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Chuba Akpom interview: Middlesbrough striker on the inspirational impact of Michael Carrick and realising his own potential

Chuba Akpom on Michael Carrick, his goalscoring exploits for Middlesbrough, working on his own game and his time in Greece. Watch Sunderland vs Middlesbrough live on Sky Sports Football frtom 11.30am on Sunday; Kick-off 12pm.

Chuba Akpom had scored 12 goals in 114 English league appearances before Michael Carrick arrived at Middlesbrough.

Since then? Nine in 11. It has been a quite remarkable surge in form. Carrick - along with his assistant Jonathan Woodgate - has had quite the impact on both Akpom and the Boro.

"The gaffer has just given me that freedom since he walked in," Akpom tells Sky Sports, while sitting alongside the Sky Bet Championship Player of the Month award for December.

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Chuba Akpom tells Sky Sports about how he is driving himself to improve with Middlesbrough.

"Him and Woody have been great with me. They've seen the qualities I have, and try to bring them out the best they can. I just go out there and have fun and, knowing the gaffer just wants me to express myself, it takes a lot of weight off your shoulders.

"They know how to communicate with the players. They can relate to us because they've had amazing careers. The gaffer was so successful at Manchester United, and Woody had a top career. They know how to relate to us and to get the best out of us."

Image: Michael Carrick with his assistant Jonathan Woodgate

Akpom makes no secret of the fact that playing under a manager - along with his No 2 - who, until so recently, was performing at the highest level, has proven inspirational.

"Maybe some players don't like to admit it but it's the truth," he says. "They've been world-class players, and played with world-class players, and you want to impress them.

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"You also want to soak up as much knowledge as you can from them. I like to ask them questions about what it was like to play with, or against, a certain player or team.

"Although they're both very humble and don't like to brag about it, we still want to know everything and to try and hear all the stories, like 'how did Ronaldo do this? Or how did David Beckham do that?'

"Learning how the best did what they do can only improve our games."

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A look at Chuba Akpom's goals for Middlesbrough in the Championship this season with the striker reportedly attracting interest from Premier League clubs.

Carrick has often been an understated figure. Always quiet and unassuming both in his performances and personality.

But Akpom says that he still knows how to get heated behind the scenes when things aren't going the way they should - not that that has happened too often since he came in. They have collected eight wins and a draw in his first 11 games in charge.

"We beat Blackburn, which is a tough place to go, and the gaffer still wasn't happy because he thought we were sloppy in the second half," says the striker.

"To get to where we want to go, he has to set the standards and we can't drop below that. We need to win, but win convincingly, that's how the gaffer is."

Akpom, now 27, has also been putting in the work himself to help him realise his own potential. The talent that saw him handed his debut for Arsenal by Arsene Wenger in the Premier League as a 17-year-old and score 20 goals for England at various youth levels is finally coming to the fore.

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"It helps being settled, but there's a lot of other things as well," he says. "My mindset and how I'm approaching training and games has improved, and off the pitch I'm studying the game and so many other players as well.

"I watch the elite players and how they do things now, like Kylian Mbappe, Robert Lewandowski, Erling Haaland and Harry Kane.

"But also the strikers from back in the day. There's a show called 'Premier League 100 Club' on Sky. I've got them all on repeat and I just sit there watching how the top players do it now and in the past. I'm just obsessed with watching football.

"I loved watching Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Thierry Henry. Those were my two idols growing up. Then the likes of Wayne Rooney and Didier Drogba. I'd love to emulate the things they could do.

"Having that obsession off the pitch trying to get better has helped massively. I also work with a personal coach. We have Zoom calls every week and he sends me clips of myself and how to improve this and that.

"We look at things like how I can improve my xG and my positioning, and the teams we play and their weaknesses. It's hours of work on so many different things."

There are some who feel that Akpom was hindered by the amount of loan moves he made away from Arsenal early in his career. There were six in total between 2013 and 2018, before he finally moved on permanently to Greek club PAOK.

Akpom, however, doesn't feel that way. For him it was all a part of his journey.

"I wouldn't change anything," he says. "That's the beautiful thing, to be able to look back and think, 'wow I did that, and that'.

"It's all helped me become the player I am, and if I did change anything I wouldn't be where I am now. You've just got to enjoy it and things will work out eventually."

He has now been at Middlesbrough since 2020, although he was deemed surplus enough to requirements to be loaned back to PAOK last season.

As much as anything, Akpom feels as though it is a growing maturity as much as anything that has helped him to this current run.

"I would put it down to having so many seasons where I've probably not been as successful as I'd have liked to have been, wondering why it's gone a certain way, and what I can do better," he says.

"I'm 27 now, and maybe I'm getting to the age where things are starting to click, and the pieces of the puzzle are all starting to fit together. I knew it would all be okay eventually, it was just a case of when it was going to happen.

"All the experience I've had at other clubs and when I was younger is all coming into play this season. I'm enjoying it, that's the main thing, and I've just got to carry on."

Image: Akpom has fond memories of his time in Greece

The Greek chapter of his career odyssey also saw him win a league title, and play in Europe.

"The first season was incredible because we won the double, and it was the first time the club had won the league in 34 or 35 years," Akpom says. "That was a big deal.

"I got to play in the Europa League, and we got to the Conference quarter-finals against Marseille. They were big experiences for me and it was really good to be a part of that."

Everything is gelling. And it is proving Middlesbrough's gain. Akpom hopes he and the club can continue to grow together to reach the Premier League.

"I feel like this last year or two I've probably developed the most in my career," says Akpom. "I've shown a willingness to learn and improve my game. I feel hungrier than ever before. You're never too old to learn and grow.

"I want to play in the Premier League, it's where the best play and it's a dream I've always had. Hopefully I can do that with Middlesbrough. I've just got to keep working.

"The gaffer just wants us to take each game step by step, but we all know what we want to do. Middlesbrough is a top club with amazing facilities, and we'd love to be in the Premier League and work towards that. I don't see why we can't achieve these things, it's down to us at the end of the day.

"We've got to keep working hard, training hard, and producing."

With Carrick in the dugout and Akpom up top, who knows what Middlesbrough could go on to achieve.

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