Che Adams is Scotland’s answer to Jamie Vardy. Like the Leicester City legend, he has climbed from the depths of non-league football to fulfil a dream of being at a major international tournament.
And he’s done it quicker, too. Vardy actually had to wait until he was 28 for an England debut. Adams became part of Steve Clarke’s set-up at 24.
Three months, four caps and two goals after that initial call-up, the Southampton striker has shown he can add a dash of quality to Scotland’s attack.
Che Adams is getting ready to fulfil his dream of playing at a major international tournament
Striker Adams will be desperate to deliver the goods for Scotland at this summer’s Euros
His touch, control and finishing — regardless of the chances missed in Luxembourg last weekend — may well prove essential in Monday’s Euros opener against the Czech Republic.
Adams looks every inch an English Premier League player these days, but he hasn’t always operated in such rarefied environments. Far from it. Like Vardy, he is an inspiration to kids from outside the elite academy system.
Having been released from Coventry City’s youth set-up aged 14, a return to grassroots football with Leicestershire team St Andrews led to Oadby Town in the United Counties League and then trials with Ilkeston Town.
It was here, dodging challenges on the muddy pitches of the Evo-Stik Premier Division, that Adams first made his name.
Word spread and scouts assembled. Sheffield United moved quickest and Adams was given the chance to display his skills in England’s League One.
Within two years, it was the Championship with Birmingham City. Then, in July 2019, came a £15million move to Southampton. Now Adams is about to be part of Scotland’s first major tournament in 23 years.
He has come a seriously long way since his debut for Oadby at the age of 16.
‘Could I have imagined this then? Not in a million years,’ said Adams. ‘It was always a dream of mine — but now I’m living it and it’s amazing.’
So what was it like in those early days? Was he a kid having lumps kicked out of him in front of 200 fans?
Adams has risen from from the depths of non-league football like ex-England star Jamie Vardy
‘Exactly that,’ laughed Adams. ‘I don’t think it was even that many… there were about 40 to 50 people there.
‘It toughens you up. People try to kick you if you’re too fast for them; they just want to injure you. Just normal lower league stuff.
‘Football has changed so much in terms of the younger players coming up now, everything is all nice. It’s different to how I was brought up, but it definitely makes you appreciate things much more.
‘At a young age it’s everyone’s dream to play football, and for me to be actually doing it is amazing.
‘The way I was brought up is something I’m proud of — it makes you stronger as a person as well.’
Born in Leicester, Adams represented England at Under-20 level during his time with Sheffield United but qualifies to play for Scotland through his grandparents.
He was initially approached to commit his future north of the Border during Alex McLeish’s tenure in charge of the national team. Hesitant then, he accepted once Clarke had a second go following qualification for the Euros.
The 24-year-old has come a long way since his playing days at Ilkeston Town (left) and Co
Adams can prove vital to Scotland’s attack when they begin their Euros campaign next week
Despite taking that time to think, Adams is crystal clear about the pride he feels at being part of the Scottish set-up.
And the feeling will be amplified if he is picked to run out in front of a 12,000 Hampden crowd on Monday. ‘It will be amazing,’ insisted Adams. ‘I’ve not seen the place with fans in yet, so it will be special for me.
‘I just wish my grandparents could be there to see the game. Unfortunately, they can’t but they will be proud of me.
‘Just having any fans back will be brilliant for football. I can’t wait for them to see us play again after so long.
‘I’ve had loads of messages on social media. The Scotland fans seem to have taken a liking to me and I just want to be able to play in front of a full Hampden. It would be great to have that proper connection with them.’
Goals and positive performances would be the best way to strengthen that developing bond. It will mean overcoming some elite defenders in Group D, but is Adams daunted by the prospect?
‘No, not really,’ he replied. ‘With the squad we’ve got here, everyone is a good player, everyone knows how to play football and knows their responsibilities. I think that’s massive going into any game.
Adams will be hoping to return to Southampton with a victory over England under his belt
‘And everyone is so close. It makes you want to play for the lads even more and for the manager. I watched the videos of all the lads celebrating (qualification), the clips of Marshy (David Marshall) and so on and how good it looked. I was so happy for all the people involved and I want to be a part of it.’
Adams has also been doing a little homework. Old footage of Scotland playing at major finals has been sought and found.
‘I have had a look on YouTube and the lads speak so much about it,’ he added. ‘The Scotland-England game was on the other day and everyone sat around the table and just wanted to enjoy the moment and make it happen again.
‘It’s going to be amazing. Everyone is talking about it, but I think we just have to sort out the first game against the Czech Republic and focus on that.’
A trip to Wembley follows a week on Friday. For Adams, being able to return to the Southampton dressing room as a winner in that one would be particularly sweet.
‘There’s been plenty of banter going around,’ he said of his club colleagues. ‘Everyone at Southampton calls me McAdams! I get it every day!
‘When I came to my first camp the boys told me to do my first interview in a Scottish accent, which was quite funny. It’s part and parcel in dressing rooms and you need that.’