrounding the future of Joe Jordan, another of Redknapp's former assistants at Portsmouth. Adams said that Jordan was thinking over his options, having been overlooked by the board for the manager's job. Adams did not rule out the possibility that his former Arsenal team-mate Martin Keown would be joining him at Portsmouth.
"Harry is a hard act to follow but it's my time," Adams said. "I'm ready for the next step. I need experience as a No 1. It's a different type of football to Wycombe. It's like going from running a corner shop to running Sainsbury's and I am with the big boys now."
One of those big boys, Wenger, said yesterday that Adams had often been in touch seeking advice since he left Arsenal and that he would benefit from knowing his players. "Yes, we have been in regular contact when it was needed," Wenger said.
"It is easier when you already know the players. When you are coach you have your own ideas about how the players are. It gives you a massive advantage to find quickly the right team. The only disadvantage is suddenly you have to take the distance with the players. But that will come naturally. When you have the power the distance comes quickly. He is one who can create that distance, some have problems but I don't think he will."
Tony's task: Next six for Pompey
Tonight: Liverpool (a) PL
Saturday: Wigan (h) PL
Sat 8 Nov: Sunderland (a) PL
Sat 15 Nov: West Ham (a) PL
Sat 22 Nov: Hull City (h) PL
Thu 27 Nov: Milan (h) Uefa