Michael Carrick has excelled in the centre of Manchester United’s midfield this season, becoming a key figure in their title charge. He has been praised heavily across the country in recent weeks but that is definitely not how it has always been. He was somewhat of a ridiculed character in the past particularly after the Champions League final of 2009 where he was dominated by Barcelona’s midfield with Carrick himself calling it the worst night of his career. It was the same when he was out-muscled for Bayern Munich’s first goal in the Champions League Quarter Final Second Leg of 2009/10 and after his mistake to allow Yaya Toure to score in the 2010/11 FA Cup Semi Final. He was labeled a midfielder who could only pass the ball sideways and someone who never took a risk, a safe option to sit alongside the great Paul Scholes. How times have changed. How he has filled Scholes’ boots this season.
Carrick has been instrumental to United this season and has received added recognition for his performances with several starts for England. Without a shadow of a doubt he has been the Old Trafford clubs most consistent performer. The label people had placed on him has been removed, Carrick is not afraid to show off his passing abilities. To give you a statistic, Carrick has attempted over 2000 passes this season with 88% of those being completed and of those completed passes, a whopping 75.2% of them have gone forwards. That is unbelievable. If Andrea Pirlo or Xavi possessed this statistic then we would not hear the end of it for months. You can tell that he has renewed confidence, something that you would not have seen in him two or three years ago. It is for this reason that it is now impossible for Sir Alex Ferguson to drop him.
When Carrick was signed back in 2006, he was signed as a replacement for Roy Keane. Although they are completely different players, Ferguson realised that what United needed was someone who could dictate the pace of a game and read the game expertly. It was a massive risk as you could not find a player who was more different to Keane in the whole of England than Carrick. Keane was ferocious in the tackle and a true leader whilst Carrick epitomises calmness and precision.
Manchester United appeared to be on the verge of turmoil as a solitary League Cup success in 2005/06 was used to cover the fact that they had not won a league title in three years, United’s longest barren spell since the Premier league was created. They had been eliminated in the group stages of the Champions League as well and to add to that their star striker Ruud van Nistelrooy had become the latest high profile name to depart the club. Rumour was that Cristiano Ronaldo wanted out following the English media’s brutal and relentless witch-hunt of him following the World Cup spat with Wayne Rooney. People across the land were relishing in United’s apparent downfall and some even predicted them to finish outside the top four. That summer Ferguson made only one permanent signing which was Carrick. After United went 3 years without a trophy, Carrick provided the stability in the centre of the park what was desperately needed. He and Paul Scholes forged a brilliant partnership. Although the plaudits quite rightly went to other players such as Ronaldo and Rooney, Carrick’s influence should not be underrated. He went about his job with sheer efficiency and coolness. Although the fee seemed like a lot of money for someone like Carrick, when you look back it was definitely worth it. Since joining, Carrick has won 4 league titles with a fifth surely to be added soon and has reached 3 Champions League finals, winning one. Seen as he hardly misses a game, he must have been doing something right. Ferguson wouldn’t have stood by him for so long if he wasn’t.
In the centre of United’s midfield this season, the stable partnership has been Carrick and Tom Cleverley who seem to work extremely well together with the former sitting and dictating play while Cleverley roams, trying to find more advanced positions to get the team moving forwards. No doubt Cleverley has helped Carrick a lot this season with his willingness to regain possession quickly, his quick feet and agility which give Carrick more time on the ball, giving him time to pick the right pass and use his natural calmness to his advantage. Take Carrick out of United’s midfield and think about how many problems they would have. There just are not any other options right now. Scholes has been troubled by injuries this season, Darren Fletcher has unfortunately been forced to miss the rest of the season due to illness, Anderson has never found any sort of form as usual and whilst Ryan Giggs does a more than adequate job in central midfield it is not his natural position. This United side relies on Carrick’s wide range of passing ability. It is an area which must surely need strengthening in the summer, with Scholes likely to retire, Anderson likely to be sold and Fletcher unlikely to ever fully recover. Although United fans say it needs strengthening every year, this year it seems they truly do need some more competition for Carrick and Cleverley.
The English media are fixated with quick, box to box midfielders who score goals, meaning Carrick is often forgotten about due to his lack of pace. This underrating of Carrick is something which United fans have relished this season as he has put in his best season to date at the club. This has led to him being noticed more and more as the season has progressed. He is finally being recognised as one of the top midfielders in the country and rightly so. People have misjudged him in the past, including myself, disregarding his wide range of passing and ability to read the game expertly. Yes, he has made mistakes in the past but it is quite blatant that he has on the whole learnt from them despite still showing the odd lapse in concentration every now and again. He seems a lot more aware of the space around him than he used to be; when he is hassled he has always seemed to have an answer this season. He is always on the lookout for a killer pass, which he never used to be. Something has changed in him; you can see it in his body language, whenever he receives the ball he is always looking ahead of him whereas in the past he was not as adventurous. Maybe it has come with experience or maybe it has come with the added importance he now has for the team.
To sum up Michael Carrick in a nut shell would be to simply say, he is underrated and under-appreciated. He has made Manchester United tick this season. As things stand they are very close to winning their 20th league title and Carrick’s consistency has been vital in achieving that. It is quite obvious he never will rank among Europe’s elite midfielders but there is no doubt that he is extremely important to the way United play and without him they would just not be the same side, the statistics do not lie.
What are your thoughts on Michael Carrick? Where does he rank among Europe’s midfielders in your eyes?