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Tuesday, 6 August, 2002, 12:29 GMT 13:29 UK
The long goodbye
Tony Adams walks out with his children Amber and Oliver before his testimonial against Celtic
Adams has walked tall since his recovery from addiction

We will not see their like again.

Tony Adams cannot quite announce his retirement, Paul Merson is dropping out of the Premiership to play for Portsmouth, while Paul Gascoigne scrabbles around for a club - any club.

All three players provide ample evidence that football is the hardest profession to turn your back on.

Three former England internationals, men with immense talent and courage, were central figures during the 1990s, and winners of countless cups and medals.

But winners with feet of clay.

They were not only addicted to football but also alcohol.

"Obsessive," is how journalist Ian Ridley characterises the three players.

Ridley collaborated with Adams and Merson on their autobiographies - Addicted and Rock Bottom - and has interviewed Gascoigne extensively.

"All three have been addicted to football. They played it exceptionally well and it helped raise their self esteem."

"Football is not a normal profession," adds Ridley. "For every kid it's a dream job and footballers never quite grow up. The hours are good and their every need is taken care of.

Paul Merson in his Aston Villa days
Merson shows the right sort of bottle

"It must be hard to let go and you can understand why. There is the camaraderie of the other players because addiction can be a lonely place. It isolates and football staves off that loneliness."

As he joined Portsmouth, Merson eloquently explained why football is so hard to walk away from.

"I just want to play first-team football. I could have stayed at Aston Villa and taken the money, but ever since I was a schoolboy I have only ever wanted to play football."

Adams has been linked with a number of clubs during the close season in a managerial role, but out of the three of them, he looks the best equipped to deal with a life outside of football.

He has been dry for six years and has plenty of interests outside of football notably his desire to run a treatment centre for fellow players addicted to drinks, drugs and gambling.

The Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is also sceptical that Adams will move straight into management.

"I think he was tapped for some management jobs over the summer but I wonder whether he really wants to do it.

"I'm certain that he will at some stage but I have a doubt that he will do it now.

Paul Gascoigne playing for Rangers against Bradford during Stuart McCall's testimonial
Gascoigne is still searching for a club

"He has said he wants to go away and study sports science and then come back into football. And I think it would be a good idea for him to take a break from football.

For Gascoigne and Merson the future is less certain.

Merson, by moving to Portsmouth at the age of 34, has shown he is unable to contemplate a life away from the only one he has ever known; just yet anyway.

And for the 35-year-old Gascoigne things look even bleaker.

Only last season he was a Premiership player with Everton.

Now, after being rejected by US side DC United, he is being courted by Dundee, Partick Thistle and Darlington, Colchester and Exeter.

Remembering some of his performances for Newcastle, Spurs, Lazio and England the thought of him wandering around the rather less well know St James Park is almost unthinkable.

There will always be footballers who struggle to come to terms with the pressures surrounding the game.

But as Adams, Gascoigne and Merson come to terms with their change in circumstances, Ridley believes that English football has finally rid itself of the casual approach to alcohol that those three players typified.

"There will always be players that will be addicts and alcoholics.

"But there is now far more awareness and players are aware that they need to eat and drink well if they are to reach the highest levels of performance."

And as their own careers diverge, Adams, Gascoigne and Merson will now have to show a very different kind of bottle.

Links to more Football stories are at the foot of the page.

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