Manchester United managed to fight their way to a 3-2 victory against Arsenal mid-week, in what would be Michael Carrick’s final game as interim manager. While everybody knew Ralf Rangnick was waiting in the wings to take over, it came as a huge shock when Carrick announced he was leaving the club altogether after the victory.
Carrick, who joined the club all the way back in 2006, has been a vital servant to the club over his 15-year spell, quietly instrumental in the core of United’s midfield for years. Playing as intelligently as he did, it only seemed natural that he would one day progress into coaching or management, an opportunity eventually afforded to him in 2018, which subsequently led him to the position of interim United manager.
While Carrick has only had a brief stint in the hot seat at Old Trafford, the 40-year-old has been largely impressive over his three games of management, making several important decisions while steering United to two crucial wins and a good point against Chelsea.
The disastrous end to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s managerial reign had many expecting a full clear out of United’s existing coaching setup, so the fact that Carrick found himself as interim manager came as a shock, perhaps even to himself.
Calls for Carrick and the rest of the coaching staff to resign out of respect and solidarity with Solskjaer were raised, something that the interim United manager even talked about himself, but Carrick’s decision to fill in when the club needed him has ultimately proved to be a good one.
The narrative around United’s shambolic management and structure as a club from the top has been written and dissected many times before, and a cynic may argue Carrick’s stint of management is nothing more than the result of a lack of planning. However, lack of planning or not, United looked much better under Carrick and regained some confidence and belief along the way.
Qualifying top of the Champions League group F is perhaps the highlight, but a spirited performance against Chelsea that was rewarded with a point is testament to Carrick’s ability to adapt quickly to a hugely difficult situation.
When United arrived in Spain for their Champions League clash against Villarreal, the atmosphere was sombre and miserable around the club. Solskjaer’s decline and ultimate sacking felt like a hammer blow to all who held him dearly and it was left to Carrick to rally the players for a massive game.
Going into the match United faced a genuine threat of elimination if results went against them, so a good performance and resulting win was huge for club. It was difficult to know what to expect from Carrick, who for most of his career went under the radar while being quietly effective, a trend that seemed to continue into management.
The decision to drop Bruno Fernandes was a big one, but the timing of his substitution into the game was a masterstroke as United took control in the second half. This confidence Carrick exuded in his own ability was only reinforced further by his calm and insightful interviews, managing to make himself look like a natural when negotiating difficult questions posed.
Throughout most of the period of Carrick’s interim reign the sense of uncertainty remained, manifesting mostly in questions directed at Carrick, which was a credit to himself as it didn’t interfere with the football. Facing an even tougher second game in charge, Carrick took United to league leaders Chelsea amidst a backdrop of rumours around current Paris Saint-Germain manager Mauricio Pochettino taking over.
Despite conceding a plethora of chances, and being second best throughout, United picked up a brilliant point thanks to a Jadon Sancho breakaway goal- his first in the Premier League and second of the week.
Carrick had made another huge call in dropping Cristiano Ronaldo, but this only added further merit to his ability to make important and tough decisions, whether they be right or wrong. It was then a sense of relief for supporters of United when after the game the club finally announced a new manager in Ralf Rangnick, interim again, but someone who is hugely respected.
Some of the intense media speculation and pressure was subsequently lifted, but United were heading quickly towards a clash against Arsenal. After concluding that there wasn’t enough time for Rangnick to get a work permit, Carrick was given one final game in charge.
In what was objectively the most enthralling game of the three, United came from behind to overcome Arsenal in a game that was end to end at times. Where there had been a lack of belief and fight before in previous weeks there was now some urgency and desire, with the three points being what Carrick deserved for his impressive spell as interim manager.
Much like he was when a player though, Carrick opted not to tell anyone but the club of his decision to step away, claiming the focus should be on the game and not his future, once again illuminating the selflessness and class he possesses.
The combination of a great result and this revelation left an emotional aura around the players and the supporters, fully aware of the dedication Carrick has shown towards the club throughout the years.
Overall, during his short week or so in charge, Carrick had not only qualified top of Champions League Group F and picked up four crucial Premier League Points, he’d also made good judgement calls and finally got Jadon Sancho scoring.
This amount of good work in one week for someone who has never actually managed before is outstanding,further enhancing his reputation and stock as a potential future manager.
Carrick cited the need to spend time with his family as the major reason for stepping away, despite Rangnick’s best efforts to convince him otherwise. Leaving behind a United side in much better shape than when he took over, Carrick goes down as a United legend for his commitment and class over the last 15 years, and a future in management sometime soon is almost a certainty.
Written by Sam Wilson