Michael Carrick is 90 minutes away from Wembley with Championship side Middlesbrough.
Hayden Hackney scored the only goal as Boro claimed a 1-0 win over Chelsea in the first leg of their Carabao Cup semifinal, securing a slender advantage ahead of the return clash at Stamford Bridge on January 23, 2024.
It was a standout moment in Carrick’s young coaching career, which has already attracted plenty of interest given his previously decorated association with Manchester United, where he won 12 major honours and made 464 appearances.
Indeed, the 42-year-old is already appearing with fairly short odds in bookmakers’ lists of potential next United managers. If Carrick continues to make a strong impression as Sir Jim Ratcliffe gets acquainted with the football side of things at Old Trafford, it’s not hard to imagine some very significant consequences.
Here, The Sporting News takes a look at the former England midfielder’s fledgling coaching career.
Michael Carrick coaching career
After his retirement at United in 2018, Carrick was retained as part of Jose Mourinho’s coaching staff. Kieran McKenna, now in charge of promotion-chasing Ipswich Town in the Championship, was also elevated to the first-team from United’s under-18 setup following the departure of Mourinho’s long-time assistant Rui Faria.
Despite finishing second to Manchester City in 2017/18, United were unable to build on that and a poor first half to the following season saw Mourinho sacked in the aftermath of a 3-1 December defeat to Liverpool at Anfield.
Carrick was retained as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer came in, initially as interim manager, and remained throughout the Norwegian’s three-year tenure, which saw United again finish as runners-up to City in 2020/21 and reach that season’s Europa League final.
A similar slump to the one that did for Mourinho followed at the beginning of the next season and Solskjaer departed in the aftermath of a 4-1 defeat at Watford.
There was no speedy succession as happened after Mourinho, which left Carrick to step in for a three-game stint as caretaker manager.
Especially when considering the dire state of United’s form at the time, things went very well. First up was a crucial 2-0 win at Villarreal, where late goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and Jadon Sancho sealed a Champions League last-16 spot, along with a measure of revenge for the Europa League final earlier that year.
United then battled to a 1-1 draw against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge before Carrick signed off with a 3-2 home win over Arsenal. Following that game, Carrick stepped down from the United coaching staff as Ralf Rangnick entered Old Trafford for his doomed interim spell.
As it turned out, this wasn’t to enter a No.1 job immediately and it wasn’t until October 2022 that Carrick joined a struggling Middlesbrough. The Teeside club were languishing near the relegation zone after Chris Wilder failed to recreate the success he enjoyed at Sheffield United.
His successor had an immediate and transformative impact, including a run of nine wins and one defeat in 10 games starting from Boxing Day as Boro roared up the table. The form of Sheffield United and champions Burnley meant automatic promotion was beyond them but they secured a playoff place.
Unfortunately for Carrick, Middlesbrough’s momentum deserted them over the closing weeks of the season and they lost a tense two-legged playoff semifinal against Coventry City 1-0.
The imposing pace set by Leicester City and their chasing pack means that another playoff tilt is the best Boro can hope for in the league this season and they remain in contention within a congested mid-table.
The Carabao Cup is where Carrick has really made an impression this term, with the win over Chelsea in the first leg making it six wins out of six in the competition for his team.
Michael Carrick tactics and playing style
Given how common it was to see Solskjaer’s United criticised for lacking a defined tactical style and clear patterns of play, it was perhaps surprising to see how quickly Carrick put his imprint on a struggling Boro.
Indeed, the exploits of himself and McKenna — whose Ipswich are second behind Leicester in the Championship — speak well of the team Solskjaer built around him. It’s not as if United have got notably better since they left the building.
Wilder’s ploy to have centre-backs overlapping from a back three was ingenious at Sheffield United but it came to look clunky and cumbersome at Boro. Carrick came in and quickly installed a Barcelona-influenced playing style at the Riverside Stadium.
This included switching from a back four out of possession to a back three with the ball, with one full-back moving high and wide up the pitch and a centre-back tucking in alongside the three centre-backs.
It’s an increasingly common ploy in the modern game, used by Pep Guardiola most notably, and with this 3-2-5 shape in possession, Boro swiftly became a slick and destructive outfit.
Losing the Championship’s top scorer, Chuba Akpom, to Ajax and not having ball-playing goalkeeper Zack Steffen to call upon this term has hindered Boro but Carrick’s stock remains high — especially following the Chelsea result.
His commitment to the Dutch-Catalan model of position play shows an influence from Louis van Gaal, who he played under for two seasons at United.
It’s often said former players of Sir Alex Ferguson’s who have gone on to underwhelming managerial careers lack a clear style and identity beyond passion and the hairdryer.
Ferguson is very arguably the greatest manager of all time. A genuine one-off, incredibly intuitive in-game, a masterful manager of people and with an underrated pragmatic streak, which came to the fore during his later and more tactically flexible years at United.
The likes of Van Gaal, Guardiola and, to a lesser extent, Mourinho are graduates of Johan Cruyff’s Barcelona school, where there is a effectively a manual to guide you over how to set up a football team. Obviously, this is no guarantee of success and the likes of Guardiola have thrived by innovating and updating that template.
Nevertheless, it means Carrick has the best of both worlds.
“I think all the managers and coaches I’ve worked with have had an impact and in different ways. Obviously, Sir Alex Ferguson, you don’t need me to speak too much about him. He’s the best around,” Carrick told the England Football Learning website in July 2020.
“Louis van Gaal was fantastic technically and tactically. How he saw the game was very different to Sir Alex, so I learned an awful lot from him.”
Wayne Rooney’s recent trials show there are no guarantees for Ferguson-Van Gaal graduates, but it will be intriguing to see how this generation compares to the likes of Steve Bruce and Mark Hughes. It’s early days but Carrick is their leading light.
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