‘I speak to Sir Alex a lot. He’s a listener and not a dictator!’: Michael Carrick is making a big impact as Middlesbrough manager – guiding them from the drop zone to play-off places in three months – with a little help from his old boss
- Carrick spent three years in Boro’s centre of excellence from the age of nine
- He played for West Ham and Spurs before Sir Alex signed him for Man United
- Now Middlesbrough boss, he has won seven of his last eight league games
Michael Carrick zips up his winter coat and prepares for a scouting mission like an Arctic explorer, stepping into the freezing night with a farewell handshake and a deadpan assessment of his hopes and expectations from this new career as manager of Middlesbrough.
‘Ambitions, me?’ Carrick almost smiles. ‘I’m just happy doing what I’m doing. I’m genuinely not chasing anything. I’m just trying to do the best I can, enjoying the challenge and trying to give back to a club that’s shown a lot of faith in me to give me this chance.’
His even temperament will stand him in good stead — together with the tactical acumen evident in days he controlled the ebb and flow of Manchester United’s midfield, his education as a coach in the unforgiving crucible of Old Trafford, and his appetite for hard work.
Middlesbrough have won seven of their last eight in the Championship under Michael Carrick
At 41, it is a strong managerial skill set and his seamless move into a first permanent managerial role, guiding Boro from relegation zone to the play-off places in three months, has not surprised those who know him well. Under Carrick, they have won seven of their last eight in the Championship as they go into Sunday’s Tees-Wear derby at Sunderland.
‘It’s the foundations we’ve put in I’m happiest with,’ Carrick tells Sportsmail as he pauses between a community session for the EFL’s Week of Action — handing out free boots as part a scheme involving his own and the club’s foundations — and a trip to see Newcastle Under 18s, coached by his younger brother Graeme.
‘Performances, atmosphere, work ethic. I want us to look like a real team with everyone together, playing their roles, helping each other.
Carrick has guided Boro from relegation zone to the play-off places in just three months
‘I want to see players express themselves. You’ve got to play for the love of the game. To have that buzz, that enthusiasm, that boyish dream. But it’s all got to come from the team and individuals can shine from that.’
Carrick stepped into the Middlesbrough job from a 10-month break after three games as caretaker manager brought his 15 years at United to an end with what, by his own standards, proved quite a flourish, dropping his resignation within minutes of a thrilling win against Arsenal.
‘I’d decided a week before (to leave),’ says Carrick, who bridged the void between the sacking of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and the arrival of Ralf Rangnick. ‘I didn’t just take the job and forget about Ole. He was the first one I spoke to. He said, “You have to take it, 100 per cent” because that’s the man he is. I’ve the utmost respect for him.’
Carrick had already considered moving away from the club where he won five Premier League titles and the Champions League among other major honours as a player, to step into management. Those three games in charge of United — two wins and a draw — only convinced him.
His coaching journey started with United’s Under 14s and got serious when he finished playing in the summer of 2018 and was invited to join Jose Mourinho’s coaching staff. Mourinho had gone before the year was out, replaced by Solskjaer who embraced Carrick.
‘We had some big highs,’ says Carrick. ‘It probably gets lost how well we were doing. Finishing second and third was a great achievement at that time. We were in finals and semi-finals but at United you’ve got to win. We hit a bump in the last couple of months. People jump on it and things can unravel.’
Sir Alex Ferguson signed midfielder Carrick for Manchester United in 2006
The brutal nature of the unravelling process does not deter him. ‘It’s the way of the world now, how extreme it is. The number of opinions. That’s the entertainment side but I prefer the other side, where you’re in a bubble working away with your team to get results.’
The coaching bug has bitten another of the finest English footballers of his generation. ‘I don’t sit and watch a game for the goals any more. It’s not about highlights. It’s about players and tactics.
‘Who’s playing where and what are they trying to do? How are they pressing? What are they like defensively? What are they like in possession? What spaces are they getting into? I can’t watch a game now and enjoy it.’
Carrick hands out boots as part of a community event on Teesside for the EFL’s Week of Action
Carrick tapped into Sir Alex Ferguson and Bryan Robson about Boro. ‘I wasn’t itching to get back in,’ he admits. ‘It was the opportunity that got my attention and got me thinking.’
When Robson was a prized rookie selecting a first managerial job, Ferguson’s sage advice was to make the decision based on the chairman not the club. Robson picked Steve Gibson at Boro as did Steve McClaren when he left Fergie’s side. ‘I think he’s said that to all his former players over the years,’ says Carrick. ‘He certainly did to me and I can see why. It makes a hell of a difference to have a chairman and owner who’s passionate about the club.’
Ferguson is still there for advice. ‘I spoke to him when I was getting the job and we’ve met a number of times since. He’s a good listener, not a dictator by any stretch, and he gives advice and you always take something away from the conversation.’
Carrick sees a bit of himself in the young players who braved the cold to collect free boots
Middlesbrough represents the closure of a personal circle for Wallsend-born Carrick, back in his native North East, at his first club, where he spent three years in the centre of excellence from the age of nine.
He understands this football-obsessed region, and sees something of himself in the young players who braved the cold to collect free boots from the new Boro boss. Eighty per cent of the population of England and Wales live within 15 miles of the 72 EFL clubs and those clubs and their community organisations generated an estimated £865million of social value last season, according to the impact report published this week.
‘Community connections are crucial,’ says Carrick. ‘And for some people in this part of the world, football is everything. It can dictate their week. I was like that as a kid up here. When the local teams do well everything seems to thrive.’
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