Michael Carrick will be 31 when the new season kicks off in August. His debut for England came in 2001, since then he has played 22 caps. 22! This is quite amazing, as for me, this is one of the most cultured and needed players for England and yet is the most underrated and undervalued player in English football.
Carrick was part of West Ham’s impressive youth squad, consisting of Defoe and Joe Cole. He impressed at West Ham yet was helpless to prevent their relegation and was denied the chance to come back up when they lost 1-0 to Crystal Palace in the playoff final. He decided he needed to be playing in the Premier League and moved across London to Spurs. His emergence at Spurs came when Martin Jol took the reigns of the club and almost took Spurs to the Champions League, losing out on 4th on the last day of the season. Yet he was set for another move and this time it was to England’s biggest club.
When Carrick moved to Old Trafford in 2006 he was touted as the replacement for Keane. Keane had left the club in 2005 and the club were seeking his successor. It can be argued that Carrick was nothing like Keane, he lacked the tenacity, ferociousness and leadership of which Keane epitomised. However, as I have argued previously, United were looking for a new modern approach to the game, they were not seeking Keane’s replacement, but a new version.
His arrival clearly had an impact, that season United would go and win the Premier League for the first time since 2003. Between that time Arsenal and then the newly invested Chelsea side would go and win back to back titles. There were some serious doubts about United were and Ferguson was being questioned. The arrivals of Ronaldo and Rooney had seen United look for the long-term development of the side, rather than immediate success. The influence of Quieroz I have argued before was instrumental in United seeking to adapt to a new style, of which Keane was disapproving of. His release showed that a new direction was being sought, and it was clear that both Ferguson and Quieroz felt Carrick was an instrumental addition to their new style.
A necessary player
As United sought to play a fluid attacking four in a 4-2-3-1 formation, they needed a player who could supply balls to the attacking quartet. In his first season Carrick played 46 games in total, he was the missing piece in the development of this new generation. United reached the semi-final of the Champions League too that season and also lost to Chelsea in the FA Cup final. It was a positive sign that United were heading back to their best. Perhaps Carrick’s best game was the 7-1 demolition of Roma in the Champions League at Old Trafford, his vision, passing, movement and two goals, was a standout performance from a player that many had questioned his ability to cut it at United.
The following season was even better, a Premier League crown and Champions of Europe, meant that United were back on top of world football, with the balance of Carrick, Scholes and Hargreaves playing in midfield, the side had a strong core which enabled the quality of Ronaldo, Rooney, Tevez, Giggs and Berbatov to showcase their talent. Although the arrivals of Anderson and Hargreaves appeared to show Carrick had competition for his place, it seemed more like Anderson was to play further forward and Hargreaves would perhaps be Carrick’s partner in midfield.
A change of style
Since then United have seen a change in style and personnel; Quieroz’s exit changed the style, yet United have continued to be successful, although in the 2009 Champions League final defeat to Barcelona, Carrick described it as as worst night of his career as he said “the game just seemed to pass us by and we were unable to do anything about it.” A midfield of Anderson, Carrick and Giggs just could not deal with the movement and speed of play of Barcelona, who simply outplayed United that night. It was a sign that Barcelona’s new style was about to dominate world football.
United that following summer lost Ronaldo and Tevez and replaced them with Owen and Valencia. A change in quality and style was expected and that following season Carrick experienced his first season at United without a trophy. However in 2010-11 United were back on top again in England and were once again denied by Barcelona in the Champions League final. It was another abject performance by United, with Carrick and Giggs playing in the centre of midfield. That season also saw United lose to the eventual FA Cup winners Man City in the semi final, it was Carrick’s error which led to Yaya Toure’s goal and Carrick was being questioned once again by many in the media.
This past season has been partnered with Anderson and Phil Jones and in the second half of the season, by the retired Scholes. United’s improvements were seen when Scholes returned, quite simply, it gave Carrick support of which Jones and Anderson failed to offer sufficiently. Perhaps Cleverly could have offered a lot to the side, he showed glimpses before getting injured, yet it is important to consider the factors as to why Carrick is so important to United and what he needs to be more effective.
Carrick’s need for a sidekick
One of the biggest losses for United in the past 18 months, and in both finals against Barcelona, was the absence of Darren Fletcher. This is quite an amazing statement, yet Fletcher’s contribution to the side has become vital for United being effective. As Giggs and Scholes have got older, as Hargreaves’ injuries curtailed his United career and Anderson has not progressed, Carrick has been devoid of a stable and effective player beside him. With Fletcher, although he lacks the flair and skill that perhaps many great midfielders have, what Fletcher brought to United was a tenacity and bite to the midfield, which was absent when he was.
For me, Owen Hargreaves was the perfect partner for Carrick, his mobility, bite and work rate to close and spoil play, enabled Carrick time and space to do what he does so effectively, which is providing the forwards with excellent passes. A criticism of Carrick can be that he struggles when he is pressed quickly, yet without someone to create space for him, he has been left exposed.
Match of the Day culture
In my opinion it is an indictment of many fans and media that they do not see the value in Carrick however. I believe this is in part to the culture we live in; a match of the day culture which means that many experts and fans base their opinions on the highlights they see. When I hear people talk about Carrick’s absence in the game, his inability to get involved and his lack of goals, they are more often than not only seeing the highlights, they are basing their opinions on what they see and hear and not on the actual game itself. When you actually see United play, you see how effective Carrick is and how important he is to the balance and tempo of United. His intelligence, vision and movement means he supplies Rooney, Valencia and Nani constantly and with accuracy, the stats show he was the best English midfielder in the Premier League last season, yet why has he been so neglected by England?
Restricted role nationally
Amazingly he is not in the England squad this summer. An argument can be made that his desire to be a starter in the side has impacted on his lack of inclusion, however the question must be why he is not considered an integral part of the England XI. In my opinion, 22 caps is a crying shame to a man of such quality, especially in a country which lacks genuine quality. His difficulty has come from the ongoing Gerrard and Lampard debate and in recent years there has been the emergence of Gareth Barry and now Scott Parker. Personally, I am amazed about how he has not played more, yet incidents like in Aug 2011 when Carrick was apparently injured for England, only to play for United a few days later, did not reflect well on Carrick. Of the two tournament he has gone to with England, the World Cups in 2006 and 2010, he only played in one game.
For me, Carrick has been overlooked because he does suit the English culture, he is not the type of player to which England are used to, he is cultured, balanced and above all disciplined. You don’t see Carrick tearing all over the pitch, you don’t see him irrate at players and officials, what he is a true professional and one who must be a great player to coach and have in your side. Yet the media and many fans don’t see it like that, they want the players from the Lucozade adverts, the Gerrard types who tackle hard, work box to box, score the winning goals, the classic Roy of the Rovers type. Yet Gerrard lacks the discipline for which Carrick would have provided and not just this tournament but the previous ones also. A Parker/Carrick midfield would have given England the balance and solidity to which England need, for which all the top international sides need.
For me, if Carrick was Italian, Spanish or German, he would be in their sides; he resembles the Pirlo’s, Alonso’s and Schweinstieger type player of which we lavish so much praise, yet naive and ignorant that we have one of these players ourselves. Such a shame therefore that managers, fans and the media have neglected and ridiculed his ability and purpose, unaware that Carrick offers England a genuine chance of success, because his style suits the continental and international game.
Neglected and wasted
Is it not amazing that one of the world’s best managers has used Carrick as his main midfielder in what has been one of United’s most successful periods, yet he is deemed not good enough for England? Would Ferguson have brought him in and used him for six seasons continually if he did not think he was good enough? While United have benefited from his class and discipline, the sad truth is that a player of such quality has played such a small part in this “golden generation” of the England national team.
Imagine what could have been had Carrick being the hub of our midfield, supplying the attack and staying disciplined in his position, thus providing balance for the whole side. International football, like European football, is different to the Premier League, it is more controlled and balance and discipline are key to being successful. In these tournaments, mistakes both tactically and technically are punished severely, the Premier League produces very high tempo, direct players, who can cause problems for some sides. Yet the best sides find gaps in these sides, meaning it is vital that a player like Carrick plays a structured and disciplined game, forsaking the glamour and riches for the good of the side.
A true team player however in England is not lauded or respected, in fact he is actually derided, derided for his lack of drive and charisma. Oh, how our Match of the Day culture needs to alter, how our views on players need to change, because the issue is, Michael Carrick is a player England have needed for a decade and the sad truth is that at 31, England have missed out on his talents dearly.
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