Michael Carrick: Old Trafford's buried treasure
By Chris Higham
We are just beyond the mid-point of the season in the Barclays Premier League and already candidates for "Player of The Season" are being tossed around in the pubs all over England. At Old Trafford, the home of League leaders Manchester United, fans find it difficult to get beyond Robin Van Persie for their choice, and rightfully so. For me, however, it is Michael Carrick.
Carrick's early days as a boy were spent up in the North East of England where he played for Wallsend Boys Club who also nurtured England legends Billy Wright and Alan Shearer. Strangely enough, Carrick began as a centre forward but when he was noticed by West Ham United and made the move south to London, he was converted to a midfielder almost immediately. He stayed with the Upton Park club for six years, through their relegation battles and even played one season in the Championship until his restlessness for top flight football took over.
In 2004, Carrick was signed by Tottenham Hotspur and quickly blossomed into their best midfielder. His role as the play-maker in front of the back four was crucial for boss Martin Jol and that position became his business card for the remainder of his career. After only two seasons in North London, Carrick became a surprise target for Sir Alex Ferguson who was looking to bolster an ageing midfield at Manchester United. Despite some rumour mongering back and forth, Carrick's move north was completed in the summer of 2006.
Michael Carrick falls into that group of players described as enigmatic. Although his move to United was seen to be as a direct replacement for Roy Keane, I have always felt that he resembles Paul Scholes more, both in personality and playing style. He is comfortable on the ball, works hard to cover his defenders, is a formidable passer, and like Scholes, does not seek out the limelight.
In his first few years at the club, he was troubled with a series of ankle injuries which were enough to prevent his rise up the pecking order in that midfield. Just when we thought he was establishing himself as a regular, another injury would stop him cold.
Carrick hasn't been without his critics. Many fans thought his poor performance in the 2009 Champions League Final against Barcelona cost United the game. Many thought Ferguson felt the same, but later, it was revealed that Carrick had played the game with a broken foot.
His England career has been sketchy at best. I was at his debut in Chicago in 2005 and he seemed hesitant to push himself forward past some very ordinary teammates that day. He has on occasion shown a reluctance to play a squad role for his country which alienated him with Fabio Capello.
I think he was misunderstood prior to Euro2012 when he was apparently thought to not want to participate. Thankfully, Roy Hodgson has seen that Carrick's performances for his club this season warrant his inclusion for the future. In my opinion, his pairing with Gerrard and Wilshere is the key to unlocking any success for England in the next couple of seasons.
This season, his form has been superb whilst flying under the radar of many observers and fans. His play off the ball has been as good as his play on it. He has added some stability to a team that has struggled defensively and currently sits on over 500 Premier League appearances.
United's goalscoring binge this season is a direct result of their ability to get the ball to Robin Van Persie quickly, and in space. Michael Carrick is the reason why that happens so regularly. His vision and execution have improved tremendously just in the last 12 months, and he has become the natural successor to Paul Scholes, without the fanfare. He has matured in front of fans who probably didn't see him coming and apparently, the Stretford End faithful have yet to name a song for him.
If I have any criticism's of Carrick, it it his lack of goalscoring, and his tendency to pull his wings in when Scholes and Ryan Giggs are on the field. I have always believed he is capable of scoring goals freely but the willingness just doesn't seem to be there, despite his days as a striker at Wallsend. If he would just pull the trigger more often from distance, he'd start to improve that abysmal goals per game ratio. I'm sure his eagerness to defer to his legendary partners when they are on the pitch stems from his loyalty and respect for the game, that have both been a major part of his career. Frankly, I can deal with the negatives all day long if he continues to play at this high level. .
Michael Carrick will never win any popularity contests. He'll probably just be satisfied with a song.