Manchester United assistant coach Michael Carrick is confident the squad is primed and ready to finish the season strongly, after a galvanising trip to Spain that has refreshed all involved.
The Reds have made excellent use of the first-ever winter break in English football by training at the Marbella Football Centre since Sunday, utilising the time to work on fitness and tactics and building camaraderie.
Carrick always loved the business end of the season as a player and he feels our squad is well placed to challenge in the Premier League, Europa League and Emirates FA Cup in the coming months.
In this exclusive and insightful interview, Michael also discusses the integration of Bruno Fernandes and development of key midfielder Fred this season…
How happy are you with the conditions and set-up here in Spain?
“Yeah, we’re delighted. It’s kind of what we expected. Obviously, that’s the main reason we came. It was a great chance for the lads last week to have a few days away to mentally switch off, which I think they needed. It’s going to help them going forward, to come down now and get back to business and get a good week’s work in. It’s something that you can’t spend much time standing around back at the training ground, because of the weather. It’s a different type of training we can do here and we can get a lot more information, a lot more detail across and enjoy the sunshine. It just creates that little bit of a better environment really for the training session. It’s a good week’s work for us. The facilities are fantastic, you can see the views and, where we are, it’s beautiful. So we’re happy to be here.”
Michael Carrick on Bruno Fernandes says
“He sees a pass, he looks to play the pass and he can score goals. But it’s more that composure, understanding of the game and intelligence really that I like the most about him.”
What are your thoughts on the winter break? It’s been a long time coming in English football. Do you wish you had one when you were playing?
“Yes and no. I think you get used to what you get used to, you know, and what becomes normal. For me, it was normal. We played through Christmas and we played through this time of year, always feeling tired at points. But, you just use it as a motivation to drive you forward. It never really bothered me. I think it’s a good idea, certainly for our boys and the amount of games we’ve had and constantly playing midweeks with a slightly younger team, I think they needed that break and they needed to switch off, so it’s probably come at a good time for us at this stage of the season.”
Seven or eight days of training is really rare in any season for United, so what have you been working on with the lads this week?
“Well, we’ve not had a full training week since the end of August and start of September, because we’ve had midweek games pretty much every week. So it is a rare opportunity for us to spend a bit more time on the training ground. Not hours on end but a bit more time, actually talking about things and explaining things and going through details, which as a whole group, we haven’t had. We’ve had six, seven, eight, 12 at times, but you’ve got half the lads doing recovery days, some of the lads preparing for the next game, so it’s a bit of a juggling act really for the last three or four months. It’s an opportunity for us to get everyone together, spend some time and try to improve a few things.”
How important is camaraderie and getting everyone tightly knit? Not just here on the training ground but about the hotel and in the evenings…
“Yeah, I must say it’s one thing that the group has – the spirit is fantastic and there’s a really good camaraderie and a togetherness about them. I think you can see that on the pitch and how hard they work for each other. The attitude and how they look after each other, I think it’s fantastic. Coming here helps and I think it helps with the team and the whole set-up, including the backroom staff and the coaching staff – it’s good for everyone coming together and spending time together for a period of time, as if we don’t do that enough through the year [laughs]! But it’s a different setting, and because the game’s a little bit further away then there’s not that real intense focus on the game. Of course, we’re preparing for it, but it’s kind of a different feeling when we can do the work but, at the same time, switch off during the day, so it’s a nice little mix.”
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We’ve got some new faces here, of course, and Bruno Fernandes is the most notable, so how’s he settling in?
“Yeah, he feels at home in this weather! It’s what he’s used to, but yeah he’s settled in really well. He’s an intelligent, smart lad and speaks great English so it’s been pretty seamless so far. There’s plenty of Portuguese-speaking [players] anyway. But he’s fine, he’s settled in really well and he’ll just be looking to get games under his belt now and improve as time goes on.”
You obviously know all about that position, so what is it about him that you admire so much?
“There’s so much to talk about, really. I think the main thing is his composure and quality on the ball. He sees a pass, he looks to play the pass and he can score goals. But it’s more that composure, understanding of the game and game intelligence really that I like the most about him, and I’m sure we’ll see plenty of that.”
Nathan Bishop’s here as well, who joined from Southend in January. Is he on cloud nine this week? It’s been a hell of a period for him…
“Yeah, it’s fantastic for Bish. A great lad and again he’s settled in so quickly. He’s walking around with a big smile on his face every time you see him. He’s so happy and, again, his attitude and personality is a credit to him for how he applies himself in training. He’s settled in ever so well, so it’s a great opportunity for him, of course. It’s a big jump, but it’s a great opportunity and you can tell he’s desperate to take it with both hands.”
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I just wanted to ask you too about Fred’s form of late, because he’s been excellent all season really. He looks like a player who’s really benefited from coaching at United and he’s just been voted Player of the Month by the fans, by a massive margin. Are you delighted with his progress this season?
“Yeah, I think he’s done great. It’s not always easy, I think history tells you that. When you look through the pages of this club when new signings have come in, sometimes it takes a little time to adapt, you know that, and it doesn’t mean they’re not good players or they don’t have real good quality in their play. I think it’s just what playing for this club brings and playing in the league. The Premier League is so different to other leagues, so, sometimes, it takes time to get used to it, but credit to Fred. He’s stuck at it, he’s learnt and he’s been willing to put the work in and try to improve. He’s been fantastic for quite some time now and I’m sure there’s more to come, because he’s that kind of boy. He wants to keep improving, he wants to keep learning, keep getting better and there’s plenty more to improve, of course, like any player, so we’ll keep working at it.”
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We’re here to prepare for the season run-in, so how is the mood among the lads with an important 12 or 14 weeks to come?
“This is it. This is when it counts now, the business part of the season when cup runs are coming towards the end of the competitions and you want to be in there challenging. This is the point I always loved and thrived on as a player, because this is when it really matters. I think this winter break’s been a good time for us. Time will tell what the future brings, but I think it’s a good time for us to regroup, refresh and go again because it’s a busy time ahead. It’s what the lads are kind of used to now, so that’s fine. It’s a busy time ahead with plenty of games, so we look forward to it.”
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