In the summer of 2006 Kevin Blackwell, looking to build on the disappointing play off final defeat to Watford, signed the French winger Seb Carole from Brighton & Hove Albion.
Seb was born in Pontoise, France on the 8th of September 1982. He joined AS Monaco as a 14 year old schoolboy and by the age of 19 he had made his first team debut. Having played in the Champions League and UEFA Cup, he signed for West Ham United in a loan deal but after a frustrating three month spell he returned to his homeland.
In the summer of 2005, Seb returned to England when he signed a two year deal with Brighton where he made 42 appearances but with the club finishing bottom of the Championship, Seb’s relegation release clause was triggered and he was soon on his way north to sign for Leeds United:
“Once I knew of Leeds’ interest I couldn’t turn down the opportunity I was offered. I knew all about the club and although they had lost in the previous seasons play off final, I wanted to go there and help get them go one stage further and realise my dream of playing Premier League football .”
Seb and Leeds did get out of the Championship but unfortunately, after a turbulent season, it was through the trap door to League One. Two seasons in England and Seb had finished bottom of the Championship in both of them!
“It was unbelievable. Never did I envisage relegation with Leeds United but due to bad management off the field and some poor personalities on the field, the unthinkable happened.
“I have to say that I thought the first mistake was to sack Blackwell. We beat Norwich on the opening day and followed that up with a draw away at Queens Park Rangers in a game we should have won. We then lost three of the next four games by a 1-0 scoreline with all the goals coming late in the games before we suffered a heavy home defeat to a resurgent Sunderland side.
“Kevin paid for that poor run when he was shown the door but he should have been given more time. I was very disappointed for him as he had brought me into the club, introduced me into his way of playing and I was happy to be involved.”
John Carver was placed in temporary charge whilst the club sought a replacement and that proved disastrous for the new man:
“I honestly do not know what Carver was trying to do. His methods and formations he played were very strange.
“We were due to play Birmingham at Elland Road and on the day before the game he told me that he would be resting me, I was gobsmacked. The season was in its infancy; I had started four games and had come off the bench in the other five. I was 23 years old and didn’t need a rest.”
The next time that Seb would be involved in a game was the 25th of November away at Plymouth when he came off the bench in a 2-1 win.
“Dennis Wise had come in towards the end of October and he openly admitted that he didn’t fancy me. The club were already down at the bottom end of the league and his first impressions of me was that I was a lazy Frenchman who wasn’t up for a battle, He wanted fighters and I was left to train with the youth players, completely out of the first team picture.
“I soon proved him wrong and I was back in the squad. I had rolled my sleeves up and worked hard. He was man enough to apologise and we got on with the job. For that, I have a lot of time for Dennis Wise and his assistant Gus Poyet.”
By the end of January, Wise had brought in some new faces and the side that travelled across the M62 to play Hull City was very different to the one that had opened the season back in August.
Leeds went into the game 23rd in the Championship table, level on points and the same goal difference as Southend, who occupied the bottom place due to the fact they had scored fewer goals.
Inspired by Alan Thompson, Leeds won 2-1 at the KC Stadium but remarkably, Southend won 3-1 away at second place Birmingham and Leeds slipped to the bottom of the table:
“It was demoralising. We had picked up three vital points but was left scratching our heads wondering what the hell we had to do to get out of the mess we were in.
“We had some quality in the dressing room but things weren’t going to plan, no matter what we tried to do.”
Leeds won just five of their remaining games and by the time they took to the field at Derby on the final day of the season they were relegated and had been placed into administration. The club was in complete disarray and nobody knew what lied ahead:
“I had options to go back to the Championship or return to France but I didn’t want either. Behind the scenes it was chaos but I was desperate to stay and help Leeds get back up.
“We travelled to Germany for a pre-season tour and several players joined up with the squad having agreed terms but were unable to sign, or pick up wages, due to the on-going issues. It was a real pleasure to be out there and a real siege mentality was created.”
On the eve of the new season, Leeds were informed by the Football League that they would be granted the ‘golden share’ but at the expense of a 15 point deduction:
“To be honest, that announcement made us stronger and more determined. We couldn’t wait for the season to start and claw our way up the league.”
Leeds kicked off their first ever campaign in footballs third tier at Tranmere Rovers and Seb, an unused substitute, sat on the bench and witnessed Tresor Kandol scored a late winner. Minus 15 had become minus 12:
“That was a magical moment and it was followed by Dennis getting us into a huddle at the final whistle. A few celebratory words were exchanged and that became customary, home and away, as victory followed victory.
“Everybody, including the players not in the matchday squad, felt a part of the unique situation we found ourselves in. Training was fantastic and the football club was very much on the up just weeks after a near meltdown.”
After eight successive wins, seven in the league, Leeds travelled to Gillingham on the 29th of September and it was there that the run would end despite Seb scoring his first Leeds goal in a 1-1 draw:
“We looked on that as a ‘victory’ due to the fact that we had been reduced to nine men when the referee sent off our two strikers, Jermaine (Beckford) and TK (Tresor Kandol).”
The goal, a rare header, was a memorable moment for the diminutive wing man:
“Dennis had told me where to position myself in certain situations but on this occasion I ignored him and got myself into the box. The gamble paid off and he thanked me afterwards.”
Remarkably, despite the points deduction and the loss of Gus Poyet, who joined Tottenham, Leeds found themselves, briefly, top of the table on Boxing Day after a 1-1 draw in an early kick off at Hartlepool:
“We really believed in Dennis and his methods and we were convinced we would go on and win the league. Looking back I suppose we got too confident and that eventually caught up with us.
“Gus had moved on and with that we lost some of the freedom we had been given on the pitch. Dave Bassett’s ideas were totally different and some of us struggled to adapt to his style of play. I tried something different in an away game and when we got into the dressing room at half time he tore strips off me and asked me if I thought I was Ronaldhino!
"We had a bad run and Dennis himself started to show some weaknesses and eventually he decided to leave and was replaced by Gary McAllister.
“Gary is a good guy and although he encouraged me, he never picked me in his starting line up but he spurred the lads up and after a good run of results we reached the play off final.”
It was on the eve of the game that Seb suffered a huge disappointment:
“I had come on as a sub in the semi final, 1st leg, defeat to Carlisle United at Elland Road and had been an unused sub in the away leg but McAllister delivered a knock-out blow as we prepared for the Wembley showdown.
“He informed me that he would be adopting a defensive approach. He wanted us to go 1-0 up, defend the lead and get promotion and as a result he gave Alan Sheehan, who had been suspended, my place on the bench.
“I was devastated and although I tried to put my case forward, there was no changing the manager’s mind and there was nothing I could say or do.”
Seb Carole had kicked his final ball in a Leeds shirt:
“I was in Paris during the summer and with a year left on my current Leeds deal I was looking forward to going back but McAllister rung me and advised that he would not stand in my way if I could get a deal elsewhere.
“I wanted desperately to stay but the club were keen to move me on and after a short spell with Darlington I returned south to Brighton & Hove Albion.”
These days Seb runs his own soccer school and coaches youngsters from the age of 9 years old. He’s also aiming to earn the full array of coaching badges whilst not completely ruling out a return to playing:
“I have kept myself in good shape and I’m still only 31 so if the right opportunity came along, I would consider it.”
Seb Carole looks back on his time at Leeds with mixed memories and when I asked him about the top three players he played with at Elland Road, he didn’t dwell on giving me the names:
“Eirik Bakke was fantastic. When I joined he was soon on his way out due to the financial situation, but you could see how much ability he had.
“Robbie Blake. A great player, so much talent, great on the ball and Jermaine Beckford for all the goals he scored."
Thank you to Seb Carole for giving me his time and the opportunity to write this article.