When Arsenal travel to Olympiakos in the final game of the Champions League group stages tonight, they may well be greeted by a familiar face between the opposing sticks at the Karaiskákis stadium. Roy Carroll, the former Wigan, Manchester United, West Ham and Derby man, has installed himself as first choice keeper at the Greek champions this season, having earned cult status following a remarkable ten months at the club. His move from the Premiership to Greek Super League has been far from straightforward, but not half entertaining…
An obvious place to start is ‘that’ goal that never was at Old Trafford in 2005. On a cold January night, a drab affair between United and Spurs came to life when, in the ninetieth minute, a 45-yard Pedro Mendes effort was somehow fumbled over the line by Carroll, only for the linesman to adjudge it had not. The incident caused a furore amongst the technophiles but also cost Roy his place in the side and, although he was offered a new contract by Sir Alex Ferguson, he left in the summer in the search of first-team football.
After leaving Old Trafford he signed for West Ham where his off-the-field problems began to emerge; alcohol and gambling saw him seek counselling enter rehab, and he was soon on the move again. Spells followed at Rangers and Derby County where, following relegation to the Championship, he left England and an extraordinary period was about to begin.
Firstly he joined Danish side Odense BK and despite playing just 14 games for the top-flight outfit, he managed to earn the Goalkeeper of the year award in 2009. However he left the club the following season to be closer to his family. In March 2011, in a notorious trial at Sheffield United, he conceded twice in the first ten minutes before giving away a penalty and being sent off, all still in the first half. The Blades had seen enough. It was around this time that Barcelona’s interest also faded. But, as you probably assumed, within six weeks he would become a record-breaking, lower-league manager. During another trial at Barnet, he took co-charge of the team in the absence of the estranged Giuliano Grazioli in the prestigious Hertfordshire Senior Cup final, and, following a 2-1 victory, achieved the bizarre feat of winning a trophy in his only ever game as a manager. Despite this, disputes meant a deal never materialised and by August he had moved abroad again, to the country he now calls home.
He signed for OFI Crete in August 2011 and soon established himself as one of the best keepers in the league, which did not go unnoticed at champions Olympiakos, who snapped him up in the January transfer window. The script that followed verged once again on the unbelievable. In a Europe League tie away at Rubin Kazan in Moscow, first-choice goalkeeper Balázs Megyeri was sent off, meaning Carroll was brought on for his debut. With his first-touch of his Olympiakos tenure, he saved the resulting penalty that meant his new side went on to win the match 1-0. In the return leg, he suffered a hamstring injury but, with Megyeri suspended and only a rookie goalkeeper on the bench, the home fans urged him to continue and he went on to make a string of stunning saves ‘on one leg’ to see his side through and enter Roy Carroll into Oympiakos folklore.
They proved to be Carroll’s only two games of last season as Olympiacos went on to win their domestic league. This year, however, he has wrestled back the number one jersey and his side sit top of the table once more, with the meanest defence in the league. It marks an astonishing reversal of fortunes for the Northern-Irishman and once more exemplifies the crazy side of the beautiful game; Arsene Wenger may need to take note.