Playing over 300 games for Manchester United, Michael Carrick cemented himself as a Red Devils legend over many years at Old Trafford. Winning the Premier League, FA Cup and even the solitary Champions League accolade during his 12-year spell at Old Trafford, his career was decorated with the midfielder regarded as an all-time great.
Players of this calibre during their illustrious careers don’t always taste the same success when their career switches to the managerial dug-out, but looking at the early days of his Middlesbrough reign since he left the comforts of Manchester United, there’s promising signs that Carrick will be a fantastic head coach. Winning seven matches from the ten he’s taken charge of, Michael Carrick’s Boro now find themselves challenging for the playoffs. Yet, with how competitive the Championship is this season, no-one’s spot near the top of the table is safe.
Coming in to replace the anti-climax of Chris Wilder’s spell down at the Riverside, Carrick has re-energised a squad down on their luck towards the end of Wilder’s 12 months or so in charge – Chuba Akpom now a goalscoring machine under the former Manchester United player turned manager, Riley McGree bursting into life in a Boro shirt ever since Carrick’s arrival onto Teesside. An injection of something fresh has helped Middlesbrough fight off their early season complacency, the future bright now at The Riverside.
It’s a route many clubs are now taking when it comes to appointing a new manager, looking at the teams high up in the Premier League and poaching coaches eager to cut their teeth in management. Kieran McKenna is the obvious example, another off the production line at Manchester United – the ex Manchester United U18 coach became a key part of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s backroom staff during the Norwegian’s up and down time in charge, now the young manager is succeeding with Ipswich Town in League One.
Middlesbrough went down this route as a result of recent failures at the Riverside, veteran managers in the form of Neil Warnock and Chris Wilder unable to put their nous to good use. Now, with Michael Carrick in charge, the Middlesbrough hierarchy have gone for the opposite – a rookie manager in the dug-out, an exciting and fresh appointment to counter the lifelessness at Middlesbrough in recent years.
His opening game did however end in defeat, Chuba Akpom’s early goal on the day not enough with Preston mounting a comeback to win 2-1. The alarm bells might well have sounded after this debut defeat for Michael Carrick, but since this narrow defeat at Deepdale, Middlesbrough have gone from strength to strength under the Red Devils icon.
Right after this disappointing loss at the hands of Ryan Lowe’s Preston, Carrick’s men won 3-1 on their travels away at Hull City. A clinical display on the night saw Chuba Akpom net again, an intricate passing move resulting in a diving Akpom header from a cross into the box. The ex-Arsenal striker has struggled with potency his entire career, the London-born attacker only managing five goals in the entire 2020-21 season for Boro. Now, ever since Carrick’s appointment, he’s one of the deadliest strikers in the division – nine goals in nine now for the striker reborn under the first-time head coach.
Other impressive results have seen multiple members of the Middlesbrough team take on star roles, Riley McGree thundering a strike in away at Norwich City on the volley to help Boro win 2-1 at Carrow Road. The Middlesbrough number 8 has been superb under Michael Carrick, the Australian ever-present at left-wing who can conjure up a goal from nothing.
The ex A League midfielder will be beaming with confidence currently, starring for Boro in the Championship and even making four appearances out in Qatar at the 2022 World Cup. There’s a confidence and swagger to Middlesbrough’s game at the moment, the passing moves simple and effective with the goals to match. The style of play is reminiscent of Michael Carrick’s own game whenever he strolled out in a Manchester United shirt, a calmness on the ball that never strayed into arrogance, always a step ahead of the opposition.
A number of goals under Carrick’s reign showcase this philosophy rubbing off on his players, the opening strike away at Blackpool in November saw intricate passing on display from back to front with Isaiah Jones sweeping the ball into the net after a training drill like move. It’s devastatingly effective but simple, Matt Crooks tapping in for 2-1 at Norwich by hammering an effort into the net came about from a quick exchange of passes and the simplest of strikes from the ex Rotherham man gave Boro a stoppage time victory on their travels.
Even when the wins are not convincing – Michael Carrick’s men blowing away the likes of Blackpool and Wigan in 3-0 and 4-1 wins – the victories are hard-fought and won through determination rather than skill. Going 1-0 down after five minutes away from home, Middlesbrough could have panicked and ultimately folded against Blackburn in their recent encounter. Helped by a comical red card for John Buckley early into the second half – Buckley throwing the ball against the head of a Boro man – Michael Carrick’s men continued to keep their cool and turned the game around to win 2-1 at Ewood Park.
Chuba Akpom drew a blank uncharacteristically in this one but Marcus Forss – the Brentford loanee – netted seconds into the first half. Akpom and Crooks combined before Crooks played Forss into space to smash home – a dream start to the second half, competing away at Blackburn who hold 3rd spot in the division. The winner would come courtesy of Riley McGree in this competitive clash at Ewood Park, McGree directing a first-time hit into the net after being found from a Forss nod-down.
You could say there was an element of luck in this contest for Middlesbrough to run out 2-1 victors come full-time – a dubious dismissal irking Blackburn manager John Dahl Tomasson – but teams full of confidence will find ways to win no matter what. Coming into the job with Middlesbrough occupying 21st spot in the Championship, Carrick has completely turned around the fortunes of Boro. Middlesbrough are now promotion challengers, Michael Carrick the main man.
It’s still early days for him at the Riverside, but if his Middlesbrough side continue in the same vein as they are now, promotion could be on the cards. Boro haven’t participated in the Championship playoffs since the 2017-18 season under Tony Pulis, an awfully long time for a club with Premier League aspirations. Staying in the now, Middlesbrough supporters will just be ecstatic that their side are playing vibrant football with the results to match. If promotion does come or not at the end of it all, Michael Carrick is showing that he’s a competent head coach away from Manchester United and a manager with a very bright future.
By: Kelan Sarson / @SarsonKelan
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Matthew Peters / Man United