Jesse Carver is 90 and living in Bournemouth. The discovery delighted and fascinated me. For so many years now l'd wondered what had happened to this gifted and enigmatic figure, beyond doubt one of the outstanding coaches since the war, a salient figure in Italian football who could and should surely have become as prominent and influential in his native England.
My mind goes back especially to a meeting in the foyer of the Hotel Quirinale in Rome early in 1955, the year in which l'd last seen Carver, then manager of Roma. At the time, I was a 23-year-old, working largely for the Corriere Dello Sport, and on the day in question he told me he was to meet the FA secretary, Sir Stanley Rous. Why didn't I come along? It might do me some good.
Rous stood there, massive and imposing, greeting Carver. I asked him if he'd had a good journey. "Yes, yes, yes," he said brusquely. "Who are you?" and showed scant interest when I told him. Probably just as well, since in my perceived insignificance, I was no barrier to what followed - the offer to Carver of the managership of England's team. "It's about time we brought Walter into the office," said Rous. Walter, of course, being Walter Winterbottom, first England manager, whose reign would last, remarkably, from 1946 to 1962.
I cannot remember what Carver said to me about it afterwards, but he didn't take the bait. All the more mysterious was that, at the end of the season, with Roma in an honourable third place in Serie A, he should agree to manage Coventry City, then in the Third Division (South), and take George Raynor with him from rivals Lazio as his assistant. It seemed a classical case of over-egging the pudding and it was hardly surprising that it didn't last.
Carver struck gold in his very first Italian season, winning the scudetto with Juventus in 1950. A year later, he was sacked, the victim of journalistic betrayal. In an interview with the Gazzetta Dello Sport, he criticised the club's directors, assuming it was off the record. Fatal. The criticisms appeared in print, and Carver was out. This no doubt explained why his contract when at Roma forbade him to give interviews.
As a player, Carver was a centre-half with Blackburn Rovers, Newcastle United, where he came close to an England cap, and Bury. During the war he served in the police force. After it, he became assistant trainer at Huddersfield Town, but eagerly took the chance to manage the Xerces club of Rotterdam, then a leading Dutch team.
Carver had great success with Xerces, so much so that he was approached to take over the Dutch national team, his club reluctantly agreeing. He did well there, too, but left without much warning. This would become something of a pattern until at last Carver ran out even of Italian clubs; but how many of them there would be! It was when he was managing Torino, then still devastated by the Superga air crash of 1949, which had wiped out a whole team, that I first met Carver, in a small hotel in Florence.. He did what he could for Torino, then it was off to Rome. And from Rome to Coventry.
It was not long, however, before the Englishman was back in Italy. Arriving at Ciampino Airport in Rome, the Carvers were met by Count Vaselli, by then the president of Lazio, due in time to go bust as a builder. He presented Mrs Carver (still vigorously alive at 87!) with a bouquet of roses. But instead of signing for Lazio, Jesse flew north to Milan and joined Inter. "The thorns," II Calcio Illustrato wryly captioned its photo of the presentation, "were for Lazio."
But Lazio forgave and forgot. Back to Rome Carver would eventually come, to take charge of them, moving on in time to run both Genoa and Sampdoria There was also, in his Italian saga, a spell with the lesser Marzotto club, Owned by the wealthy Count Marzotto.
Eventually, Carver returned to England and became, very briefly, a coach at Tottenham Hotspur. Then, tantalisingly, he vanished off football's radar screen. The word was that he retired to Bournemouth and it was there in fact that I at last traced him, although there had been a spell when the Carvers lived in Newquay. How sad it was to hear that this sturdy, rubicund and vigorous man, as one had known him, is now frail and infirm. Not the man who would keep ultra healthy in the dressing-rooms of the old Stadio Torino, tended by a masseur, and even a manicurist who had once served Mussolini.
What would have happened, I wonder, if he had accepted Rous's offer? Perhaps he reflected that, at the time, the manager was subordinated to the whims of a panel of selectors, club directors. He had to do what he could with whatever team the butchers, bakers and candlestick-makers handed him, after their wranglings. Carver would hardly have stood for that. He had left jobs for less. I do wish that, at least, he had gone on working in England, but he was always his own, slightly secretive, man. I wish him well.
This article originally appeared in World Soccer, August 2001. Jesse Carver sadly died in November 2003, aged 92.