It’s a sign of the chaos and muddled thinking swirling around Manchester United that its players will be expected to emerge from a crisis that cost their manager his job by following instructions from the same coaches who helped lead the team into the mess.
In firing Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on Sunday after a run of humiliating results, United’s leadership opted to put Michael Carrick — one of Solskjaer’s inexperienced assistants — in temporary charge of the team ahead of the hiring of another interim manager until the end of the season.
Carrick doesn’t know for how long he’ll be leading United — he said Monday it could be “one game, two games, or a little stretch longer than that” — but it doesn’t sound like his brief promotion to manager will usher in a new approach on the field.
“I’ve worked closely with Ole for a long time now and we do have very similar beliefs. We did as players and we certainly do as coaches,” Carrick said. “Of course I’ve got my own personality but it’ll be very similar (to Solskjaer's approach) because we worked together for so long.”
That might be a concern for United’s fans who have seen the team lose five of its last seven games in the Premier League, many in embarrassing style and to its biggest rivals, while showing tactical ineptitude. Carrick, a key member of Solskjaer’s coaching staff, is partly to blame for that, as are two more of Solskjaer's assistants, Mike Phelan and Kieran McKenna, who will stay on and help Carrick.
Yet it will be them leading United into a huge Champions League match at Villarreal on Tuesday.
Another loss would jeopardize United’s chances of reaching the last 16 and Carrick will only have had two training sessions before kickoff to get his message across.
“It’s a challenge,” he said of the short turnaround from the 4-1 loss at Watford on Saturday that prompted United’s board to remove Solskjaer. “The initial reaction yesterday, then coming to terms with the situation.
"But quite quickly you’ve got to focus. There is a responsibility here. It’s such a great club, it’s such a privilege to be working in whatever capacity, never mind the position I am now. I don’t take that lightly, I just throw myself into doing everything I can. Of course, it’s a limited time, but that’s the challenge and I’m relishing it.”
Sitting alongside Carrick at the news conference on Monday was United captain Harry Maguire, whose poor form this season has contributed to a string of woeful defensive displays by the team this season.
Maguire said the last 24 hours had been very hard for the squad and that the players took “huge responsibility” for Solskjaer’s firing.
“If you look at the players at this club, speak to a lot of them and they’ll probably say it’s the toughest time of their careers at club level,” Maguire said. “We know the recent performances have not been good enough. We haven’t been delivering individually or collectively.
“It’s snowballed from one thing to another … now we’ve got to find something from within ourselves. We have to move this club forward.”
Carrick only started his coaching career in 2018, soon after retiring as a player after 12 years at United, and has never held a senior managerial position. He has played alongside many of the current team, including Cristiano Ronaldo from the Portugal forward's first spell at Old Trafford, but there is a sense he has been thrown into the deep end.
He has previously spoken about his ambitions to one day manage United but he wasn't prepared to look beyond the match against Villarreal, which pits two teams level on points at the top of their Champions League group with two games remaining.
“It’s been literally a day, 24 hours, since everything unfolded and the game isn’t much further away,” Carrick said. "That is all I’ve been thinking about, the game tomorrow night — throughout yesterday, today and certainly tomorrow. I’ve not looked past that.
“For however long the club want me to be here, I’ll give it my best.”
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Steve Douglas, The Associated Press