NAT­U­RAL LEE-DER

Pro­file on new Brent­ford man­ager Lee Carsley’s top-class ca­reer

The Football League Paper - - NEWS - By Chris Dunlavy

WHEN Real Madrid mys­ti­fy­ingly plucked Thomas Gravesen from Ever­ton in Jan­uary 2005 and shoved the Dan­ish play­maker into a hold­ing role, a ru­mour swept around Good­i­son Park.

Real, folk said, had ac­ci­den­tally bought the wrong bald-headed mid­fielder.The man they wanted was ac­tu­ally Lee Carsley.

“I heard that,” ad­mit­ted Gravesen in an in­ter­view with the Tele­graph in 2006.“And you know what? If they had signed him in­stead of me, I wouldn’t have been sur­prised. He did a tremen­dous job for Ever­ton. Tremen­dous.”

Un­no­ticed

The tale is, of course, apoc­ryphal. Yet it neatly sum­marises the ca­reer of the new Brent­ford boss, a man whose im­mense con­tri­bu­tion to the Tof­fees’ suc­cess un­der David Moyes went largely un­no­ticed by ev­ery­one but those in the stands.

Signed by Wal­ter Smith for a fee of £1.9m in 2002, the ar­rival of a twice-rel­e­gated jour­ney­man (with Black­burn and Coven­try) did lit­tle to ex­cite sup­port­ers and when Smith was sacked just weeks later, Carsley ac­tu­ally at­tempted to call the move off.

For­tu­nately, the ink had dried, Moyes kept faith and, af­ter a rocky start, Carsley be­came the beat­ing heart of a resur­gent Ever­ton – both on the pitch and in the dress­ing room.

“For me, Lee was the key player in those days,” said former Tof­fees de­fender David Weir. “He flour­ished un­der David.

“He was out­stand­ing, a great player and a re­ally funny lad. He was a Brummie and used to get pel­ters for look­ing like Harry Hill but he had the best sense of hu­mour – so blunt with ex­pres­sions that could knock you down. He also got on very well with the staff and was the life and soul of the place.

“And what a job he did. Me, Tommy Gravesen, Tim Cahill, Kevin Kilbane – he helped all of us do our jobs and made all of us look

bet­ter. He cov­ered every­thing, a mul­ti­tude of sins, and filled the gaps that ev­ery­body else cre­ated.”

Moyes him­self called Carsley his “Mr Re­li­able” and still owns a signed pho­to­graph of his skip­per’s win­ning goal in the Mersey­side derby at Good­i­son. Yet per­haps Carsley’s great­est con­tri­bu­tion came in 2004-05 when his role as the de­fen­sive pivot in 4-1-4-1 for­ma­tion saw Ever­ton fin­ish fourth.

“I think he is the main rea­son we qual­i­fied for the Cham­pi­ons League,” in­sists Kilbane.“The way he sac­ri­ficed him­self for the team, sit­ting in, win­ning the ball and giv­ing it to peo­ple he felt could do a bet­ter job go­ing for­ward.

“The sea­son af­ter he was in­jured through­out and Ever­ton strug­gled.The next year he came back and they fin­ished fifth. I don’t think that is a co­in­ci­dence.” Kilbane, a close friend of Carsley, also says the mid­fielder had a “fear fac­tor” about him and, while funny and good-tem­pered, wasn’t

afraid to stand up for him­self.

Graeme Souness can at­test to that. Rel­e­gated im­me­di­ately af­ter join­ing Black­burn in March 1999, Carsley pri­vately in­formed man­ager Brian Kidd that he was will­ing to spend only a sin­gle sea­son out­side the top flight.

When Souness re­placed Kidd and learned of this ultimatum, he con­signed the pop­u­lar mid­fielder to the re­serves. In front of a packed dress­ing room, Carsley stood up and told the daunt­ing Scot ex­actly what he thought of him be­fore ditch­ing the club for Coven­try.

“Graeme felt I let him down,” said Carsley in 2001. “I felt I was be­ing hon­est and stick­ing to my guns. I don’t re­gret it.”

This mix of dress­ing room ge­nial­ity and steely re­solve un­doubt­edly has its roots in a foot­ball ed­u­ca­tion un­der the tough, acer­bic Jim Smith at Derby County as a teenager.

A debu­tant against Ital­ian side Ce­sena in 1994, he played 138 games, won pro­mo­tion to the Pre­mier League and rose to cap­tain the Rams.

Yet Carsley’s out­look on life and foot­ball has been most deeply shaped by sec­ond son Con­nor, who was born with Down’s Syn­drome in 1999.

“We’d lived in a bub­ble where every­thing was rosy,” he ad­mits. “We’ve got money, we’ve got houses, we’ve got cars – we have got all our pos­ses­sions and then sud­denly our lit­tle boy is born and we are hit with this bomb­shell.

“Sud­denly you re­alise it doesn’t mat­ter what car you drive, or what house you live in. As long as you are healthy and your fam­ily are healthy, who cares? I would rather have had three nor­mal chil­dren and worked at the Rover fac­tory, lived in Shel­don where I was born and just been happy.”

Per­spec­tive

But while Con­nor has given Carsley a sense of per­spec­tive and duty (he was vice-pres­i­dent of Ever­ton Dis­abled Sup­port­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion and a pa­tron of the Down’s Syn­drome As­so­ci­a­tion of Soli­hull), he has never used it to den­i­grate mod­ern play­ers.

“We’ve been sat in wait­ing rooms with peo­ple from all walks of life,” he said in 2007. “It does bring you back down to earth. Now my life­style and my at­ti­tude is a lot dif­fer­ent to some other play­ers, but I would never knock them for that be­cause they haven’t ex­pe­ri­enced what I have. Would I be fund-rais­ing if Con­nor didn’t have Down’s? Prob­a­bly not.”

Carsley, who won 40 caps for the Re­pub­lic of Ire­land and ap­peared at the 2002 World Cup, re­tired in 2011 and has since coached at Coven­try, Sh­effield United and Brent­ford, worked with England Un­der-19s boss Adie Boothroyd and taken his Pro Li­cence.

Now Carsley has re­luc­tantly ac­cepted the chal­lenge of keep­ing Brent­ford in the Cham­pi­onship.

But while the 41-year-old in­sists he has “no in­ter­est” in be­ing a man­ager, former Coven­try team­mate Carl Baker reck­ons the glove fits.“Play­ers look up to him and he used to get an ex­tra five or ten per cent out of me just by be­ing on the pitch,” he said. “I said when he left we’d be see­ing a lot more of him – and I think he’ll make a great man­ager.”

PIC: Ac­tion Images

ALL SMILES: Be­fore his first match in charge of the Bees, a 2-0 de­feat against Birm­ing­ham City

HEY­DAY: Carsley in ac­tion for Ever­ton

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