Everybody thinks of one Charlie Adam. Whether they're optimistic about his seemingly inevitable transfer to Liverpool or not doesn't matter. Everybody thinks of the Adam whose raking passes picked apart the club he seems set to join when they met at Anfield, the Adam who scored from the penalty spot to help ensure he'd be remembered by the club he set his heart on, and not the Adam who managed a sorry 45% pass completion rate later in the season against Blackburn.
It's the Adam who dragged first St. Mirren and then Blackpool into the Scottish and English top flights respectively as the centerpiece of both sides that everybody wants. Not the Adam who imploded when given his first big chance at Rangers or who became increasingly inconsistent with Blackpool in the Premier League once opponents began to focus on him. Even the good Adam might not be a world class savior, but at least he could become a quality contributor for a club looking to move back into the top four and maybe even take an unlikely run at the title. Or so the general wisdom goes. The other Adam, however, the Adam who has been on display for much of his professional career, is hardly likely to do more than block the development of younger players or potentially lead to the departure of better senior squad members as room is cleared for the new arrival.
And so everybody thinks of—and hopes for—one Charlie Adam.
Even the good Adam, though, isn't a player without flaws and question marks. He was the focal point at Blackpool, the player the team was built around, and that meant that he received an endless series of chances with which to make a difference. When opponents gave him time to convert those opportunities he could certainly pick a pass. But when—as happened increasingly often over the second half of the season—he was put under pressure he became wildly inconsistent, at times ending up with completion rates below 50%. At best he was inconsistent. At worst he was a player who needed a bucket full of chances to create a handful of successfully telling passes and who wilted under pressure—perhaps even showing signs that he was only suited to going up against a lower level of competition less able to put that pressure on him.
Over the entire season, that inconsistency lead to him ranking 21st in the league in passes completed despite making the 8th most total pass attempts, resulting in a rather poor 69.62% completion rate that cannot be fully explained away by his taking of set pieces or tendency towards adventurous passing. In fact, his 13 spot plummet when comparing attempted passes to completions was the second furthest drop amongst players in the top 25 attempted passes, and the embarrassment of first was only avoided by the laughably poor completion rate for Bolton's Kevin Davies. Davies fell so far from being number 19 in attempts that The Telegraph doesn't list him amongst the league's top 50 in pass completions. Going in the other direction, the third worst fall was suffered by Newcastle fullback and rumoured Liverpool target Jose Enrique with a nine spot drop, after which the movement between lists mostly drops to a couple of spots in either direction. Amongst the top passers in the league, though, Adam and Enrique were veritable turnover machines, their inaccuracy only topped by Davies' apparent inability to hit the broad side of a bard door from five feet away.
Meanwhile, Fulham's adventurous Danny Murphy made the most pass attempts in the league while managing the second most completions and a 79.09% success rate over the entire term. Looking at other statistics, Murphy also won the sixth most tackles in the league—a category topped by Liverpool's Lucas. Adam finished 26th there and was beaten out for not only most tackles but also most completed passes on Blackpool by fellow midfielder David Vaughan, who in the end was named the club's best performer of the season ahead of Adam despite the fact that those who witnessed Adam mostly in highlight packages were stunned any but the Scot might be the recipient of such an award.
Elsewhere, Luka Modric—to many the best attacking midfielder in the Premier League last season—finished fourth in both completions and attempts and with an absolutely fantastic 85.80% success rate. And Liverpool's new arrival Jordan Henderson, who with Sunderland was known for a judicious sprinkling of long, raking balls amongst his generally confident possession play, completed only 33 fewer passes than Adam despite attempting 240 less. As a result he ended up with a completion rate over ten points higher than Adam's at 77.85% despite taking many of Sunderland's set-pieces and often playing on the right where he would deliver crosses, two acts that can't help but lower a player's passing percentage and things many defenders of Adam point to as an excuse for his low success rate.
None of this bodes well for Adam, no matter where he ends up, and his growing inconsistency over the second half of the season as many teams began to put more pressure on him hardly helped those final numbers. Still, even towards the end he did have his moments against sides that either didn't have the players to give him a hard time or the tactical sense to do so. In the beginning, though, he also had his share of bad games even while he was having mostly good.
Beyond the questions raised by such inconsistency—and his at times reckless passing with resulting numbers that can't be explained away by his taking of corners—if Liverpool is indeed his immanent destination the club will have to wonder if Adam needs to be the focal point to match even the uneven success he managed at times with Blackpool. Because there is reason to worry that the image of Adam as a long-range passing master is built on constantly getting the ball and being given the opportunity to attempt such high-risk passes over and over and over again, ensuring that a handful of successful attempts will make it into the highlight packages and sink into the minds of many over the course of an entire season. Certainly he looked far from good earlier in his career with Rangers, a club where he wasn't given the freedom to play as he pleased as the team's focal point. Before his successful stint at Blackpool that's fresh in everybody's memory he left the Scottish club in disgrace, with problems off the pitch to match his poor play on it and the fans considering him an object of ridicule.
And in the end that leaves three Charlie Adams: the frankly poor Rangers player who couldn't perform as a smaller component expected to fit into the team concept; the phenomenal if risky and inconsistent passer of the early 2010-11 Peremier League season who made a name for himself; and the player who later became even more inconsistent once opponents began to focus on him as a serious threat, but who still showed flashes of quality as his side's midfield focal point.
Considering that final version of Charlie Adam as it applies to his likely move to Liverpool, on one hand it will be harder for defenses to focus on him at a bigger club in the way many began to as the Premier League season progressed at Blackpool. But on the other hand, his experience at a club where he wasn't the focal point was hardly a smashing success, and that disappointment came in turn after a time spent almost single-handedly dragging St. Mirren out of the Scottish first division and into the SPL as their key player. To be successful at a club like Liverpool, he'll have to have the ability to do something he's never shown signs of being capable of before in his career: He'll need to become an at least passably consistent performer while not being the biggest name in the side. And then, even if it is the "good" Charlie Adam who shows up at Liverpool, that still leaves a pile of questions and a vast gulf between him and last season's most successful attacking Premier League midfielders like Murphy, Wilshere, and Modric.
At his best, Adam does bring some positive attributes to any football club, but those positives come with a great deal of risk. Even at his best, those positives come with a great deal of risk.
Note: People have asked about how Gerrard's passing stats compare to Adam and the rest. I've mentioned it on the Liverpool Offside's Twitter, but it seems I should add it to the record here: the oft injured Steven Gerrard ranked 32 and 35 in attempts and completions (respectively) amongst midfielders, completing 977 out of 1256 passes at a rate of 77.79%. That places him in the same range as players like Fabregas and Henderson, and further suggests that Adam being nearly ten points worse can't be explained by set-pieces, corners, and "Hollywood" balls.