Manchester United's Michael Carrick can be as good a coach as he was a player
It was fitting in the end that even Michael Carrick didn't fully acknowledge his final performance for Manchester United. Under-appreciated for much of his glittering career, he joined in after the final whistle of the 1-0 win over Watford on Sunday.
"It wasn't the best," he said of his last appearance. Though he might have been the only one inside Old Trafford who did not think he had been the best player on the pitch. It has become a theme.
Carrick will retire having played 464 times for United, lifting 12 trophies including five Premier League titles and the Champions League. But he only won 34 caps for England and made just one appearance -- against Ecuador at the 2006 World Cup -- at a major tournament. Even in a generation that produced Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, it remains a mystery as to why he was overlooked so often.
After spending much of his time as a player in the shadow of others, he will now move to the sidelines for good. Convinced by Jose Mourinho to shun the television studio, he will be on the bench from next season, but it will not take much of a transition.
A combination of advancing years, increased competition for places, a heart procedure in September and a niggling calf injury meant he only featured in five games in his last season. But he has still had an impact -- talking at half-time in the dressing room at the Etihad Stadium before that 3-2 derby comeback and offering help and advice to those who need it.
"There have been numerous times this season where he's asked if I want to do a bit of training with him," said Scott McTominay. "I'm always champing at the bit to train with him and to listen and learn from him. He's been incredible."
There are few better role models for young midfielders. The softly-spoken 36-year-old has a reputation as a quiet man but that does not do him justice. He can be a joker and when he saw Wes Brown -- a guest pundit on MUTV -- at Old Trafford on Sunday he broke off from an interview to make a crack at his former teammate's expense. "New suit, Wes?" he said with a smile and raised eyebrows.
A sense of humour will be a valuable asset as he acts as a link between the dressing room and the manager in his new backroom role. He won't be afraid to speak his mind, either, even if he will be working under a manager who has won eight league titles in four different countries.
After United had drawn 0-0 with Newcastle and lost 2-1 at Swansea in August 2015, Carrick, accompanied by Wayne Rooney, sought out Louis van Gaal.
"You have to consider how many players are coming to the manager to say something," said the Dutchman at the time. "In my career as a manager, I didn't have so many who come to say something about the atmosphere in the dressing room or the way we train, or something like that.
"Rooney and Carrick came to me and said the dressing room is flat. They told me to help me."
Speaking about the incident in 2017, Carrick was typically understated.
"We just spoke to him as the senior players, to have a conversation to say that everyone wanted to be better," he said. "We weren't having a great time in terms of results and it happens to a lot of teams, but you just have to do something about it.
"It was a fair conversation, nobody went in there fighting or anything, and it wasn't really a big deal. It probably sounded like a big deal, but it happens all the time at clubs all over the country. Sometimes a manager will pull you aside in training or in his office, but it just so happened that me and Wayne went to chat to him. It got built up to quite a big thing, but that's just the way it is."
On taking the job as Van Gaal's assistant in 2014, Ryan Giggs said part of his role was "to help the manager understand the culture of the club." The dynamics are different this time because Mourinho has already been in situ for two years. Still, there are few who know more about United, and the expectations, than Carrick.
He thought about taking a break from football after hanging up his boots to spend more time with his wife Lisa, daughter Louise, and son Jacey, but the opportunity to learn from Mourinho was too good to turn down.
Aitor Karanka, a former Real Madrid player, was given a coaching job by Mourinho at the Bernabeu in 2010 and six years later was managing in the Premier League with Middlesbrough.
"With Jose you learn every single second," said the ex-Spain defender. "From the first minute he was always teaching me. Since I arrived with him he was really supportive with me and he told me that I was going to be one of them. When I arrived I didn't have experience of working with kids in Spain but I did in my first season with Real Madrid.
"In the second season I started to hold more training sessions and in three years I did a load of press conferences, too. Jose was sent off for a few games which meant I even had to manage the team, so I learnt a lot of things. After those three years, I felt that I was ready to start my career alone."
Carrick has yet to decide what he wants to do in the future, but a career in management is an option. For now, though, he is happy to earn his stripes under Mourinho's tutelage, already armed with all the characteristics to be as good a coach as he was a player.
Rob is ESPN FC's Manchester United correspondent. Follow him on Twitter @RobDawsonESPN.