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‘They should be banging his door down’: Lee Carsley a lost gem the FAI should be pushing for at all costs

The ex-Ireland midfielder has been hailed as one of the most promising coaches in English football.

Carsley made 40 appearances for Ireland and is currently England U21 assistant manager.
Carsley made 40 appearances for Ireland and is currently England U21 assistant manager.

THE SHEER AMOUNT of coaching experience that Lee Carsley has amassed since hanging up his boots seven years ago is incredibly impressive. There is a big difference between quantity and quality, but the former Ireland midfielder has both in spades.

Remembered as a tough-tackling, hard-working but reserved engine in the middle of the park, the Birmingham-born midfielder is often cited as a player who never quite got the credit he deserved for someone who made 472 appearances in top-level English football.

There were the early days at Derby County, stints at Blackburn Rovers and Coventry City, a strong six-year stay at Goodison Park where he patrolled Everton’s midfield alongside talents like Mikel Arteta, Leon Osman, Tim Cahill and Steven Pienaar.

His stay on Merseyside under David Moyes was the most successful of his career by way of performances. Two final seasons, one at his hometown club Birmingham and one at Coventry City followed. While no major honours or medals decorated his trophy cabinet his time in the Premier League is fondly recalled, as is his time in an Irish shirt.

England U21 Training Session - St George's Park Carsley alongside Kyle Walker-Peters during an England U21 training session at St George's Park. Source: Nick Potts

Carsley qualified for Ireland through his Cork-born grandmother, who was raised in Dunmanway, making 40 appearances in the green shirt between 1997 and 2008 and making it into Mick McCarthy’s final squad for the 2002 World Cup.

Such was their similarities as industrious, hard-hitting midfielders in the mid-noughties, the story goes that when Real Madrid snapped up Thomas Gravesen in January 2005 to join their Galacticos project, some believed they had signed the wrong man from Everton.

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

Since retiring in 2011, Carsley has amassed one of the most impressive coaching CVs in English football at teams like Coventry, Brentford, Manchester City, Birmingham and the English national side, and the 44-year-old is constantly name-checked by former team-mates as one of the most hard-working and gifted underage managers in the game today.

Lee Carsley shares a joke with Julio Baptista The midfielder shares a joke with Julio Baptista of Brazil during a friendly in February 2008. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Getting his coaching badges while still at Everton, his passion for helping the next generation that have followed in his footsteps is clear for all to see. The question hangs tentatively in the balance, however, as to why none of this coaching experience has been completed on Irish shores and why the FAI has not secured his services.

During eight years as Ireland U21 manager Noel King failed to qualify the side for a single international competition. Following his departure earlier this month, a number of ex-pros including Kevin Kilbane, Keith Andrews and Gary Breen endorsed Carsley to take the role.

That is, if he wants it. You get the sense he isn’t short offers of top jobs.

Lee Carsley is the guy who you should identify as someone to get for the Ireland U21 role,” said Breen. “They should be banging his door down.”

The FAI have a busy number of weeks ahead as they search not only for a new U21 manager, but also a new senior boss following the departure of Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane after five years in charge at Lansdowne Road.

Mick McCarthy and Stephen Kenny have been the frontrunners this week, but Andrews insists that no matter who is appointed Ireland’s new senior boss, there should be a role on some level for somebody of Carsley’s experience. If not as senior manager, then as assistant, U21 boss or some other capacity.

“No matter who gets the job, there should be a place for Lee Carsley in the setup,” the former Blackburn and Ireland midfielder said speaking this week in the wake of O’Neill’s departure.

Hull City v Birmingham City - Sky Bet Championship - KCOM Stadium The 44-year-old during his role as caretaker manager of Birmingham in September 2017. Source: EMPICS Sport

“Personally I would love Lee to be involved,” added former Ireland team-mate Kilbane.

“I think if we are serious about coaching our younger players, then I think we need to get the best Irish player that we have available, or at least one of the best, and he is considered one of the best that is coaching within the system over in England right now.

“I would go with him, whether that be at U21 level or being that link between senior international level and youth football, I could see him working in that role.

I don’t know if he would go for it,” Kilbane continued. “But if we are serious about the structures within the FAI, within our football system, then why don’t we go out and get the best?

“And he is the best, he’s simply the best. We’ve got a player who’s got an inside track with what the FA are doing, and I think he could bring that to the FAI to help us develop our structures.”

The reasons why Carsley has not been approached by the FAI over the last number of years are unknown, but recent reports that they are in the process of hiring him to take over from Noel King suggest the association intend to rectify a glaring error sooner rather than later.

Lee Carsley and Andy Keogh He made 40 appearances for Ireland and was included in the squad which went to the 2002 World Cup. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

He is still involved with the English FA as U21 assistant manager and trying to convince the former Ireland midfielder to leave that lucrative role behind would be a challenge for those in Abbotstown to overcome.

The 44-year-old obtained his coaching badges as his playing career came to a close while at Everton and immediately took his first coaching position straight after retirement. Firstly as Coventry’s U18 manager and then as Sheffield United assistant boss in the summer of 2013.

He was dismissed alongside manager David Weir in October 2013, but soon after enjoyed extensive experience in the England underage set-up, being appointed as a full-time “out of possession” coach for all the England sides between U15 and U21 level.

In August 2016, Carsley was hired as Manchester City’s U18 manager, where he led the Blues to an FA Youth Cup final and to the top of the North Division of the Professional U18 Development League.

In-between Coventry, Birmingham and England, he also spent time as Development Squad manager for Brentford, most recently returning to Birmingham as Head Professional Development Coach; a position he held until March 2018 when he left alongside senior boss Steve Cotterill.

Chelsea v Manchester City - FA Youth Cup - Final - First Leg- Stamford Bridge While at Manchester City he led the side to the FA Youth Cup final in April 2017. Source: Andrew Matthews

With that level of coaching pedigree under his belt in such a short space of time, his experience as an Ireland international who made it to the World Cup and the glowing endorsements by those who know him best, it seems like the FAI simply cannot afford to overlook Carsley any longer.

One of the most highly-rated and sought-after coaches in football, the world appears to be his oyster with a successful management career awaiting in the near future.

Those based this side of the Irish sea will hope it is in Dublin where those talents to bring out the best in young Irish players will be allowed to flourish.

Convincing Carsley to leave behind his role as England U21 assistant manager will be a massive undertaking, especially ahead of next year’s European Championships where a team featuring Jadon Sancho, Ryan Sessegnon, Phil Foden and Reiss Nelson are tipped to go all the way in Italy.

But it is an undertaking which a confident consensus of Irish supporters, colleagues and former team-mates are convinced would be worthwhile for the future success of football in this country.

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Aaron Gallagher

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