According to Sir Alex Ferguson, the largest factor in last season’s 20th league title for Manchester United (aside from the signing of Robin van Persie) was the week-in and week-out performances of midfielder Michael Carrick. The legendary manager had been Carrick’s biggest defender over the course of the player’s first seven seasons at the club. The midfielder’s ability and importance had been the target of many questions from United’s supporters over that period. But despite the criticism, Ferguson kept writing Carrick’s name on the team sheet week after week.
His faith was ultimately rewarded as Carrick carried the full load of United’s midfield responsibilities (following the retirement of Paul Scholes) and even lined up in central defense for the club. Rio Ferdinand called Carrick “the most under-rated and under-valued player in the league.”
Nemanja Vidic spoke of Carrick’s importance amongst his teammates:
“From the players’ point of view, Michael is a very important player for us. He brings a lot of balance to the team – he’s a link between defense and attack. Maybe he’s not the most attractive footballer – he doesn’t often do fancy tricks – but for our team he plays a key role. He takes up good positions so the defenders can always pass to him and he defends very well. He’s a top player and has a lot of passion for the game.”
Members of the media followed suit and began to shower the 32-year-old midfielder with praise. And during their run to a 20th league title, United’s supporters seemed to finally embrace the Geordie midfielder as they added his name to the long list of in-game songs: “It’s Carrick! You knooow! It’s hard to believe it’s not Scholes!”
Following Manchester United latest win over Arsenal, the club has been greeted with the disturbing news that they will be without the services of Michael Carrick for up to six weeks due to an Achilles injury (the actual time frame is between four and six weeks). That is disheartening news for a club which was already paper-thin at the midfield position.
Looking over United’s first team squad, the club does appear to have depth at the position with internationals Tom Cleverley (England) and Marouane Fellaini (Belgium) as some of the more recognizable names to take Carrick’s place. But Cleverley has been inconsistent and Fellaini has been carrying an injury (wrist) and has yet to find a role on his new team, while Brazilian midfielder Anderson has become a ‘forgotten man’ due to his inconsistency and nagging injuries.
Darren Fletcher has also been playing with United’s Under-21s, but he hasn’t taken part in a Premier League contest for some time now and is still a long way from being match-fit.
United are coming off their best team performance of the early season. It is going to take that kind of group effort and focus to make up for the loss of Carrick. Of course the question will be asked, “Is one player really that important?” The answer to that question is simply, “yes”.