It would be easy to conclude that Liam Rosenior’s development into one of the Barclays Premiership’s bright young talents was preordained. How could Fulham’s tenacious full back and contender to succeed Gary Neville in the England side not have benefited from growing up in such a healthy football environment, one in which he received a helping hand from his father, Leroy, a striker with Fulham, Queens Park Rangers and West Ham United?
It is an association that provided an instant and invaluable lift when, as a toddler, Liam would join in a kickabout with his father, the other children and their professional footballer-fathers before West Ham’s home matches.
But while Liam may have received every encouragement, the England Under21 defender has done it his way. And Leroy is as far removed from the stereotype of pushy parent as you could find.
Leroy, 42, was always certain that Liam would make a name for himself, in whatever field he chose. “He never used to play with normal toys on his own; we used to play Battleships, or intellectual things. And, from an early age, he translated that way of thinking into football. He’s a very deep thinker about the game. He could have done anything he wanted, but he was obsessed with football,” he said.
“I used to take Liam to the gym at West Ham — and his younger brother, Daron — when John Lyall was the manager, and before the game we’d warm up with our kids. There’d be Alvin Martin, Tony Gale, Liam Brady, Phil Parkes, all kicking the ball around. From then on he’d come with me to football.”
Liam said: “We didn’t understand what was going on, that our dad was playing for a first division club. But I wasn’t pushed into football, it’s something I loved since I could remember.”
Leroy, the former manager of Torquay United and, until last November, Brentford, rarely watched Liam during his fledgeling career at Fulham because, as a former Craven Cottage favourite, he did not want to cramp his son’s style or add to the expectation. They both had their own lives to lead. That philosophy has paid off.
When Leroy did take an active role, he did it with tough love. Liam played ten matches on loan under his father at Torquay at the end of the 2003-04 season, and Liam said: “It was weird. Away from training it was a father-and-son relationship. Anything to do with Torquay, he was the manager and I was the player.
“One game my dad dropped me but didn’t tell me in the car on the way to training. Afterwards, he called me into his office and told me, as any manager would. I had a go at him and said things maybe I shouldn’t have said. We got back in the car and went home. We didn’t talk for a bit and then after that it was fine again. And that’s the way it should be — my dad’s always been fair and honest with me.
“Torquay was an amazing experience. My dad had no assistant and we washed our own kit. We trained on a racecourse, no white lines, no nets for the goals. Once we trained on the beach on a wet, windy day with people walking dogs through the pitch.
“When I came back [to Fulham] and saw the facilities here, it made me realise what I had and what I wanted — to play for Fulham and become a top player in the Premiership. I’ll always be grateful to my dad for that.”
Leroy, who once said that he wanted to be “the first black England manager”, now works as a media pundit and with the World in Motion sports management agency. An eloquent spokesman on racism, football, and life in general, he has not ruled out a managerial return, but ideally would relish becoming an academy director, “helping kids develop”. “There was always going to be a comparison between us at Fulham, so I stepped back and Liam’s become a very good player in his own right,” he said. “For the first year of his career, he was known as my son, which wasn’t fair. Now, it’s great being known as Liam’s father.”