The notion of Manchester United's millionaire footballers cycling into training at Carrington sounds almost as fanciful as Santa and his sleigh but for former Old Trafford goalkeeper Roy Carroll it is a daily reality at Odense, the Danish club he currently calls home.
The Northern Irishman sees his team-mates bike to work each morning, even when the chill of the Scandinavian winter has him reaching for the car keys. "I did have a bike and it was nice in the summer – getting on your bicycle and going to work," he says. "Some of the lads still do. You see them riding in the morning with gloves and hats and jackets on because it is so cold. The roads are all icy and the safest way to travel is by bike because the bike lanes are well looked after."
But describing his move as "life in the slow lane" is harsh on Carroll, who headed to Denmark in search of a fresh start after stints at West Ham United and Derby County – in the wake of leaving Old Trafford – became shrouded with disappointment and controversy.
When Carroll joined Odense in summer 2009 after a cost-cutting clear-out at Pride Park, he left with a perception, however unfair, that he was "damaged goods". At West Ham, where an injury denied him an FA Cup final appearance in 2006 and left him at a low ebb, he had a short stay at the Capio Nightingale Hospital in London amid reported gambling and drinking problems.
"The situation that came out in the papers was blown out of all proportion," he says, looking back. "I should have really spoken to the press straight away afterwards but I did not and a lot of people in England still think about that. A lot of footballers get into trouble but always get a second chance, and you just want that second chance and hopefully things can work out.
"It was four years ago now and it's a long way in the past and I am looking to the future now." Unfortunately, things "went downhill" at Derby, where he tasted relegation and was then sent off in a Championship game at Norwich City in October 2008 that attracted allegations of match-fixing. Though unfounded, he says: "the papers came out with some ridiculous things – they didn't mention my name but were going down that route."
He remains hopeful, though, that his reputation has not been harmed. "Anybody who knows me will know what kind of person I am," he says. "I think top managers understand about football players and they know what's true and what's not true."
Fortunately, Carroll's appetite for football is undiminished. When Derby showed him the door, he opted to leave his wife and children at home in London for the opportunity of regular football. "It was mid-August and the English league was already starting so it was too late for me to get an English team. Instead of sitting on the bench or sitting in the stand for six months, I decided to come over."
He chose Denmark ahead of an offer in Greece because "they all speak really good English" and by last Christmas had done enough to earn the Goalkeeper of the Year award for 2009. He went on to help Odense qualify for the Europa League and headed home for the winter break last week with the club second in the Danish Super League behind Chelsea's next Champions' League opponents, Copenhagen.
Carroll was on the receiving end of a 5-0 drubbing by the Danish champions in October and believes they should not be underestimated. "They are the underdogs and the type of team that will go out there and battle hard. They have a lot of good players in the team and are very quick. Copenhagen can score goals and they drew at home to Barcelona, but I think Chelsea are good enough to win."
If Scandinavian footballers can seemingly adjust almost seamlessly to the English game, how has Carroll found the process in reverse? "The culture over here is different, the Danish players, win, lose or draw, come in for training and it's a different day. But if I lose, I've got a sore head for the next three days. I am Irish, and when I was at West Ham and we lost I'd come home and not speak to my wife. But I've got used to that and am more relaxed now."
He has also faced the problem posed by different clubs using different balls. "Every team has to play with their own sponsored balls – it could be adidas one week, Puma the next. It is a bit difficult for keepers because each ball is different but running up to a game we get the balls and try to get used to them as quickly as possible."
Another curiosity of Carroll's stay at Odense is that he was briefly a colleague of Manchester Utd's new Danish goalkeeper, Anders Lindegaard. When Carroll arrived at Odense, he took the place of the injured Lindegaard and remained No 1 when the Dane regained fitness. "When I came he had a knee injury, and then he could not get back in the team," he said. Lindegaard duly joined the Norwegian side Aalesund before sealing a move to Old Trafford last month.
If Peter Schmeichel has raised doubts about his compatriot's suitability for United, Carroll, who played 72 times for the club from 2001-05, speaks highly of the 26-year-old. "I trained with him for two weeks and in those two weeks I saw a lot from him. He is a young lad, he is sharp, he has got an old man's head on his shoulders. I don't think he will be overawed by United, he made his debut for Denmark against Portugal and did fantastically well. He has played a few more games now for Denmark and is rated very highly. He is a big lad and comfortable with the ball at his feet. As long as he keeps his feet on the floor and listens to Sir Alex Ferguson, I think he will go places."
Carroll is still determined to go places too – his Christmas wish is for a return to English football when the transfer window reopens. "Hopefully if anything happens in January I can come back and prove a point in England. I am playing football again but I am missing a lot of things back in England, the culture of English football, playing in front of 20,000 every week. I am 33 so I am hoping I've got six or seven years left. Look at David James before he went to Bristol City, he was still playing at the top level at 40. Look at Brad Friedel. It is all about my mind and my body, and keeping going. I know I haven't got long left and you have to try and enjoy every day you can in football."Reuse content