Former Manchester United star Michael Carrick is aiming to cap his remarkable first season as a manager by leading Middlesbrough into the Premier League.
Carrick’s side travels to Coventry for the first leg of the Championship playoff semifinals on Sunday.
Reaching the playoffs as a managerial novice is an impressive achievement for the understated Carrick, who retired as a player in 2018 and worked as Manchester United’s assistant manager before accepting the Middlesbrough job in October.
When Carrick was hired following Chris Wilder’s sacking, Middlesbrough was languishing one point above the relegation zone after a poor start to the season.
But the 41-year-old has made such a positive impact during his seven months at the Riverside Stadium that former United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer believes he is certain to manage the Old Trafford club in the future.
“Michael is a proper human being, a proper man who you want to be successful,” Solskjaer told The Athletic. “I am 100 per cent sure that Michael will be the manager of Manchester United if he wants to be.”
Middlesbrough chairman Steve Gibson described Carrick as the “perfect fit” for a club in desperate need of rejuvenation after a disappointing period since their relegation from the Premier League in 2017.
Gibson’s belief in the untested Carrick might have been fuelled by memories of another occasion when he hired a former United midfielder to breath new life into his team.
Bryan Robson left Old Trafford in 1994 when lifelong Middlesbrough fan Gibson convinced him to become player-manager of the second-tier club.
Middlesbrough was promoted to the Premier League in Robson’s first season, with unglamourous Teesside suddenly becoming a desirable destination for stars such as Juninho and Fabrizio Ravanelli.
Carrick is on course to emulate Robson’s success after Middlesbrough climbed away from the relegation zone and surged to a fourth-place finish in the Championship.
The former midfielder, who won 12 major trophies at United, including the Premier League and Champions League, had immediate respect from the Middlesbrough squad.
What Solskjaer describes as Carrick’s “calm and reflective” qualities also helped salve the wounds from Middlesbrough’s rocky patch prior to his arrival.
Carrick’s smooth passing style as a player has been emblematic of his maiden managerial foray, with attack-minded Middlesbrough finishing the season as the Championship’s second highest scorers.
“As a player, you’d want to do well for Michael because he cares about you. He wants you to be the best you can be,” Solskjaer said.
If Carrick can lead Middlesbrough to the play-off final, where they would meet Sunderland or Luton, and then secure promotion to the Premier League, he will inevitably find himself linked with bigger jobs.
Carrick has already managed United for three games as interim boss after Solskjaer was sacked in 2021.
He had previously served as Solskjaer’s assistant manager, a role he also filled during Jose Mourinho’s United reign.
Although Carrick was unbeaten with two wins and a draw in his caretaker spell, he did not believe he was ready for a job of that magnitude.
After the managerial travails of his former England team-mates Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney and Gary Neville, Carrick is showing signs of bucking the trend.
To be considered a genuine United candidate when Erik ten Hag eventually departs, he must continue the impressive work at Middlesbrough, starting in the playoffs this weekend.
“It’s something you have got to relish,” Carrick said of Middlesbrough’s bid to win a promotion worth around £170 million ($212 million)
“We’re privileged to be in this position because we’re fighting for something that’s worth achieving.”
Solskjaer has no doubts his friend can cope with the play-off pressure.
“He’s a massive winner, yet he stays in control of his emotions. He knows what he wants and doesn’t lose his rag,” he said.
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