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Tom Carroll on not making the grade at Tottenham, Aston Villa misery, regretful Swansea departure and his fresh start back at QPR

Ogunleye Oyinade Abosede

Nov. 20, 2020

Tom Carroll is smiling again and enjoying his football.
It’s been a difficult couple of years for the former Tottenham midfielder, but he is beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel.
He still ponders over what could have been. You get the sense that he is hurt by the fact he hasn’t achieved more in his career to date.
At the age of 28, he should be hitting his prime. It’s incredible to think that for a player with Carroll’s technical ability he was without a club for eight months until Queens Park Rangers offered him a one-year deal in September.
This is the same player who was likened to Luka Modric and tipped to play for Barcelona by Tim Sherwood.
Big things were expected from the midfielder when he made the successful transition from Spurs’ academy into the first-team.
Having signed his first professional contract in 2010, Carroll made his senior bow under none other than Harry Redknapp – who would later take him to QPR on loan – against Hearts in the Europa League a year later.
He featured sparingly in the 2011/12 campaign – which included a stint with Derby – but enjoyed a new lease of life under Andre Villas-Boas the following season, establishing himself in the first team and making a further 14 appearances.
Carroll joined QPR the next year in a bid to aid his development, but injuries stunted his progress as the Rs were promoted to the Premier League via the play-offs – which he took no part in.
To Carroll’s credit he fared a lot better at Swansea during the next campaign and duly caught the attention of Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino – a manager he holds in extremely high regard.
The 2015/16 campaign was Carroll’s breakthrough season at Tottenham, scoring three goals in 30 appearances. A new contract followed in September 2016. Carroll’s dreams were finally coming true. You sensed this was his time.
But just four months later he was on his way to south Wales to seal a permanent switch to Swansea. So what went wrong?
Speaking exclusively to talkSPORT, Carroll said: “Looking back it’s disappointing that I didn’t achieve more for Spurs and really cement my place in the team.
“Redknapp gave me my debut and then he’s gone, then AVB comes in and he’s gone. You just have to keep proving yourself to different managers, so in that respect it was very tough.
“You’ve proven yourself under one manager and then automatically they probably want to play the £30million player and so you’ve literally just got to go again and again.
“I’d played bits and bobs for quite a few managers, but it was getting to that stage where I needed to be starting 15/20 games in the Premier League.”
On the Modric and Barcelona comparisons, he added: “I didn’t feel that was unneeded pressure; pressure’s a good thing to have.
“It’s nice to hear those kinds of things from people who have achieved so much in the game.
“I loved my time coming through at Spurs. I feel like I got to work with some of the best coaches [in the game] and people I’m still in contact with today such as John McDermott, Alex Inglethorpe, Tim Sherwood, Chris Ramsey and Les Ferdinand.
“They gave me the best opportunity possible, along with several others, to succeed in the game.”
Things couldn’t have gone any better for Carroll in the early stages of his Swans career, announcing his arrival in south Wales by producing a sumptuous assist for Fernando Llorente’s second goal in a shock 3-2 win at Liverpool on his debut.
He starred under Paul Clement’s tutelage, providing the creative spark they were desperately lacking in Leon Britton’s absence, as they defied the odds to secure Premier League survival in the 2016/17 season.
They had such no luck a year later as a miserable campaign ended in relegation – with Carroll unfairly made a scapegoat in an unstable side which lacked any kind of battling qualities.
While Carroll started off the 2018/19 season in Graham Potter’s plans, he struggled to maintain his fitness due to a lack of playing time.
That was a disappointment for Carroll as he felt the style of play Potter was implementing would have really suited his own individual technique.
Carroll’s hip was proving to be a major cause for concern. Eyebrows were raised when he secured a deadline day loan switch to Aston Villa, with an option to make the deal permanent.
His stay at Villa Park was quite frankly a nightmare, breaking down after playing just 35 minutes of football.
It was a period in his career which he still finds hard to talk about. He speaks fondly of Dean Smith, whom he feels as though he let down.
“That was a really tough time,” he admitted. “It was probably one of the hardest moments I’ve been through in my career really.
“Dean Smith took me in at a time where I was struggling a bit. I’d already had some hip issues that season at Swansea, so at that stage I was just hoping I was over it.”
Sadly for Carroll his injury ordeal was far from over, and later required surgery to rectify the problem – which he knew was getting worse.
He explained: “I felt it go in the first training session. We had Reading the next day and in the warm up I felt something pull [my hip flexor].
“I was just so gutted and I knew deep down things weren’t really getting any better. I could feel the pain with every pass I took, so something had to be done.
“The whole thing just looked crap on me. I felt like I’d let the manager down as well, he’d put his trust in me by bringing me to the club and then I just broke down.
“I’ve gone there and played 30 odd minutes, the fans are obviously not going to have any nice things to say about me.
“I’m probably a little bit, not a joke to them, but they’re probably thinking, ‘well that was a good signing… he was brilliant wasn’t he?!’
“Mentally that was tough for me, and then to rub salt in the wounds Villa obviously went on and got promoted.”
Following the termination of that loan and successful surgery, Carroll was eager to force his way back into the reckoning at Swansea last summer – and had a new manager in the hotseat to impress.
However, he wasn’t deemed fit enough for selection until the end of September and by that time Steve Cooper had already put down a marker on how he saw his team setting up.
Carroll was given a run in the side during the busy Christmas schedule, but he knew his long-term future ultimately lay away from the Liberty Stadium.
Ironically Carroll’s last-ever appearance in a Swansea shirt came in a 5-1 FA Cup drubbing at the hands of his current employers last January.
With six months left to run on his deal at the Liberty, Carroll and Swansea went their separate ways.
The former England Under-21 international holds no grudges towards his former side though.
Underlining the reasons behind his sudden exit, Carroll said: “It was quite sad how my exit panned out as I enjoyed my time at the club.
“When I left Spurs I started playing really well under Paul Clement and had Nigel Gibbs and [Claude] Makelele as coaches. It was perfect for me.
“The timing was obviously a weird one. I’d have liked it to have ended a lot better than it did, instead of walking out in January halfway through a season.
“I wanted to finish my spell there and try and get back in the side and make things work again after injury, which I was confident of doing.
“It was hard to take not being in the manager’s plans. One way or another he didn’t think I could cover the ground or he didn’t think I was fit enough to play his style of game, something I didn’t agree with.
“In the end it got to a stage where I might have found myself not playing, not training with the [senior] boys and you’ve just got to make a decision and that was that.”
Soon after Carroll started training with Tottenham’s Under-23s to keep fit, before the COVID-19 pandemic halted football across the globe.
Being a free agent made things even harder for him, as Carroll was unable to train with any clubs upon their initial return following the country’s first lockdown.
Finally he found a new club in September, returning to one of his old stomping grounds in QPR following a successful trial.
Carroll has a point to prove back in west London and acknowledges he produced nowhere near his best during his first spell.
The second time around has started far more positively, but it’s safe to say he still hasn’t turned around all QPR fans.
Criticism has arisen on social media, albeit less frequently than previously, but that’s something Carroll pays no attention to.
“That’s why I don’t really bother with social media,” he said. “It’s full of negativity, but I don’t let people’s opinions affect me.
“I’m not one for going on Twitter and getting into arguments. I’d like to think I’m a different player now than what I was then and I’d like to think I’ve matured a lot too.
“Some people won’t change their mind on me and some will. That’s football at the end of the day.”
Throughout his career Carroll has been accused of not being a physical enough presence in midfield, something he still struggles to find the logic behind.
“If you look at my stats I probably cover more distance than most people on the pitch,” he stated.
“If people looked into it properly then they’d probably see me doing a lot more than other players.
“Obviously I’m not going to beat a 6ft 5in lad in the air every time and crunch someone in the tackle – that’s not my game. It’s just a bit of a nothing statement for me.”
So what next for Carroll? Can he get back to the Premier League one day?
He concluded: “I want to make up for lost time. It’s been a tough two or three years personally for me, but I feel like I’ve got a lot of football left in me.
“I still feel like I’m at a good age, I don’t feel like I’m 28. I’m not an old boy on his last legs. I’m still here to do my job.
“There’s still so much I want to do and achieve. As long as I’m enjoying my football I’d love to keep on doing it.”
Carroll has unfinished business at QPR and will be doing his utmost to prove his doubters wrong.
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