As far as footballing education goes, there have been few better than Michael Carrick’s in English football; making his way through West Ham’s coveted academy, graduating during a few years at Spurs then maturing whilst playing under Sir Alex Ferguson, alongside Paul Scholes and winning trophies consistently for Manchester United.
Yet saying that, I’m absolutely baffled to have heard his own fans jeer him over the years; just as baffled as to how few England Caps he’s won. This is a player who has been a consistent figure in Man United’s engine room in a period where they’ve won 5 Premier League titles, got to 3 Champions League finals (winning 1) and a World Club Cup; not to mention 5 Charity Shields and 2 League Cups and United’s players’ player of the 2012/13 season where we won the league by 11 points. If this were an Italian or Spanish player he’d be idolised globally!
The English midfielder’s calming presence in games, which Gary Neville likened to entering a bar and there being a piano playing, has won United many points this season – 2.25 per game he’s played in fact, compared to 1.6 when he’s been absent.
His part in United’s side was summed up perfectly by Paul Scholes this week when he said: “Nobody appreciated Michael more than the midfielders who played alongside him. He isn’t a flash footballer, he doesn’t score a lot of goals but I loved playing alongside him. He was always in the right place. He gave me a licence to play.” – Coming from one of United’s greatest ever midfielders (who isn’t shy to criticise as we’ve come to find out) that’s quite a testament.
In my, slightly less legendary opinion, Carrick makes the dirty work beautiful before giving the creative players the ball to excite the crowd and create goals – a role just as, if not more, important than the forward players. His positional sense, ability to stop the opponent getting a look in, intercept play, then pick out the right pass is invaluable in United’s current team which has been demonstrated in big games – In five league games against the other top six clubs this season, Carrick has started in all four victories (Liverpool twice, Spurs and Arsenal) and was a 43rd-minute substitute in the defeat to Manchester City and an unused sub in the draw with Chelsea.
It was obvious how highly Van Gaal rated him when he looked devastated in his first United press conference in July announcing Carrick would be out for 2-3 months – and reiterated now by (justifiably in my eyes) appointing him as vice captain after Darren Fletcher’s departure.
Carrick’s impact this season in particular reminds me of Scholes’ latter playing years – a capability to dictate how the game will be played as well as the ability to play a killer pass when the opportunity presents itself. The opening goal in the home win vs Spurs this season is a gleaming example –intercepting a Spurs play on the half way line and before they knew it he’d caressed a perfectly weighted pass into Fellaini’s path for him to finish.
As Carrick’s career enters its winter, will we have the same problem replacing him as we had with Scholes? Will the promising Daley Blind be able to produce the important performances in midfield? Will the jeering fans be wishing Carrick back when he’s gone? Time will tell, but for now, let’s hope he stays fit and helps United to a strong finish, come May!