Sir Alex Ferguson didn’t use to call on Michael Carrick at Manchester United until the weather turned and it was raining in autumn.
‘Michael was always a slow starter when he first arrived,’ recalled Ferguson. ‘The rain started in September and October and he came into his own.’
Well, the dark clouds have certainly been gathering over Old Trafford and Carrick is the unlikely figure United have turned to following the sacking of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Michael Carrick (centre) will be calling the shots as Manchester United interim boss for now
Carrick has taken over the reins following Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s sacking on Sunday
If the club stick to their plan, Carrick is the caretaker who will be replaced by an interim manager who will be replaced by a permanent boss by the start of next season. Keep up.
It doesn’t sound like the most auspicious of starts, but the Solskjaer story tells us that just about anything is possible if results go your way.
From Vicarage Road to Villarreal, it has been quite a 48 hours for the former England midfielder who touched down here in Spain on Monday night having been thrust into the spotlight following Solskjaer’s last stand against Watford.
Carrick’s first game in charge will be an important Champions League tie against Villarreal at the Estadio de la Ceramica on Tuesday evening that could have a major impact on United’s hopes of qualifying from Group F.
He made a point of paying tribute to Solskjaer at the start of his first press conference, describing the emotional scenes around Carrington on Sunday when executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward relieved the manager of his duties before asking Carrick to step in. It’s a responsibility he was ready to accept.
Carrick’s first assignment is a tricky Champions League clash at Villarreal in Group F
‘This club has been my life for an awful long time now,’ said Carrick. ‘It’s the sacrifice and dedication that you’ve got to give, and I’m prepared to do that for however long it takes.
‘Whether it’s one game or two games, whether it’s a little stretch longer than that, right now I’m not too sure.
‘I’ll do my best and whatever results we get – hopefully we get good ones, and we should get good ones, I truly believe that – we’ll wait and see what happens after that.
‘It’s a limited time, yes of course it is, but it’s a challenge that I’m relishing at the moment. Sitting here it’s a huge responsibility, I can’t wait for the game to come around.’
Like Solskjaer, Carrick is a former United player who had a key role in a Champions League triumph, even though his penalty in the shootout win over Chelsea in Moscow in 2008 doesn’t compare with the Norwegian’s famous goal in 1999.
United have a talented group but they must be galvanised to be the sum of their parts
Speaking on Monday, the former United midfielder said he’ll do his ‘best’ in the role as interim
It was one of eight major honours he won as a player at United after inheriting the No 16 shirt from Roy Keane who first bared his teeth as a TV pundit by criticising Carrick’s lack of emotion in a post-match interview following a defeat by Olympiacos seven years ago.
Carrick retired at the end of the 2018 season to join Jose Mourinho’s backroom staff shortly after he was diagnosed with an irregular heart rhythm that required minor surgery, ending a career that spanned 706 games and 34 caps for England. His farewell was against Watford, funnily enough.
As understated as a person as he was sometimes underrated as a player, the 40-year-old is not the most obvious candidate to step into the United hotseat.
Mike Phelan has the experience of working alongside Ferguson, and Kieran McKenna was a more vocal figure at Solskjaer’s side. Until now, you were more likely to see goalkeeper coach Richard Hartis in the technical area than Carrick, such is the relatively low profile he has kept.
That will all change now. He takes over a very talented group of players who have under-performed chronically under Solskjaer this season. A team currently without Paul Pogba and Raphael Varane through injury, and with others such as Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw devoid of confidence. One that has chopped and changed between 4-2-3-1 and 3-4-1-2 with little success.
Carrick likes to keep a low profile in the dugout but will now be thrust into the spotlight
The mood at Old Trafford it at a low ebb and David de Gea and Co desperately need wins
Carrick will have to be his own man; to galvanise the squad and make it the sum of its parts. He touched on a potential problem on Monday, however, by admitting that his style is very similar to that of Solskjaer.
‘Obviously I’ve worked closely with Ole for a long time now and we do have very similar beliefs,’ he added.
‘We did as players and we certainly do as coaches and manager so, yes of course, I’ve got my own personality to Ole, but it’s very similar.
‘So we’ll have to wait and see. I’m not giving too much away of what my plans are but I’m very clear in my own mind what we want to do and how we want to play.’
It’s known that some players and members of staff felt that Solskjaer wasn’t the only one who should have paid the price for failure. After all, he had a built up a large backroom team. Carrick is said to be largely free of blame, but he wasn’t looking to dodge it on Monday.
Having worked closely under Solskjaer, the 40-year-old admits he shares the same principles
‘I think it’s important that everyone looks at themselves, at what you can do better,’ added Carrick who once recalled taking such pride in his work cleaning the boots as a trainee at West Ham that he was head-hunted by the first-team players.
‘It’s easy to look elsewhere. As a player I was exactly the same. Look at yourself first of all and see if you can improve.’
He then headed off to catch United’s flight to Spain, leaving behind clear blue skies above Manchester. Not a drop of rain in sight, but it’s time for Carrick to come into his own again.