Carrick: Boro hopes, Woodgate influence & goal-machine Akpom12 April 2023
Considering the form Middlesbrough have been in since Michael Carrick took over, their recent run of results represents something nearing a crisis.
Sheer hyperbole, of course. But such are the standards that have been set in his tenure so far at the Riverside Stadium. Before the start of this month, they hadn't gone back-to-back games without a victory at any stage.
They have now picked up just a point in their last three. But a man who was known for playing and behaving with such composure throughout his entire career, portrays much the same demeanour as a manager.
When he speaks, there is nothing but an ocean of tranquility.
"Nothing changes," Carrick tells Sky Sports. "The atmosphere is still hugely positive. We haven't really changed our approach whether we've won games or not. We expect the boys to still go out there and be at their best.
"They were of course a little bit disappointed initially [with the recent results], and then kind of a little bit pleased in terms of coming back into the game against Bristol City and showing that side of ourselves.
"But the spirit of the group has been good, and we've trained really well. At this stage we've gone in a good direction, and we've got to keep that going. But there's still work to do."
Middlesbrough dipped into the relegation zone in September and October, and were 21st when Carrick took over.
Since then there have been 16 wins from 26 games, to climb as high as third in the table, while 10 points from 12 in March saw him scoop the Sky Bet Championship Manager of the Month award.
It show the lengths Middlesbrough have travelled that missing out on automatic promotion could even be seen as a disappointment - a goal that looked genuinely possible before their recent dip and Sheffield United's surge in results.
"It shows how far we've come over a period of time," says Carrick. "And that's everyone involved, not just me - the staff and players. It takes everyone pulling in one direction at a club to make a successful team.
"We've still got a lot of work to do, and we're not getting carried away by any stretch. It's the end of the season that really matters for us. But in terms of how we've improved as a team and how the players have improved individually as a group, we're very pleased with that."
One of the players who has dramatically improved is striker Chuba Akpom. The 27-year-old had never hit double figures in a league campaign in his career in England and Greece before. Last season he was deemed surplus to requirements and went on loan to PAOK - the club Boro had signed him from in 2020.
This season, it has been a complete transformation. He has 26 goals and is nailed on for the Golden Boot and, likely, a shot at the Premier League next season one way or another. The former Arsenal starlet is finally reaching his potential.
Akpom has previously credited Carrick and his assistant Jonathan Woodgate with his surge in performance, whereas the Middlesbrough boss thinks it's mostly down to the striker himself.
"I had to trust my eye and instinct, and the same from my coaches," says Carrick. "I just looked at him and I knew what he was capable of.
"We have tried to play to his strengths. But a lot of it comes down to him. We try to give all the players the right platform, belief and confidence to go and play. The rest is up to them.
"Chuba has been very good in how he's gone about it. It's not just his goals and his performances, it's his attitude, demeanour, willingness to learn and improve. It's been really enjoyable to see him develop and grow. But there's still more to come from him."
As well as Akpom leading his attack, Carrick has also had Woodgate by his side. An ex-England team-mate, the 43-year-old is also a Boro fan, former player and manager.
But Carrick says it is more than his understanding of the club that has made him so crucial to their rise.
"Woody has been vital," he says. "I think it'd be very easy to just say it's because he knows the club, but there is so much more to it than that.
"There's how he sees the game, his knowledge and his experience. He's been vital for me to lean on and learn from. We work together really closely. It's worked out fantastically well and he's been a massive help."
Woodgate has also helped Carrick quickly get used to the Championship. After spending nearly his entire career at the highest level, he has taken to the second tier like a duck to water.
But the quality of the division hasn't come as a surprise to him.
"I knew how tough the league would be, how high the standard of players and teams was, and how challenging it was," he says. "I've really enjoyed it and it's been a terrific few months for me. Settling in and getting to know the club and the players.
"You're learning every day. There's not one major thing I've surprised myself with or that's really stood out for me.
"There are constant things you're always assessing, the dynamics of the squad, managing the mood. It's a constant challenge but you're always adapting, changing and being as flexible as you can.
"I'm not too stubborn to have it my way only. You manage what's in front of you to a point, and try to get the best out of the players you have. That's what really matters."
One of the players he has gotten the best out of is young midfielder Hayden Hackney. All fan bases crave a player they can call their one of their own, and in the 20-year-old born in Redcar they have just that.
He has flourished under the tutelage of one of the great deep-lying midfielders of the 21st century. While Carrick has been nominated for Championship Manager of the Season, Hackney has been nominated in the Young Player category.
"There is a lot of good in terms of Hayden's consistency in how he's played," says Carrick. "As a person and the way he goes about it.
"He exudes calm, and he's very stable and level-headed. But there is also a real steeliness and stubbornness about him. He has real belief in himself, in a good way, and he has dealt with every situation so far that's been thrown at him.
"I couldn't ask for any more from him."
Carrick seems to relish working with young players, and two more that have made a big impact since their arrivals on loan in January are young Aston Villa pair Aaron Ramsey and Cameron Archer.
Just 21 and 20, both will be vital in Boro's push towards the play-offs and hopefully the Premier League.
"They are two really good young lads," says Carrick. "I think what stands out most for me is how they are as people and how they go about it.
"It's their attitude and willingness to learn and improve, and how much they've enjoyed being here. They've had a really good impact on the group.
"They are talented lads and there's a lot of potential there. But it's up to them to see what path they end up taking.
"It's about not looking too far ahead, or putting too much onto the lads. But hopefully they can have a big impact between now and the end of the season."
Level-headed as a player, even more-so as a manager. Carrick has been unfazed in the Championship as his stock continues to rise.
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This news item was provided by the SkySports | News website - the original link is: https://www.skysports.com/football/news/11688/12855934/michael-carrick-interview-middlesbrough-hopes-jonathan-woodgate-influence-and-chuba-akpom