BRIAN CAREY’S FIRST senior start for the Republic of Ireland came against Wales.
It was February 1993 and Jack Charlton’s side were enjoying a solid World Cup qualifying campaign. They had navigated two tricky away fixtures in Copenhagen and Seville against their Group 3 rivals and remained unbeaten after four games.
Wales stopped by Tolka Park for what was an annual event – the fourth meeting between the sides in four years.
Carey, a towering centre-back who made his name with local side Cork City before earning a move to Old Trafford in 1989, was still registered as a Manchester United player at the time but was on loan at Wrexham.
He was on the fringes of Charlton’s international group and, somewhat crucially, was still 24. At the time, the centre of Ireland’s defence was proving problematic. Mick McCarthy had retired and ageing veterans like Kevin Moran and David O’Leary were creaking towards the exit door too. With another World Cup on the horizon, Charlton needed new blood. Alan Kernaghan and Phil Babb were options – as was Carey.
He featured as an overage player in an U21 game against Switzerland in 1992 and Charlton was watching from the stands. He liked what he saw and gave Carey a first senior cap in a friendly with the US at Lansdowne Road the following month. Still, he had to wait almost twelve months to pull on a green shirt again.
“I was an uncompromising centre-back so I fell into his category of someone who could do the defensive stuff, first and foremost”, Carey says.
“I was rough, rugged, no-nonsense but still very new to the professional game but I got away with it that day and we won 2-1. I was playing alongside David O’Leary at centre-back. He was coming towards the end of his career and I was beginning my international career, if you like. He was there to guide me through but he went off after about 10 minutes – Mark Hughes flattened him, I think – and they brought Roy back to centre-half with me and he showed me how to do it. But it was a bit of a blur, to be honest. Definitely more of a blur now”.
Kevin Sheedy and Tommy Coyne scored that day, cancelling out Hughes’ opener, in front of a crowd of 9,500 on Dublin’s northside.
Though his time in the senior setup was brief, Carey enjoyed Charlton’s ways and outlines how, though the basics were crucial, he was incredibly sharp and insightful when he needed to be.
“It was no-nonsense with Jack. The tactics were very simple and everybody bought into it. There was a formula there that we all followed. Get it forward, don’t put the ball at risk, good starting positions on their goal-kicks, win your headers, win second balls, put their back-four under pressure, continually ask questions of their back-four. Like it or lump it, it was very effective. He was very organised – even down to the nth degree.
And this was the beauty of him and how clever he was. He lined John Sheridan up to take a corner one time. He’d noticed the opposition’s goalkeeper would stand close to the six-yard line – off his goal-line, basically. And Sheridan was that good with his delivery, Charlton got him to line up an out-swinger but cut across the ball and drive it near-post. Kevin Moran arrived and the keeper was stranded. Fantastic detail. Firstly to notice it and then to have a player like Sheridan to deliver it and Kevin scoring from it. But that was the plan. And when people have a plan, they have a greater chance of being successful.
Carey, who knows a thing or two about management and the importance of spirit within a squad, also points to the way Charlton got to his players. In an era of player-power and coaches ‘losing the dressing-room’, Carey’s words almost resonate more when placed in a modern context.
“He treated them like men”. he says.
The game was changing a bit but under Jack the players ran that extra mile, that extra yard for each other. There was a real bond, a real spirit that Jack created. And that’s great management. He brought those players together and created the right environment. He also put the players in a great frame of mind. These lads loved playing for Jack. I scratched the surface of international football and it’s the proudest moment of my life wearing that jersey.
The social side of it was fantastic. I remember he took us to the races and on the way back, there were the lads on the bus singing, ‘We love you Jack, we do’ so then we get off the bus somewhere in the middle of Dublin and head for a pint”.
Carey continued to be on the periphery but a competitive appearance would elude him. He got close – very close – but not close enough. He had joined Brian Little’s Division 1 side Leicester City in late-1993 but Charlton decided against bringing him to the World Cup the following summer.
“We had the qualifier in Belfast against Northern Ireland”, Carey remembers.
“Myself and Phil Babb were numbers 19 and 20 in the squad that day so we weren’t on the bench. But we were in the dugout – just sitting there and getting abuse up in Windsor Park!
I was fourth or fifth choice centre-half with Jack. So, when the announcement came it wasn’t a big surprise. I did play the last warm-up game in the March against Russia at Lansdowne Road. There was a corner and I smashed a half-volley but someone blocked it on the line so maybe if that had gone in things would’ve been different! I was just the type to get on with it, really. I can’t honestly say that I had a plan to get in the World Cup squad. I wasn’t thinking like that. It was just about getting ready for the next game”.
Carey would never represent Ireland again after that but he continued playing right up until 2005 – a three-year stint at Filbert Street with the Foxes (where he was part of their promotion to the Premier League in 1994) and then a return to Wrexham, where he remained either as a captain, coach or manager for 15 years.
In 2008, he took over as assistant boss at the Racecourse when Dean Saunders arrived. The pair developed an understanding over their three years together in the Conference and when Championship side Doncaster came calling, Saunders couldn’t resist – and neither could Carey.
There was relegation in their first season, followed by an instant return and by January 2013, the club was top of the Championship table. Wolves, who were struggling, started sniffing around and pinpointed Saunders and Carey as their desired transfer-window targets. The deal was a rolling one-year contract. But when Wolves went down five months later, Saunders and Carey were sacked: a fifth managerial dismissal in 15 months.
Carey took a step back, invested some more time in personal business projects and was hired by Blackburn as a development coach. But when League One outfit Chesterfield sought the services of Saunders in the summer of 2015, he wanted Carey as his assistant once again. He agreed but it proved another chaotic environment.
Two-year contracts were signed but, after just six months, Saunders was sacked and Carey went with him.
And that’s when he cut the chord and began to devote his experience and expertise to his own company: Sporting Referrals.
“When Chesterfield happened, I just thought, ‘I’ve had enough of this’”, he says.
“People at Wolves and Chesterfield gave me a job for a couple of seasons and after three or four or six months decided, ‘Actually, you no longer have a job’. I just got fed up. And I wanted anything where I had a bit more control. At the same time, I had been down in Portugal and Spain and spoke to some people there. They said, ‘Here are our facilities – if you know anyone who wants to use them, let us know’.
Over the years, a lot of teams came across from Ireland, predominantly, and they’ve been stuck. They’ll forever say to me, ‘Can you organise a game for us?’ Or, ‘Can you take a coaching session for us?’ Or, ‘Can we come to Blackburn?’ Or, ‘Can we come to Wrexham?’ It may have been a schools team or whatever and I’d accommodate them. But over the last few years as well, you’ve had some companies absolutely ripping off these kids, overcharging them completely and it was costing them a fortune to go away on trips. What you had was non-football people organising football trips but unable to bring the kids into clubs, unable to get them good quality fixtures. That’s what I’ve been doing all my life. So, over the last year or 18 months, I’ve worked with professional teams, professional organisations. I have a group from Sweden coming over shortly. I’ve just worked with a school from Belfast last month. I had Dundalk down in Portugal in February. I had Cork City and Dundalk there last June. So, there have been all sorts onto me – just looking for that little bit extra that I can probably get for them”.
Carey isn’t completely gone from the cut and thrust of club football, though. He’s a First Team scout for Tottenham – a job that takes him up and down the UK and Europe every week. When we chat, he’s on his way back home from St. George’s Park having watched England take on Norway in an U-19 fixture.
“I was in Germany last week for four days and Denmark the week before and I’ve been able to combine both jobs so far”, he says.
“I really enjoy both, to be honest. I’m not too sure what will happen in the next while. But it’s been very enjoyable and successful and it’s been busy. So long may it continue. In other words, if a coaching opportunity came up tomorrow would I jump ship and go back? The answer to that would be ‘no’. In terms of Sporting Referrals, I’m in charge at the moment and I needed that – after so many years of relying on everyone else.
I met someone today who has just been sacked and he just said to me, ‘It’s amazing – my phone has just stopped ringing’. He’s no longer in a job so people don’t call him anymore – agents, people wanting something off him. He’s been out of work for about five or six months now.
I meet more and more people that are looking at it and are saying, ‘I wouldn’t go back into it if another opportunity comes along’. Like, everybody loves the game. But the other side of the industry is crap. Very often it’s run by – and this is my experience – people who don’t have a plan. And they think they can do it themselves. And they don’t rely on people who have spent, maybe, 20 or 30 years in football. They have been successful in business for 10 minutes and think they know better. Everybody has an opinion about football. And they’re entitled to those opinions. But surely the guy who has been doing it for 25 or 30 years has more of an idea? Like, if you needed a lawyer tomorrow, you wouldn’t employ them and then tell him how to do their job. You wouldn’t dream of doing it.
Carey discusses the clubs doing it in the right way, those with some clear objectives mapped out: Southampton in the Premier League and Huddersfield in the Championship.
“Huddersfield is a fantastic example that’s floating under the radar, I think, of a team that’s making some real noise”, he says.
“Stuey Webber – a good friend of mine – is running it and along with the manager David Wagner and the owner, they’re all in it together. It’s just a fantastic success story. What they’re doing in comparison to some other clubs out there is just incredible. And that shows the strength of the partnership they have there. No one panics if they haven’t won in a few games because they have a plan. And they’ve all bought into it”.
So, when he is at one of Europe’s best-known arenas and grading some of the world’s best talent, does he think back to those days on a touchline with his head in his hands after watching his side concede from another set-piece? And, in a dysfunctional way, does he yearn for those days?
“I haven’t missed the nonsense and relying on some guy who doesn’t want to track back”, he says.
“But I must admit I was at a couple of Bundesliga games last week and I thought, ‘Wow, this is incredible – I miss the atmosphere’. It was just a moment where I thought, ‘This is amazing to be involved in this’. But I haven’t overtly missed it up to that point. Overall, I’m going to continue with this for as long as I can and that’s where all the energy is going right now”.