De­pres­sion, coach­ing and ex­pen­sive cars

Michael Car­rick:

The Irish Times - Sports Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - Daniel Tay­lor

Michael Car­rick tells a story about the first time he en­coun­tered Alex Fer­gu­son at Manch­ester United when, by his own ad­mis­sion, he might not have made quite the im­pres­sion he in­tended.

Car­rick had just ar­rived from Tot­ten­ham. Fer­gu­son had passed him the num­ber 16 shirt va­cated by Roy Keane and was giv­ing him the big in­tro­duc­tory speech. “We’re used to win­ning at Manch­ester United, you know? The scru­tiny is dif­fer­ent to what you’re used to. Ev­ery­one looks at you dif­fer­ently when you’re at Manch­ester United. Ev­ery­one wants to beat you, ev­ery­one wants a piece of you, ev­ery­one wants to crit­i­cise you, ev­ery­one’s after you.”

Car­rick was new to Old Traf­ford, tak­ing it all in, try­ing to find the right words to show he be­longed. “Sim­i­lar to Chelsea?” he asked.

Twelve years on, Car­rick still winces when he re­counts that story, Fer­gu­son’s ex­pres­sion hard­en­ing – “No, son, this is Manch­ester United, we’re dif­fer­ent to the rest” – and the aw­ful re­al­i­sa­tion he had said the wrong thing. But it is fair to say he gets it now.

His play­ing ca­reer at Old Traf­ford in­cor­po­rated five Pre­mier League ti­tles, an FA Cup, the Cham­pi­ons League, the Europa League and three League Cups. Car­rick is now work­ing, in ef­fect, as the club’s as­sis­tant man­ager and it is tempt­ing to think some of the play­ers see him as the good cop to José Mour­inho’s bad cop. He was, after all, a pop­u­lar mem­ber of United’s dress­ing room for a decade and his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, Be­tween the Lines, ce­ments the im­pres­sion that most peo­ple would al­ready have of him: an in­tel­li­gent, con­sid­ered man who could make a suc­cess­ful man­ager one day.

Too nice

A while ago, Car­rick might have been de­scribed as too nice to go into man­age­ment. These days, per­haps be­ing a de­cent bloke is seen as a qual­ity, not a hin­drance. Jamie Red­knapp, one of his former Eng­land team­mates, said re­cently that the mod­ern man­ager had to be “mates” with the play­ers, and Car­rick un­der­stands the point.

“The world’s chang­ing,” he says. “It’s dif­fer­ent now in all walks of life, not just foot­ball. But I still think it’s part of the skill of be­ing a coach or man­ager – to know who re­sponds to what. And some play­ers do re­spond to a rol­lick­ing. If it needs to be done, you have to do it. As a player, that wasn’t nec­es­sar­ily me. As a coach or man­ager, if it was some­thing that had to be done I’d be com­fort­able do­ing it but I’d still be true to my­self. I wouldn’t turn into a mad­man or start throw­ing teacups and scream­ing.”

Car­rick comes across as more the arm-round-the-shoul­der type and, though he is al­most 20 years older than some of the play­ers who are com­ing through United’s ranks, he can tes­tify from his ex­pe­ri­ences that play­ers of a cer­tain age are en­ti­tled to make the mis­take.

As a young pro at West Ham, Car­rick re­mem­bers spend­ing £45,000 on a two-seater Dodge Viper – “a beast of a car” – and how proud he was to drive into Chad­well Heath, the club’s train­ing ground. “I thought I looked the business. I’d got this new car with a big or­ange line down the bon­net. Then Tony Carr [West Ham’s di­rec­tor of youth de­vel­op­ment] pulled up next to me. He didn’t say any­thing, it was just the look of dis­ap­point­ment on his face. I’ve never felt so small and so em­bar­rassed. All I could think was: ‘What the hell am I do­ing?’”

Car­ric k flogged the car at the first op­por­tu­nity for £30,000. “You look at the lads now, with the life­styles they have, the cars they drive and all the rest of it, and they’re go­ing to make a few mis­takes. Just be­cause they are put on a pedestal from the age of 19 and 20 that doesn’t make them any more grown up or wiser. They’re still kids. For some­one like me, with that Viper, to be too hard on these kids – nah, hang on a minute . . .”

He has writ­ten a book be­cause he wanted “some­thing per­sonal for the end of my play­ing ca­reer, for me, the kids, the fam­ily, to look back on and be proud of. I never went into it for head­lines or at­ten­tion. It was just to tell my story and not the typ­i­cal: ‘We played well on Satur­day, we won 3-1.’ That was my main mo­ti­va­tion. And there were things that peo­ple didn’t know about me.”

In the process, Car­rick has spo­ken can­didly about how the pres­sures of the sport, play­ing for a club with United’s un­re­lent­ing de­mands, took a heavy toll on him when he felt re­spon­si­ble for the team’s de­feat to Barcelona in the 2009 Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal in Rome, al­lowed the vul­ner­a­bil­ity to in­fest his mind and plunged into a form of de­pres­sion.

“I didn’t re­ally let on to any­one. My wife, Lisa, knew. My mum and dad knew. My brother, Gra­ham, knew, prob­a­bly just from see­ing me. But no­body else. This is the first any­one in the club will have known about it. That’s just me, I sup­pose, how I am as a per­son.

Re­served

“I’m not re­ally one who goes telling peo­ple things. I’m quite a re­served char­ac­ter and I keep a lot of things to my­self. That’s my home life as well. I just try to deal with things and, rightly or wrongly, get on with it. Maybe if I had spo­ken to some­body about it prop­erly, it might have gone away quicker or it might not have been as bad as it was. But I never did.”

Car­rick’s ac­count of the 2009 fi­nal shows how se­ri­ously he takes his in­dus­try. “De­pres­sion over a game of foot­ball sounds ex­treme, doesn’t it?” he writes. “But I gen­uinely felt in a very dark place. It might sound a crazy ex­ag­ger­a­tion com­par­ing foot­ball to a death but after Rome I felt like I was griev­ing.”

He was left out at the start of the next sea­son and Car­rick’s mind went into over­drive, con­vinced he was go­ing to be sold, that he would never be for­given for the mis­di­rected header that led to Barça’s first goal. Fer­gu­son had hardly spo­ken to him, he notes. “I felt vul­ner­a­ble.” Anx­i­ety gripped him.

Could he not have ap­proached his man­ager? “I didn’t feel I needed to. In some ways I felt I needed to get out of it my­self. At that time I just felt I wasn’t play­ing well rather than any­thing else. I wasn’t suf­fer­ing in day-to-day life. I wasn’t stuck in bed and peo­ple were hav­ing to drag me out. It wasn’t ob­vi­ous like that. I don’t think any­one would ever have known when I got in the train­ing ground, apart from: ‘He’s play­ing shit.’ I was miles aw ay. All I was crav­ing was: ‘I just want that feel­ing of play­ing well and win­ning a game,’ and hav­ing that good feel­ing again.

“He [Fer­gu­son] won’t have known how it was af­fect­ing me and, hon­estly, I don’t know what he would make of it now. Prob­a­bly the same as ev­ery­one else: ‘Well, that’s the rea­son then.’ It wasn’t that I was fear­ful of the man­ager but maybe I was show­ing a weak­ness in my­self, sub­con­sciously. He’s a fa­ther fig­ure and there are plenty of ex­am­ples when he has shown that side to his per­son­al­ity. I’ve seen [Cris­tiano] Ron­aldo talk­ing about when he lost his dad and how sup­port­ive the man­ager was. It wasn’t a con­scious de­ci­sion on my part that: ‘Oh God, I can’t talk to him.’ I just wanted to get through it, get back to play­ing well and every­thing would be fine. I never con­tem­plated telling any­one at the club.”

Nor any­one at the English Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion when he went away with Eng­land. “South Africa was my worst,” Car­rick says of the 2010 World Cup. “I didn’t want to be there. I said to Lisa on the phone: ‘I don’t want to be here, I want to come home.’ I would never have taken that step to come home but that’s how I felt. I never thought I should have been there in the first place.

Weird

“I wouldn’t have picked my­self, be­cause I wasn’t play­ing well. I couldn’t be­lieve I was picked. It was a weird time to think: ‘I’m go­ing to a World Cup with Eng­land but I don’t want to be here and I shouldn’t be here – why has he [Fabio Capello] picked me when I’m not good enough to be here?’”

In his new coach­ing role, Car­rick would like to think he might be able to spot the symp­toms if a United player was suf­fer­ing the same. Then again he also says he would not have shown any ob­vi­ous symp­toms him­self.

“Thank­fully it’s talked about a lot more now, so hope­fully if some­one is go­ing through the same they will come out and say it. The stigma isn’t there any more. Peo­ple know they can talk about it, they won’t be judged and their ca­reer path won’t be changed just be­cause they have been suf­fer­ing.

“I’m not say­ing I could spot it but maybe if I see some­one hav­ing a hard time I can tell that per­son I had a tough time, I could ex­plain what I was feel­ing, what I was go­ing through. It could maybe help some­one.

“You look at play­ers who are off form and there’s a gen­eral dis­ap­point­ment, their con­fi­dence goes low and their whole de­meanour can change. I’ve seen it hun­dreds of times but it’s dif­fi­cult to know what’s re­ally go­ing on in­side some­one’s mind.”

– Guardian

De­pres­sion over a game of foot­ball sounds ex­treme, doesn’t it? But I gen­uinely felt in a very dark place It wasn’t that I was fear­ful of the man­ager but maybe I was show­ing a weak­ness in my­self, sub­con­sciously

PHO­TO­GRAPH: ROSS KIN­NAIRD/GETTY IM­AGES

Michael Car­rick in ac­tion dur­ing his fi­nal Pre­mier League game for the club against Wat­ford. Car­rick has spo­ken in a new book about how down he felt fol­low­ing the 2009 Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal.

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