Connect with us

English Premier League

European Football Weekend Round-Up By Zach Lowy

Each Monday, Zach Lowy will be writing a weekly round-up on European football, including the managers on the hot seat and the young prospects who are putting themselves in the spotlight plus more.

European Football Weekly Round Up

In February 2018, as I was preparing questions to ask Tyler Adams for an exclusive interview on my website Breaking The Lines, I came across Adams’s admiration for former NBA star Kobe Bryant. Having just turned 19, Adams was already making a name for himself as one of the most talented prospects in MLS, impressing for the New York Red Bulls with his versatility, nonstop work rate, and gritty mindset. I formulated a question on Kobe’s ‘Mamba Mentality’ and how it has influenced Adams, to which I then passed on to my reporter Cristiano Oliviera. 

“Kobe Bryant has fearlessness at all times and his ability to make plays at any moment in the game, and his competitive edge, he didn’t care who he was going against, I try to replicate that in a sense,” said Adams. “For me, it doesn’t matter who we’re playing against, what minute of the game it is, I’m going to give everything I have at whatever moment it is.”

That Mamba Mentality has influenced so many athletes in far more sports than just basketball to be tougher, more resilient, and more clutch. Without Kobe Bryant, Adams may have never developed the competitive edge to take New York to the Eastern Conference Finals as a teenager, and subsequently earn a move to RB Leipzig. Without Kobe Bryant, so many of the young starlets that are currently making a name for themselves across the sports world would not be where they are today.

Adams’ Early Career

Adams grew up in Poughkeepsie, New York, about a two-hour drive north of the Big Apple. He’d wake up at 6 a.m. on the weekends to watch Thierry Henry score golazo after golazo for Arsenal, falling in love with the Frenchman’s elusive, effortless style. He had a poster of him in his bedroom; if Kobe inspired his killer instinct on the pitch, Henry inspired his burning passion for football. 

Put those two together, and nothing could stop Adams from chasing his dream of becoming a professional footballer. So when he got the opportunity to join the New York Red Bulls’ academy, one of the most prestigious player development systems in North America, he didn’t have to think twice. Every day, Adams would wake up, go to school from eight to three, and then drive 150 miles with his mother to the club’s practice facility in Whippany, New Jersey. He’d do his homework on the drive down to the Garden State, eat dinner in his mother’s Toyota Corolla, and get back home after midnight.

Up until he was 13, it was just him and his mother; the former balancing school with football, the latter balancing school with a full-time job. That changed in seventh grade, when his mother started seeing the father of one of his classmates. Suddenly, he had a stepfather, three stepbrothers, and a family. His stepfather, a second-generation immigrant from Scotland, is a diehard Rangers fan, and his love for the beautiful game helped push Adams’s desire to succeed in football to a new level. 

He worked his way up the academy all the while focusing on getting his high school diploma, and by the time he was 16, he made his first team debut in a pre-season friendly against Chelsea as manager Jesse Marsch entrusted Adams with a start against the reigning Premier League champions at the Red Bull Arena. 

The Blues got off to an early lead via a Loïc Rémy goal, but Franklin Castellanos equalized shortly after the break. 18 minutes later, Castellanos launched a daring cross into the box. Playing the first game of his professional career, Adams connected with the cross and headed it past Asmir Begović into the left corner. The Red Bulls went on to win 4-2, and the diminutive teenager received praise from his family, his coaches, and a certain someone who had waged his fair share of terror on Chelsea back in the day.

Henry, who had retired just seven months prior, was in town to train with his former side and watch them face Chelsea. The man who made him fall in love with football congratulated the 16-year-old on his debut goal. From that moment on, football was no longer a dream for Adams, but a reality.

Signs His First Professional Contract

Three months after making his debut against Chelsea, Adams signed his first professional contract with the club. He made his MLS debut two months after his 17th birthday, starting against the San Jose Earthquakes, before playing for the B team for the rest of the season.

Adams’ talent, potential, and hunger to improve were evident to everyone at the club. So when captain and club legend Dax McCarty was surprisingly traded to the Chicago Fire in exchange for $400,000 in allocation money, the club didn’t bother signing a replacement. At first, it was Sean Davis, six years Adams’s senior, who partnered the tough-tackling Felipe Martins in midfield, with Adams missing the club’s preseason to play for the United States in the CONCACAF Under-20 Championship. Nevertheless, by the start of April, Adams, who was still finishing high school at the time, was starting in Marsch’s 4-2-2-2.

His mental resilience, energy, and class on the ball drew praise from then U.S. U-20 manager Tab Ramos, who called him “one of a kind.” Adams drew interest from several Bundesliga clubs, who were looking to make the next splash in the States following the success of Christian Pulisic at Borussia Dortmund. However, he stayed put in his home state, keeping his feet firmly planted on the ground and focusing his energy on club and country. 

Adams played a variety of midfield positions in the 2017 U-20 World Cup, operating as a holding midfielder against Ecuador, a box-to-box midfielder against Senegal, and even playing in a more advanced role against Saudi Arabia. No matter who he was playing alongside or what role he was asked to fulfil, he impressed with his all-action style, his aggression, and his leadership. Despite only standing 5’9”, Adams was a giant on the pitch.

The U.S. made it all the way to the quarterfinals, where they would lose to eventual finalists Venezuela. Adams was taken off shortly after halftime, with the lack of rest and excess of football taking a toll on his young body.

A little more than a week after playing his socks off in South Korea, Adams was back in the Red Bulls’ starting line-up, deputizing at right back in the Hudson River Derby. It didn’t matter where Marsch asked him to play, whether it was on the wing, in midfield or in defence; Adams would get the job done with no questions asked. 

He scored a brace while playing at right-back against D.C. United, and his relentless energy and technique helped influence the rest of his teammates to step their game up. New York would end up making it to the U.S. Open Cup Final, where they would lose to Sporting Kansas City, and the Eastern Conference Semifinals, where they would lose to eventual champions Toronto FC.

The club rejected a $5 million offer for him in the winter of 2017, believing that he needed another season before he was ready for Europe. They were proven right. Adams racked up regular minutes for the U.S. senior team and impressed in both MLS and the CONCACAF Champions League. Despite the departure of another veteran leader in midfield — Sacha Kljestan — and despite Marsch leaving midway through the season to become an assistant at Leipzig, the Red Bulls finished the regular season with the best record in MLS. They made it to the Eastern Conference Finals before once again losing to the eventual champions, Atlanta United, and they breezed past Olimpia and Tijuana before losing to Chivas in the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals.

RB Leipzig Win Race For His Signature

After a breakthrough season, Adams validated the hype with an even better sophomore season. Many clubs, such as Hertha Berlin and Monaco, lusted over his signature, but it was RB Leipzig who, naturally, won the race for him. The German club paid a measly $3 million for him, but the Red Bulls received a 33% sell-on clause, a clause that would come in handy three-and-a-half years later.

Working alongside Marsch and first-team manager Ralf Rangnick, Adams made his Bundesliga debut against Fortuna Düsseldorf, winning the ball back with his terrier-like tenacity and keeping things ticking in possession. Impressive performances soon followed against the likes of Hannover and Hoffenheim as the American quickly won a starting spot in Rangnick’s line-up

His Injury Struggles

He had hit the ground running, and it seemed as if his time in Germany was going off without a hitch. Fate, however, would have other ideas. A niggling adductor injury sidelined him for seven weeks, with Adams recovering in time to start the league finale against Werder Bremen as well as the DFB Pokal Final against Bayern Munich, both of which resulted in losses.

It was a tough blow, but at least he’d be fit in time for the Gold Cup, right? Not so fast. Adams re-aggravated his groin injury and pulled out of Gregg Berhalter’s U.S. squad. He trained hard to prepare for club football and impress new Leipzig manager Julian Nagelsmann, but a foot injury in August, as well as complications to his groin, sidetracked those plans. He would have to wait until the final match of the Hinrunde (the first half of the Bundesliga season), seven months after his last start for Leipzig, to make his debut under Nagelsmann, and he did so at the right-back position.

Tyler Makes His Mark

After the come-from-behind victory against Augsburg to close out the first half of the season, Adams spoke to, saying, “When football is your job and you don’t have it every single day, you feel like you’re missing something. It’s been an important journey, a useful experience for me to mature as a player, but I’m excited to be back now.”

It was with Adams’ renewed health in mind that the club leadership made the decision to sell Diego Demme, who had joined six years earlier for €350,000 when Leipzig were players in the German third tier. As the second-most senior player at the club, he left after a spell which saw him become a mainstay in midfield as well as vice-captain. Despite being first-choice under Nagelsmann, Leipzig cashed in on the veteran midfielder for €15 million, selling him to Napoli. 

They made the decision to part with one of the most important leaders in the dressing room whilst in the middle of a title race due to their faith in Adams, who deputized in a variety of roles from holding midfielder to right back, constantly plugging in for injured players and allowing Nagelsmann to experiment with new formations. After an injury-plagued Hinrunde, Adams returned to full fitness following a torn muscle fibre that had sidelined him throughout February and played a crucial role in the club’s Project Restart form, the highlight of which came on August 13 when Adams scored in the 88th minute to seal a 2-1 victory and book Leipzig’s ticket to the semifinals at the expense of Diego Simeone’s Atlético Madrid. Leipzig would fall to PSG in the following round, but Adams was nevertheless making his mark at the top level.

Adams & Marsch Reunite Once More

Apart from missing the entirety of May with a back injury, Adams stayed relatively clear of injuries in 2020/21, racking up 37 appearances across all competitions as Leipzig finished second, 13 points adrift of Bayern, lost 4-1 to Borussia Dortmund in the DFB-Pokal Final, and were thrashed 4-0 on aggregate by Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16. The following summer would see a managerial merry-go-round take place in Germany with Nagelsmann heading to Bayern to replace Hansi Flick, Marco Rose taking charge of Borussia Dortmund, Mark van Bommel enduring a brief but memorable tenure at Wolfsburg, and more. Nagelsmann’s replacement at the helm? None other than Jesse Marsch.

Adams made his professional debut at NYRB just six months after Marsch took charge of the reins, his second head coaching job following a season-long spell at MLS expansion side Montreal Impact, and emerged as a regular starter under Marsch in 2017, earning himself a maiden call-up to the US Men’s National Team in November in a 1-1 draw against Portugal. Six months after Marsch left his position with the most wins in NYRB history (75) to become an assistant coach at Leipzig, Adams followed his path and made the move from the Big Apple to Leipzig. 

Marsch would leave Germany after 1.5 years and take charge of Red Bull Salzburg, where he led the club to the domestic double in his first season. In doing so, he became the first manager born in the United States to win a top-flight trophy in Europe. Another double followed before Marsch decided to return to Leipzig and take charge of the head coaching role, where he would reunite with Adams once more. He would endure a turbulent spell in charge that ended on December 5, as Domenico Tedesco took the reins and steadied the ship, leading Leipzig to the top four, the semifinals of the Europa League, and their first ever top-flight trophy, beating Freiburg on penalties to win the DFB-Pokal Final.

Whilst far from an undisputed starter, Adams registered 35 appearances in 2021/22 and managed to steer clear of injuries, but the arrival of Austrian midfielder Xaver Schlager from Wolfsburg dimmed his chances of receiving regular game-time ahead of the World Cup, and when it came to finding a new destination, he knew where to look, joining Leeds United on a five-year contract for £20 million. He started in the double pivot alongside fellow summer arrival Marc Roca as Leeds defeated Wolves 2-1 on opening day, completing four tackles, two clearances and winning four out of nine ground duels. “Any time he was within 5-10 yards of the ball, he was able to put pressure on the opponent,” said Marsch after the game. “I think he won a lot of duels, picked up a lot of loose balls. He was very clever and clear and calm on the ball and provided a real presence for us in the midfield. I think Tyler is, if you include pre-season, playing some of the best football of his career and I know how much even more potential he has.”

As they coped with the growing reality of selling their two best players, Leeds reassured their new manager by reuniting him with Adams, Rasmus Kristensen, and Brenden Aaaronson, the latter two playing under Marsch at Salzburg. They have brought in Colombian winger Luis Sinisterra – the creative inspiration behind Feyenoord’s run to the Europa Conference League Final – to replace Raphinha, whilst also bringing in teenage midfielder Darko Gyabi from Manchester City as part of the Kalvin Phillips deal. It remains to be seen whether the 18-year-old Gyabi will remain and fight for his place or go out on loan, but Roca and Adams’ arrivals will be crucial in mitigating the loss of Phillips. Roca (25) and Adams (23) are younger options than Mateusz Klich (32) and Adam Forshaw (30) and have what it takes to develop a long-term partnership in midfield at Elland Road under Marsch, with both players in need of a fresh chapter after struggling to lock down a starting spot in Germany. Adams will be playing under Marsch for the first time in his young career, and he’ll be aiming to hit peak form ahead of the United States’ return to the World Cup.

Zach Lowy is the co-creator of Breaking The Lines (@BTLVid) and a freelance soccer journalist for various websites such as BET Central, Soccer Laduma and Hudl Analysis. He is fluent in Spanish and Portuguese and is the host of the Cortalinhas podcast, a weekly podcast that discusses Portuguese football. Zach has accumulated a wealth of experience and knowledge in football and has written about various subjects for BET Central ranging from Barcelona's financial difficulties to the 'lost generation' of South Africa's Amajita class of 2009.

More in English Premier League