Roy Carroll: Carroll answers Old Trafford's No 1 question

The Manchester United goalkeeper who has had more ins and outs than the hokey-cokey tells Sam Wallace he is set on sealing a long-term spot in Sir Alex Ferguson's side
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To understand the story of how Roy Carroll came to be Manchester United's goalkeeper for today's visit of West Bromwich Albion, you first have to put aside the saga of his unsigned contract, the infamous shot he dropped against Tottenham Hotspur and the uncertainty that surrounds his future. You have to discount his error against Milan and the speculation that United will buy another goalkeeper this summer. First of all, you have to wonder at the resilience of the man himself.

To understand the story of how Roy Carroll came to be Manchester United's goalkeeper for today's visit of West Bromwich Albion, you first have to put aside the saga of his unsigned contract, the infamous shot he dropped against Tottenham Hotspur and the uncertainty that surrounds his future. You have to discount his error against Milan and the speculation that United will buy another goalkeeper this summer. First of all, you have to wonder at the resilience of the man himself.

It has not been an easy journey over the last two seasons but that he is set to be in United's first team for the FA Cup final against Arsenal is testament to self-belief in the face of disappointment that would have broken lesser footballers. In last season's final, Carroll first set a boot on the Millennium Stadium turf with just six minutes left, sent on as a substitute as a gesture of thanks from Sir Alex Ferguson. It was a gesture that the goalkeeper appreciated greatly but he had his heart set on getting back into the team. One year on and Carroll has achieved just that.

"That's the way in life, you have to believe in yourself," Carroll says. "If you don't, what's the point of being in the business and being a keeper?" And he should know. Since he took Fabien Barthez's place in the United team two years ago - for the last three games of his side's last title-winning season - Carroll has lost and won back his place from Tim Howard three times. The latest twist came on Sunday when, after nine weeks out, Ferguson recalled him to face Charlton.

Considering the resolve he has shown in fighting for a place at United it was, perhaps, no surprise that Carroll did not pull out of his interview with The Independent. It would have been the easy option. He is in a delicate situation with United, given that he has so far refused to sign a new contract despite being just months away from becoming a free agent. And there is also the question of two high-profile errors he made during the season. Like his predecessor Barthez, Carroll does not chose to speak often, but when he does he is unfailingly honest.

His future centres upon whether he will sign a new contract at United, and on that subject Carroll is unequivocal. He desperately wants to stay at the club that bought him as a raw young talent from Wigan Athletic in July 2001. There has been public encouragement over the last few months from Ferguson to sign the deal that has been offered but the issue, Carroll says, has not affected his relationship with his boss, whom he describes as "a great manager and a great man".

"I'm hoping to be here next season," Carroll says. "We are still talking and people think I have clubs all ready [to sign for] but I haven't, I'm happy to stay here at Manchester United and I want to be here beyond the end of the season. The problem is just little bits and bobs between myself and the club. So we will just see what happens there and, hopefully, it will be done before the end of the season. I'm pretty confident I will be here. I have never wanted to leave here. Why would you want to leave Manchester United? They are a great team and a great bunch of lads. We have great young players. I think we can do a lot in the future."

It is indicative of the sense of humour that the 27-year-old has that he can poke fun at himself even as he stands on the brink of the biggest decision of his career. Rio Ferdinand, that other United contract refusenik, was booed by some supporters at the Valley on Sunday. Carroll got away without any abuse.

"No one has said anything to me," he said with a grin. "Maybe I would rather they did say something. Rio's a big name player and a great defender and he's always going to be in the limelight.

"You understand supporters, it's in the papers and the fans read it and get on the players' backs. But you understand it. At the end of the day Rio is a professional player and he proved on Sunday how good he is. He went to the supporters at the end of the game and clapped them and they clapped him back.

"It's like any job [negotiations], you want to go in there and take your time. You don't want to rush it. That's why I am taking my time. I said to myself I have no need to rush to sign my contract but I have always wanted to stay here. I never wanted to move from Manchester United; I still don't. I hope it is done before then [the end of the season] but if not, [after] the end of the season. No matter what, as long as I sign it."

What United are keen not to lose is a player who, despite the occasional mistake, has shown true character to re-establish himself time and time again as one of the finest all-round goalkeepers in the Premiership. On his day, Carroll has proved unbeatable, as Sparta Prague found in their Champions' League draw at home to United in October.

What has proved his undoing this season was the mistake that contributed to United's Champions' League exit toMilan, when he dropped Clarence Seedorf's shot at the feet of Hernan Crespo in the first leg in February.

"It's hard for keepers to come back in, there's only one spot there," Carroll says. "The one mistake against Milan came after 10 [or] 15 games but that is the keeper's position and the gaffer took me out and put Tim in. That's the way of football, the manager makes the decision about who is going to win the game, he picks the team and that's it. You always think, 'I've done this and I've done that', but you cannot undo it."

Carroll is determined not to pass the blame for the goal that set United on their way out of the Champions' League - "keepers always have excuses, don't they?" - but his point about the new kind of footballs that have been introduced is intriguing. As he says, they have been designed to allow players to "score more goals" and, along with Manuel Almunia and Jerzy Dudek, he has not been the only high-profile goalkeeper to be caught out.

"You see a lot of problems this year for a lot of keepers. Dudek has done it this year," Carroll says. "There have been more mistakes this season than there have ever been in the Premiership. I am only saying my point. They have brought this new ball in to let people score more goals and they have. There's been a lot of goals this season. I think the ball has moved [unpredictably] a lot this season."

His analysis, which, he emphasises, is not intended as an excuse, is that the ball "comes straight at you and then it moves at the last second". It is a point he offers humbly but one he does not use to explain why he dropped Pedro Mendes' lob against Tottenham Hotspur on 4 January.

Although Carroll showed remarkable reactions to scramble the ball out, it had already crossed the line and the fact that the linesman, Rob Lewis, did not give the goal meant that the incident was destined to become the centre of debate for a week.

"I took my eye of that ball because it was coming straight into my arms and I was thinking about the next pass and what I was going to do," Carroll says. "But I carried on. Honest to God, I just put my arm back and carried on and the linesman never gave it. It was a clean sheet at the end of the day.

"I looked at it [on video], and I knew I had taken my eye off the ball. I shouldn't have done that, I should have been concentrating on the ball the whole way. I don't normally watch videos of myself. It's a bad thing to do. You just have to take the good and the bad and get on with it."

Constant television replays and endless discussions over the merits of goal-line technology followed. The continual reruns of the incident could not have made it any easier on Carroll, who says brightly that, as the father of two young children, he barely gets enough time to watch television.

"I just keep working hard in training and get my mind off it," Carroll says. "When I go home I play with the kids, walk the dogs, play golf. Football's No 2 when you go back home. You relax and when you go to training you're ready again."

On United's future Carroll is unswervingly positive. He despairs at the criticism he reads of his manager - "How can anybody give him stick? People have short memories about what he has done" - and he says he has seen Wayne Rooney score a few more goals in training like the one he hit against Newcastle last month. He is passionate in his defence of a United team that has been so uncharacteristically short of goals and criticised for a tendency to play a lone striker in a 3-5-1 formation.

"It's not the formation, we have players who are good enough to play anywhere," Carroll says. "We have been playing the same formation for years. People think we've been playing a 4-4-2 but we haven't. We've played Ruud [Van Nistelrooy] up front and Rooney off him, and played Ruud with [Paul] Scholes playing off him, so it's more 4-4-1-1. But it's not the formation; we are good enough to win any games. We haven't let many in, it's just that we haven't scored at the other end.

"We have got a lot of injuries. We've had Ruud out, Louis [Saha] out and Rooney was out at the start of the season. When we get the players fully fit we have the strikers who can score the goals here - that's it. You can't doubt them, they have proved they can score in any game, especially young Rooney. He's still only 19 and he's got a big future here. [Alan] Smith up front always gives 110 per cent. That's what you need here.

"There is always pressure here. We want to win the Premiership every year. We are disappointed we haven't done it in the last two years. But we will get together next season, work hard and with no injuries we can start off a good campaign next season. This season has been very disappointing for us. We always want to keep the trophies. We won the FA Cup last season and we want to keep that too, but you do have ups and downs."

On Chelsea, Carroll admits that the new champions have done "really well" this season, but makes the point that they did not suffer United's injury problems or the absence of players on international duty at the start of the season.

But that is next season's business, and now the goalkeeper who played in both Premiership defeats of Arsenal this season has turned his mind to the FA Cup final. Beyond that, he has set his heart on staying at Old Trafford.

"When you come here you always want to be first choice goalkeeper, you want to be playing, and if you don't there's something wrong with you," Carroll says. "I just want to end this season playing first-team football and we'll see what happens next season if I am still here. Fingers crossed. We have pre-season to go and you can't relax, whoever is here."

Finders keepers: The battle to keep goal for United

Roy Carroll has been dropped and then reinstated in favour of Tim Howard three times in the last two seasons.

2002-2003

27 April: Carroll takes over from Fabien Barthez for match against Tottenham and plays the last three games in United's title-winning season.

2003-2004

3 August: Tim Howard signed from New York-New Jersey MetroStars. Becomes first choice goalkeeper.

9 March: Howard makes a mistake against Porto, then

United lose 4-1 to Manchester City. Carroll reinstated.

20 April: Carroll dropped; Howard returns against Charlton and holds his place to play in the FA Cup final.

2004-2005

15 September: Howard makes mistake in Champions' League against Lyon. Carroll reinstated.

23 February: Carroll mistake against Milan. Howard reinstated.

24 April: Howard mistake against Newcastle. Carroll reinstated.

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