It’s been a long road for Ché Adams to achieve his dream of establishing himself as a Premier League marksman. Luckily for Saints, overcoming adversity comes naturally to the in-form goal-getter…
“Everyone’s got their own story, and this is mine,” Ché Adams tells us, as he gazes out across the King George V playing fields in Winchester, just a short drive from home.
The striker has crammed a lot into a football career still in its early stages, having turned 24 in the summer.
A common theme along the way has been a desire to prove people wrong; to prove to himself that he’s good enough.
It’s the sort of single-minded self-belief that every goalscorer needs. When chances come and go, don’t shy away. Even the greats will miss. By constantly getting into the right positions to score, you give yourself the opportunity to shine.
After a treacherous run of 29 Southampton appearances without finding the net, spanning a whole calendar year, Adams’s seven Saints goals have come in the space of just 14 Premier League games since breaking his duck in July.
The Leicester-born forward is no stranger to tough times, hard graft and overcoming adversity. Aged 14, he was released by Coventry City. It hit him hard.
Adams found himself at a crossroads with the sport he loved, as so many do in their teens, but was determined to make up for lost time. Football should be fun, after all.
"You either fall out of love with football or you fall in love with football,” he reflects on the setback. “It was something that I wanted to pursue, and I made it happen.
“Because I missed out on it so young – playing with friends – it just made me want to try harder and want to play with my friends even more.
“I did that at about 16 and this is when I came into grassroots football. It was a great step that I took. I grew up playing on these sorts of pitches – I’ve learned the hard way.
“It’s been a huge benefit for me. I’ve learned a lot through that side of football, and it’s been a massive help in keeping me grounded and keeping me humble.
“It’s a massive difference to all the guys in the dressing room, but everyone’s got their own story and this is mine.”
At the age of 18, Adams was picked up by Sheffield United – then in League One – having starred for Derbyshire non-league club Ilkeston.
“Even then, I thought it was a bit late getting into the league at that age,” he says. “But it was perfect timing really, and I’m just grateful for everything that’s happened.”
The opposition for his professional debut a month later? Southampton, who were dumped out of the League Cup by Adams and co, paving the way for the future Saint to score twice in the semi-final against Tottenham, only to be denied a trip to Wembley, ousted 3-2 on aggregate.
A move to Birmingham City in the Championship followed, and 22 goals in his third season at St Andrew’s alerted Premier League clubs to his talents.
Southampton swooped. Adams had finally hit the big time.
“It was unbelievable,” he says, still disbelieving of his rapid rise. “It was an honour. When I knew Southampton were interested, I had no other option – it was an unbelievable experience.”
ché adamscoming from scoring all the time to not doing it so much, it took a huge effect. i think every striker in every team wants to score goals - that's what they're trained to do."
on the long wait to open his saints account
A shy and unassuming character still adjusting to the media spotlight, Adams admits there were teething problems.
“It was hard to get used to,” he opens up. “I had a few conversations with the manager about how he wants me to play and how he wants the team to play.
“At the start it was quite tough, because it took me a lot of time to get used to the league and all the players.
“You’re coming up against people with big egos. Southampton are known for well-known people who are known all around the world, so it was hard at the start.
“But once you get to know them and know everyone’s normal, that we’re all the same, it was easy.”
It’s often forgotten that Adams’s first pre-season with the club went swimmingly, scoring in his first three friendlies – each goal within six minutes of kick-off.
But when the Premier League action got under way, the new arrival struggled to make his mark.
“It’s tough when you get off to a start like that,” he continued. “That’s why the gaffer had so much belief in me to play me in the first match, but then it just dried up a little bit.
“Coming from scoring all the time to not doing it so much, it took a huge effect. I think every striker in every team wants to score goals – that’s what they’re trained to do.
“I think, from my side, I was probably trying a bit too hard to score goals. I was a bit naïve at times – I was snatching at things and shooting rather than passing.”
Still convincing himself of his talent 10 years since his painful rejection by Coventry, Adams admits he doubted his credentials as a Premier League player.
“That comes into play a little bit,” he nods. “But I always had self-belief and I knew what I could do, and that’s why the manager brought me in, because he knew I could play a massive part in this team.”
ché adamsi think it helped me a lot, coming away from football for a bit, and just realising what i had to do right and what i was doing wrong at the time."
on the three-month premier league shutdown
By the start of spring, Saints were being sucked into relegation territory and Adams was wondering when his big breakthrough was ever going to come.
His confidence now on the floor, COVID-19 swept across the globe and the UK went into lockdown. The Premier League shut down for three months. Adams had time to reset himself – a blessing in disguise, purely in the football sense.
Saints and their No 10 have not looked back since.
“I think it helped me a lot, coming away from football for a bit, and just realising what I had to do right and what I was doing wrong at the time,” he reflects. “I think it was a great thing for the team as well.
“I was working on my fitness and working on other aspects of my game – conditioning to run harder, work harder and play smarter.
“I can’t say it was a nice time, that lockdown happened, but for me personally it was probably the right thing, and obviously for the team at the time. We came back harder, we worked better… it was good for us.”
Inspired by Michael Jordan and The Last Dance, Adams – like so many of his teammates – returned with a new lease of life.
But by now he had fallen down the pecking order. Michael Obafemi and Shane Long both started alongside Danny Ings before Adams was given his first chance since the restart, against Manchester City at St Mary’s.
Sixteen minutes into his first Premier League start since December 2019, his top-flight career was transformed.
“You want to put your stamp back on things and coming into that I was pretty naïve and eager, but it was an unbelievable feeling when the ball went in,” he says, still coming to terms with what happened, four months later.
It wasn’t just any goal. Adams’s first-time lob was measured at 39 yards – the furthest of any Premier League strike all season – to defeat the dethroned champions in front of a record audience of 5.7million viewers on the BBC.
“A lot of people wouldn’t have thought I’d waited all that time for my first goal, but it was an unbelievable feeling – more relief than anything,” he says.
“I think it was just a matter of time. When that goal went in, I went on to score a couple more and it just brings confidence.
“I think confidence is goals and playing well consistently. Way before I even scored, the guys still had trust in me and the manager had trust in me to keep putting me on.
“That’s massive respect to them, because obviously it’s not a nice place where I was at, with not scoring, but it’s not the end of the world. Repaying them feels great.”
One thing Adams has never lacked is an ability to contribute to the team, with or without finding the net.
A tireless worker from the front, in tandem with Ings the pair have given sleepless nights to many an established defence.
He’s also a creator, notably assisting his strike partner for the winner at Leicester last season, as well as goals against Burnley and Chelsea in recent weeks.
It’s no surprise when Adams reveals he used to be a central midfield player, amongst other positions, such is his eye for a pass and awareness of his teammates – perhaps best illustrated by a sumptuous cross-field pass for Stuart Armstrong to wrap up victory against Aston Villa back in February.
“I’ve played near enough everywhere,” he grins. “When I was at Coventry, I played right-back, right mid and then after I got released there and played lower down, I played centre mid.
“I went to Sheffield United and that’s where the turning point was as a right or left winger/striker.
“Growing up playing centre midfield you have to have awareness, you have to have vision, and I think that definitely helps in my range of passing.
“That’s credit to the manager as well – he knows what the players’ needs are and what their strong positions are. Obviously playing with Ingsy, his movement is incredible, so it’s easy to play through.”
The collaboration with Ings, temporarily put on hold due to injury, is something Adams mentions, unprompted, on a couple of occasions – an invitation to probe him on what makes them tick.
“Probably height!” he jokes, as the first thing they have in common. Adams, stockily built, stands at 5ft 9in, with Ings an inch taller.
“Obviously he was at Burnley playing off a big man, and I was at Birmingham playing off a big man, so that definitely helps in knowing how each other play.
“We both know what each other want and what each other need to put them in the right chances.
“Just learning from him on the training pitch is a huge honour, and he’s a great guy off the pitch as well, which makes it even better.”
Adams admits seeing his partner in crime playing and scoring in an England shirt has made him dream of a call-up of his own.
Capped twice at Under-20 level in his Sheffield United days, continuing his current rate of progress could thrust his name into the frame, having just been nominated for the October Premier League Player of the Month award.
His performance in leading from the front in Ings’s absence on Friday night against Newcastle United proved he can step up – as his boss will testify.
“We had to replace Ingsy… but you couldn’t see there was a break in our game,” manager Ralph Hasenhüttl observed.
“He (Adams) shows more and more that he is the signing we hoped from the first moment. He had a tough first year, but it just shows that if you never stop working and never stop believing in what you’re doing, anything is possible.”
That victory propelled Saints to the top of the Premier League pile for the first time ever, and the first time in the top flight since September 1988.
So it’s topical to finish the interview with a chuckle at Ché’s expense. When he signed, you might recall, the striker was ridiculed for saying his new club should aspire to win the league…
“People took it out of context!” he laughs. “It’s not like you want to hear a new signing say, ‘I want to stay up this year’, but I think it was taken out of context.
“I see all the memes… it’s funny for the social media, but I think it was a bit naïve.”
So what is possible for Hasenhüttl’s history makers?
“We’ll see what happens,” he smiles. “Obviously the gaffer is with us one hundred per cent, but it’s up to the players – hopefully we can achieve something great.”