Few players have performed at such a consistently high level and received such limited attention as Michael Carrick.
The deep-lying central midfielder has starred in England’s top flight for just shy of two decades and has won everything there is to win in the game. All 18 of his trophy success came at Manchester United, including five league titles and the Champions League crown.
It is often forgotten just how far Sir Alex Ferguson’s were off the pace in the Premier League’s title race for three consecutive seasons before Carrick’s arrival from Tottenham in the summer of 2006, with the balance of power shifting south to Arsenal and Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea.
The £18 million signing was the only summer arrival at Old Trafford and in his first seven seasons with the club he won five league titles and missed out on the other two by a combined total of one point.
First among equals
The coming of age of Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney propelled Manchester United to such heights, alongside one of Europe’s toughest defences but Carrick’s significance is unquestionable.
His arrival was primarily a replacement for long-serving captain Roy Keane, who had departed six months earlier. While he occupied a similar area of the pitch, the two’s style of play could hardly have sharper contrast and it marked a notable shift in style under Ferguson.
The touch-tackling, fiery and bullish Keane was replaced by a calm composer in the centre of the pitch. With Manchester United focusing on re-finding their swashbuckling counter-attacking football, Carrick’s role at the base of the midfield – quickly releasing the ball forward and remaining ice-cool in pressure-cooker situations.
Often incorrectly criticised for playing ‘sideways’ and ‘backwards’ passes, Carrick topped the percentage of ‘forward’ passes across Europe’s top five leagues in the 2012/13 campaign.
It was also this season in which he was named as the club’s player’s player of the year – beating the mercurial Robin van Persie to the award – and winning his first, and only, place in the PFA Team of the Year. His instant connection with the Dutchman’s attacking movement was a match made in heaven for the Red Devils.
That was the seventh successive season where the Newcastle-native notched in excess of 40 appearances for Manchester United and the recognition was long overdue.
In an era of Paul Scholes, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, he won a mere 34 England caps across 14 years despite having a skill set unique to his generation of players. Gareth Barry and Scott Parker were often preferred to Carrick, with the argument that his characteristics were under-appreciated in his native country.
His style was based almost exclusively on ball-retention and the swift recycling of possession, with his positional qualities and tactical discipline ensuring tackles were not necessary. He was not afraid to shoot from distance but only when the opportunity presented itself, often looking for an ambitious through ball instead.
Injuries and fitness issues have limited the 36-year-old to just 24 minutes in this season’s top flight with Jose Mourinho keen to offer him a role in the club’s coaching staff.
Such a gesture is fitting for a character who has provided undoubted leadership and maturity throughout a career which can only be applauded.
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