Carlisle still believes
Skysports.com caught up with Burnley's Clarke Carlisle, who talked about life in the top flight.
By James Riach
Last Updated: 17/10/09 1:36pm
Often dubbed 'the most intelligent man in football', Burnley defender Clarke Carlisle is someone with a point to prove.
In a career that has so far seen him don the shirts of six Football League clubs, he is now in the place where he always dreamt he would be - the Premier League.
The 29-year-old centre-half did play in the top-flight during Watford's infamous 2006/07 campaign, when they finished rock-bottom with a miserly total of 28 points, but Carlisle made his season debut when the Hornets had already been condemned to relegation.
This term, however, we see a man who is playing his football with a renewed optimism, after a series of serious career setbacks.
Well-documented personal problems blighted his early career, with Carlisle being admitted to Tony Adams's Sporting Chance clinic to battle an alcohol-related problem in 2004, while a number of injuries have hampered his progress on the pitch.
It may have been a long road to where he is now with Burnley, who have made a solid start to life in the Premier League, but he has never given up hope of making it to the top.
"This is the reason why you stayed up until your mum called you in at 9 o'clock at night playing football in the dark," he told skysports.com thanks to EA SPORTS FIFA 10.
"This is why you practised all the skills, why you loved playing in the school team and in the age groups above you, because you wanted to be playing against the best players in the world who are currently resided in the Premier League.
"I always hoped that I would get another shot at the top flight, when you're playing your football in the Championship you know it's just one good season away from you.
"But the difference between hoping something happens and when that hope actually comes to fruition - they're so far apart and so far removed. When it did occur it was such a wonderful day and I'm revelling in every minute of it."
The Clarets were an outside tip for relegation from the Championship at the start of last season, but surprised everyone as they won promotion through the play-offs, while also reaching the Carling Cup semi-finals and the FA Cup fifth round.
The Preston-born stopper is overjoyed with the form of his current side, and is loving being a part of Burnley's return to the top flight.
"The last time I played in the Premier League with Watford it was a bittersweet occasion because we were already relegated, but it was obviously a box I could tick on my CV that I've played in the Premier League," he said.
"This time around it's just so different. Being part of the campaign that obviously won promotion and then playing in a team that's battling at a competitive edge every week really does fulfil your dreams and ambitions.
"We're delighted with our start, especially with the doom and gloom merchants pre-season who expected us to have one or two points at this stage. But I think that was the opinion outside of the football club.
"Within the football club we always knew we had enough quality and competitive edge to get results in the division and we're glad that the results have shown that.
"Even to the extent where we actually believe we could have done better in certain games. Losing four games on the road is testament to that but we believe that in those games we could have done even better."
Having played in the Championship for a number of seasons, there are some who may have questioned whether Carlisle would ever be a regular performer in the Premier League.
But performances this term have shown that he can cut it with the best of the best, although he does admit that he has to up his game every time he takes to the field.
"There are a lot of differences to the Championship," he added. "As a defender I feel that when you are in possession of the ball you have a lot more time on the ball. I don't think it's as end-to-end as the Championship, but any single mistake you make is almost certain to end in a goal.
"The attackers are of such, such quality that they're asking questions of you every minute of the game. There's no lull in the game - the players are so positionally and tactically aware that they take up positions in the park where you have to question your existence!
"Robbie Keane asked the most questions of us without doubt. In that game (when Spurs beat Burnley 5-0) he took up such intelligent positions where I knew going and staying with him would leave a big hole for the rest of the defenders.
"He asked a lot of questions and I'm sure he won't be the last to ask these questions but as a defender it's about learning and growing and trying to find the answers to these questions."
Yes, the Clarets have been on the receiving end of a few thrashings so far this season, at the hands of Chelsea, Liverpool and Spurs, but as Carlisle puts it - which teams are expected to go to Stamford Bridge, Anfield and White Hart Lane and get anything from the game?
In Owen Coyle's first spell as a manager in English football, he has turned a team from the lower echelons of the Championship into a dangerous Premier League outfit, and Carlisle was quick to lavish praise on his manager.
He said: "He's done a fantastic job and his record speaks for itself. In his first full season he's taken a team of relegation favourites to promotion and a League Cup semi-final, an FA Cup fifth round and now we're in the Premier League.
"For any manager that would be an achievement but for Owen Coyle and his first job in English football I think it's a magnificent feat.
"Especially when outside of the club it would appear that the team is over-achieving. Well to get a team to over-achieve on a weekly basis must be a good thing."
Asked whether he would ever be tempted to trade his boots for a manager's cap in the future, he issued a stark response.
"That is a definite 100 per cent no!" he said. "I would not like to have the fate of my job resting on 11 other men on a weekly basis. I don't think there would be anything more frustrating than knowing that somebody could do a job but they're not doing it on a Saturday. I'd be ripping what little hair I've got out."
A shame that such a tactically astute figure will not be testing his wits from the touchline in years to come, but for now, he is just enjoying his time at the top.
"We just need to make sure that within the context of our own squad and our own belief that nothing changes - just like Rudyard Kipling said - 'You treat success and failure like the imposters that they are' - and maintaining a level head and a level performance is what we're after."
Clarke Carlisle will appear in EA SPORTS FIFA 10, out now on all formats. For further information, please visit www.easports.co.uk/fifa