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The Matt Lawton interview: Turner's prize for the hardest start

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24 Mar 2011 19:59:52

The Matt Lawton interview: Turner's prize for the hardest start

One minute he's sitting his school exams, the next he's marking the world's most expensive footballer. But Michael Turner was not Charlton's answer to Wayne Rooney. He was a gangly 16-year-old on a six-month exchange to Inter Milan and was no match for the hulking figure of Christian Vieri. 'We lost 7-0,' he says. For a young centre half from south-east London, the experience was nevertheless incredible.  All smiles: Michael Turner is enjoying life at Sunderland Inter had sent two boys to Eltham in exchange for two promising members of Charlton's academy. It's fair to say the boys from Charlton got the better deal. Lake Como, Inter's training ground, a first team packed with superstars. Vieri had signed from Lazio the previous year, for a then world record ?28million. A fortune even now but a staggering sum in June 1999. 'It was brilliant,' recalls a player now at Sunderland and giving this interview while enjoying a spot of lunch in a local Italian restaurant. 'They put us in a hostel at their academy. Clarence Seedorf's younger brother, Chedric, was there. A lad from Nigeria I still keep in touch with. He's playing in Switzerland now. And about a week after getting there we're told we're playing the first team at the training ground.' And what a team it was. 'Vieri and Recoba up front, Seedorf (Clarence) in midfield, Zanetti,' says Turner. 'Great players, great day. We got absolutely hammered. I forget how many goals Vieri scored. Six I think. He was a beast. I remember ringing home and telling my mates about it. 'I learned so much out there. The Italians do a lot of things differently. At the academy we'd study in the morning and train in the afternoon. And a few times we got to train with the first team. Just amazing.' Even his mum was impressed, and Carole Turner is no stranger to sporting glamour. Well, she's Surrey County Cricket Club chief executive's PA and someone once noted for declaring 'It's raining Pimm's' at The Oval. Apparently it was coming through a ceiling thanks to a major spillage on the floor above. Italian job: 17-year-old Turner during his six-month exchange trip to Inter Milan as a Charlton youth player But if the Turner family thought young Michael might be on the fast-track to stardom, the route there proved to be rather more difficult than that six-month spell in Milan suggested. Turner is made of strong stuff. The son of a carpenter and the younger brother of a one-time Royal Marine, he has never been afraid of hard graft. But the journey from Charlton's academy to Sunderland's first team and a place in Fabio Capello's provisional England squad has been challenging. There would be loan spells at Leyton Orient and Brentford and two further seasons at Griffin Park before Turner got his prize. A ?350,000 move to Hull in July 2006. On the way there he took rejection well, seeing it as a necessary part of his education. 'It wasn't until I was 19, and I got a loan move to Leyton Orient, that I got some first-team football,' he says six years on. 'I played seven games there and really enjoyed it. 'But then I spent another season at Charlton, in the squad but always on the fringes. I made the bench a few times but never got on. I kept asking Alan Curbishley to let me go on loan but he wanted me around, even though he wasn't really prepared to pick me. 'I can understand that. Charlton were trying to establish themselves as a Premier League club and the Premier League can be a tough place for a young, inexperienced centre half.' Eventually, Curbishley let him go to Brentford. 'After three months Martin Allen said he wanted to sign me and I suddenly had a big decision to make,' says Turner. 'It was a big drop. Two divisions. Did I stay and fight for a place or did I go for the first-team football? 'In the end I decided I wanted to play and it turned out to be the right decision. Martin Allen was a great mentor for me. He gave me confidence, taught me a lot about defending.' At Brentford he made quite an impression. The players' player of the year in his first season and the supporters' player of the year in his second. Good enough, certainly, to attract the attention of Phil Parkinson, then the manager at Hull City and now, strangely enough, at Charlton. Bust Bee: Turner finally made his senior mark at Brentford under Martin Allen 'I'd had two great years at Brentford but I wanted to step up to The Championship and test myself in that league. The first year there was a massive struggle. Phil Parkinson got the sack and in the end Phil Brown did well to keep us up.' Turner is interesting when it comes to Brown: on the fact that Brown initially had his doubts and on that now infamous half-time team talk on the Manchester City pitch last Christmas. 'I don't think Phil Brown really fancied me to begin with,' says Turner. 'He left me out when he took over and left me out for the first game of the following season. But we lost 3-1 at home to Plymouth, I played in the next game and he never left me out again.' The season would end with the play-off final at Wembley and, with a wonder goal from Dean Windass, promotion to the Barclays Premier League. 'That game changed my life,' he says. 'Changed my career. It gave me the chance to play in the Premier League. A league that felt a very long way away when I stepped down to League One with Brentford.' Star in stripes: Turner in action against his former club Hull earlier this season Again, though, he had earned it. He was voted Hull's player of the season that year and played every minute of every Premier League game in that first topflight campaign. 'I'm not someone who gives it a miss if I've got a bit of a knock,' he says. But what about that extraordinary scene at Eastlands? Did Brown lose the dressing room that day? Did he humiliate his players with that very public half-time dressing down. 'No,' says Turner. 'There's no way he lost the dressing room. I'm not sure it actually had that much of an impact on the dressing room. The week before we'd lost badly to Sunderland at home, and we were taking another tonking. 'I know how I felt that day, dazed. We were 4-0 down. I wasn't thinking, "What the hell's he doing keeping us on the pitch?" I was more worried about what the hell had just happened. I had my head between my knees. I can hardly remember what the manager said. There probably was a bit of bitching about it but Phil Brown's the manager and the players respected that. He makes the decisions. There's no way he lost the dressing room. 'We were a team that was new to the Premier League and you get swings in form like that. We started well but then we struggled. And yet did enough to stay up. Phil Brown's a good coach and he was a good manager for me.' Turner recognises all the help he has received. He is keen to thank his fiancee, Joanne, for the support she has provided. 'Back to when I was at Charlton,' he says. Now he is at Sunderland, under the guidance of Steve Bruce, one of the finest centre halves never to play for England. Under a manager who might just be able to complete his education and make him an England player. Turner is already close. Before Bruce spent more than ?6m on him a few weeks ago, he had managed to attract the attention of Rafa Benitez and Mark Hughes, as well as Capello. 'I got a letter from the FA saying I was in the provisional squad,' says Turner. 'That was nice. Another step up the ladder. But I will just keep working hard. Right now my only aim is to become an established Premier League player, and learn what I can from the manager here. I'm sure he will be good for me.' In much the same way Vieri was.  NORTHERN EXPOSURE: Bruce must win Cup to convince Sunderland fansSunderland joy as ?6.5m Michael Turner buys into Steve Bruce's projectSunderland 4 Hull City 1: Masterpiece from new boy TurnerSUNDERLAND FC


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