Leeds United: Carayol had big learning curve under Evans at Crawley

Mustapha Carayol.
Mustapha Carayol.
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There is a famous video, or infamous video, of certain Crawley Town players celebrating the end of Steve Evans’ reign as manager in 2012.

When asked why it was that his creditable time there resulted in such acrimony, Evans called himself “hard, fair and honest”.

Mustapha Carayol, who made his earliest senior appearances under Evans at Broadfield, has a higher opinion of the coach he linked up with again at Leeds United last week. Crawley for Carayol was the first stage of his education and his first experience of Evans’ bullish style.

“I’ve come back for part two,” he said after moving to Leeds on loan from Middlesbrough.

The Gambian winger was a teenager with MK Dons and hanging about on the fringes of their squad when he dropped into non-league in 2007. Evans blooded him fully and set Carayol on a steady route through the Football League. Via Torquay, Lincoln and Bristol Rovers, Carayol earned a transfer to Middlesbrough in the same year that Evans left Crawley for Rotherham.

The 27-year-old remembers “a big learning curve” at Crawley; the “canings” in the dressing room and the culture shock for a “chilled-out player.”

Evans does not back himself to win many popularity contests but Carayol is a footballer with plenty of time for him.

“It was an interesting experience and I’ve come back for part two,” Carayol said. “I’ve got a good relationship with him and he’s a manager who really understands me. As an attacking player, that gives you confidence to go out, perform and not worry about what the manager thinks of you.

“Crawley was my first taste of men’s football and it was obviously a big learning curve. I had good days, bad days and I had some days where he absolutely caned me in the changing room. But it made me the man that I am today and I’m thankful for that.

“The main thing is having a manager who backs you and actually wants you to do well, instead of going out on the pitch and thinking ‘I have to do this, I have to do that’ and always looking over to see if he’s happy. If a manager puts full faith in me then I’m likely to perform to my best.

“With Steve, you’ve got to put 100 per cent passion in and if you don’t put passion in you ain’t going to play. I’m a real chilled-out player so it took some getting used to. For me it’s okay now and it felt comfortable on the first day I was in (with Leeds) on Friday.”

It felt better on Saturday afternoon when Carayol marked his debut with a raking goal against Rotherham, turning a gritty FA Cup tie in Leeds’ favour. Evans said afterwards that he wanted Carayol to “inject some pace” into his team and his new signing emerged with much credit. At face value, Carayol looked stocky and powerful by a winger’s standards; a physique in the mould of Michail Antonio rather than the slight frame of someone like Sam Byram.

Evans said he asked his owner, Massimo Cellino, for Carayol’s signature last Thursday night and had the deal done before Friday lunchtime.

“I left it to the president and it was done in a matter of hours,” Evans said. “If a deal’s there to be done then it will be done.”

United’s head coach has a certain style about him. He is honest to a fault, abrasive but utterly engaged in his job and performing as well as Leeds could have expected at this stage. Carayol said he had seen Evans in full, explosive mode many times.

“You don’t want to know about that,” he joked, “and I can’t even tell you the things he says. But I don’t really take anything personally.

“I take it on the chin and obviously I try and stay away from the hairdryer. He did break me a few times and me and him have laughed about it, but it made me the person I am. It made me thick-skinned.”

Leeds are a club where staff need thick skin, at every level of the club. They are trapped in a perpetual mix of frustration and hope, a feeling which the week ahead could make Carayol understand quickly.

United are unbeaten in eight games and in the running for the play-offs but they will be far adrift if tomorrow’s visit to sixth-placed Ipswich Town and Saturday’s match at seventh-placed Sheffield Wednesday yield poor results.

It is equally true that two big performances could change the complexion of the Championship completely.

Carayol’s arrival gives Evans options in his position at Portman Road tomorrow. The Gambian started on the left wing against Rotherham with Byram on the right, but Stuart Dallas was named on the bench with the intention of starting fresh against Ipswich. It remains to be seen if Carayol’s debut keeps him in the side.

“Every game from now until the end of the season is going to be a really tough game,” Carayol said. “We’ve got to go out 100 per cent positive and try to win every game to have any chance of making the top six. I’ll be really glad if we can come out of Ipswich with a positive result.

“If we can stay on this good run then we definitely stand a chance but obviously the first big test is Ipswich.

“If we get a win then I know a lot of people will be talking about play-offs a little bit more so let’s just concentrate on that.”

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