THERE'S been no shortage of highlights in Michael Carrick's time in charge of Middlesbrough so far, but right up there among the very best moments for the head coach on Teesside has been the opportunity to give four academy lads their first team league debuts.

Carrick cares deeply about Boro's academy and the youngsters coming through and he couldn't smile wide enough on Tuesday night in the Riverside media room as he talked with great delight about Law McCabe after the Middlesbrough-born 17-year-old had come off the bench for his first taste of first team action.

He followed in the footsteps of Sonny Finch, Pharrell Willis and Fin Cartwright in becoming the fourth academy youngster to make their debut under Carrick - and the head coach, who has also developed Hayden Hackney into a stand-out Championship star, hopes more will soon follow.

But backing for the club's young talent doesn't just come in the form of first team minutes. Carrick and his coaching team work closely with the club's academy staff and the head coach takes every opportunity to give the Under-21s and Under-18s players the chance to train with the first team and benefit from the experience of being in and around Boro's stars.

And if they impress - both in terms of attitude and performances on the pitch - Carrick, as he's demonstrated, won't be frightened to give the young players their opportunity.

“I think everyone needs a chance," said the head coach.

"I needed to be given a chance at one stage. All the boys in the first team needed that chance initially. There is so much talent and ability around the club, so we just try to give as many of them the opportunity as possible. That’s not just playing games, that’s sometimes training with the first team, travelling with us for away games, us going to watch their youth games.

"The academy has all that money and time and effort going into it and it’s there for a reason, which is to try and get players into the first team.

"Of course it’s down to them as well - to be good enough and to do enough to warrant the chance. But, for us, it’s a big part of what we’re trying to do - encouraging that and creating ways that we can get them up with us more often."


Carrick came through the ranks at West Ham and later played at Manchester United, two clubs with a history of cherishing young talent. The same is obviously true at Boro, who have a rich past when it comes to producing players through their academy.

When Carrick sat down with Steve Gibson and Boro chiefs ahead of taking the head coach job last year, everyone was on the same wavelength when talk turned to the academy.

"Initial conversations were two-way really because I understood its importance, and obviously from the club’s point of view, it is (important)," said Carrick.

"Even forgetting the money side and what it might cost to buy players like Dael and Hayden, for the supporters to have local lads in the team, who you have that connection with, you can’t understate the value of that. It’s difficult to have a full team of academy players, but just having a few does create that connection. Hopefully it gives the supporters that extra bit of spice, feeling and connection towards the team.

"It’s something I’ve been brought up on. It’s a big part of the club at West Ham and then going to United later, they obviously have a huge history of it as well. So it’s kind of what I’ve been brought up with and what I’m used to. That’s why I care about it."

Whether McCabe and Cartwright are again involved at Elland Road on Saturday likely depends on injuries, but the next opportunity won't be far away.

“It was probably one of the standouts for me from the other night," said Carrick after giving McCabe his debut.

"It’s great for him and he’s trained for us a lot so it’s great he’s made his debut. I don’t want to put loads on his shoulders though because he is a young boy just making his way in the game. He’s learning and the biggest thing for me is his attitude, personality and character are spot on.

"He’s a humble lad who works hard and listens. He does all the right things and that gives him the best chance to have a good future. He’s certainly got attributes and ability to do that. He’s got to be patient too though, take it step by step because it’s a long road, but certainly he’s making good progress at the moment."